Character, Character, Character

May 7, 2012

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a job, I mean a “real job,” a regular job, where I’m out and meeting new people on a regular basis. My new little job at the sewing store where I generally work…oh, six to ten hours…I know, I put in a long work week…has been a lot of fun. It can be a little stressful, because I’m learning so much all at once but have to learn it in the few brief hours that I work. So the point is, and what this has to do with writing is, the people, the characters that come in and out of the store. I’m finding them fascinating.

I’m a people watcher anyway—I think most writers are—but working is giving me a different window to look through. Normally, I meet people when I’m the customer. Most of the friends I’ve made have been neighbors, or until recently, other moms at my kids’ schools, or friends through my Hunky Hubby’s work, and of course, other writers in writing groups. I’m seeing other sides of people through my job.

I’m selling sewing machines and teaching how to use them. These sewing machines range in price from ninety-nine dollars to just short of ten thousand dollars, and if you add the price of software to that high end machine, you are well over the ten-thousand-dollar mark. I meet people from mothers who don’t sew and are looking for a machine for their little girls who have been watching Project Runway on television to experienced sewers, looking for a high quality machine to use sewing Quinceanera dresses, prom dresses and wedding gowns. Living in Los Angeles, I meet people sewing theater costumes, renaissance faire costumes and edgy club clothes, fashion design students…and even a fashion designer, which made me very happy, because the heroine in my WIP is a fashion designer.

I’m finding it fascinating to see how different people shop, make decisions, do business. There are those who walk in, know what they want, don’t ask any questions, just pay and leave—one more task checked off their to-do list. Others come in, “I’m just looking.” They carefully look each machine over, sometimes ask a question, eventually let you show them how the machine threads, how it can sew through several layers of denim, or the number of quilting features on the machine. They get up and wander around, think about it, ask some more questions, move to another machine, maybe tell you about their sewing projects, and really consider the purchase. Some customers are excited about their $200 machine, others…well, I had one customer purchase the high-end machine and tell me, “I really shouldn’t do it, I already purchased the top-of-the-line machine (of another brand…also approximately ten thousand dollars) a few months ago, and I haven’t even opened the box!” I just smiled and handed her the receipt, not entirely sure what to say to that. It all gets filed away under character study.

So, some of these things are making it into my story, while others are waiting for their chance. The way one person is slow and methodical in decision making, and another just wants to grab a box and go… The mother who has been shopping with her three-year-old daughter, pushing the stroller, arms laden with bags and a mostly eaten sticky lollipop, grateful to surrender it to my waiting trash can… All sorted through and filed away in my mind. Sometimes I even make written notes.

I’m finding it fascinating and inspiring to my writing.

So where do you meet the characters in your stories? Or at least where do you find their characteristics and mannerisms? Do you go to the park or the beach and people watch? (I do.) Do you meet them at work, school, PTA? Are you constantly aware of the other people around you…or when you’re out and about does someone suddenly make you think…That person would be a great character in a book, or my hero should shake hands just like that?

Where do you find your characters?



2 Responses to “Character, Character, Character”

  1. Peggy Isaacs Says:

    I find character inspiration everywhere – the gym, my college library, the grocery store, my professors, Starbucks…Great post.

  2. I love this. I’m a people watcher too and have been since I was a kid. My mum and I used to go for lunch in a cafe in town and always find a window seat so we could watch the different people go by. I stil love doing that now and I get my best characters from taking in those around me…people in shops, people walking by, people on the train.

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