Character shopping is an art used by writers all over the world. To do this, all you need to do is find a public place with high pedestrian traffic and then you sit and people watch, pen and paper in hand, and jot down notes if you ‘see’ the perfect person or a person’s particular physical characteristic! I find it is perfectly useful when you need a character who may have a cameo role in a story or even if you are looking for ‘that’ perfect trait to identify an existing character.
Cafés are absolutely brilliant, especially if the tables are really, really, close, especially if you happen to be dialogue shopping as well! Be warned, the next time you see someone writing beside you, what you say will probably be regurgitated in print somewhere at some time. Never let it be said that any sentence uttered in public is not for public consumption!
It is terribly important not to appear to be overzealous when trying to hear the conversation two tables over, and tipping out of your chair, whilst scrabbling to keep your notebook away from the wash of coffee that has just spread broadly across the flat, slippery surface, faster than runners at the starting line of a fun run, and threatens to now to drip dangerously close to your open handbag…
However, I find shopping centers are even better. (Not for the coffee, for the people watching!) Rather than looking for a particular person or a particular trait, I will discover a fascinating looking person and start ‘creating’ their personality from this point. I know, I know – this will inevitably lead to an exposure of my prejudices and foibles, but hey, it is my book.
This is best demonstrated by example. I was watching a couple walking towards me. She was gripping his hand with vice like determination, occasionally furtively glancing up to him. He was nonchalant, swaggering, looking from left to right, happily meeting the eye contact of strangers. To say he had an air of confidence would have been an understatement. Yet, these were not the reasons why I pegged them as ‘mine’ in the first instance. It was his pendulous earlobes. They were so repulsively UGLY. I was pleased he looked past me, because he wouldn’t have been able to dismiss the look of distain on my face. A similar expression reserved for discovering the milk has been left out overnight, a very hot, hot, hot night… Or that you have just discovered it is YOU who has stepped in the dog poo….
He had used those gradual upsized expander earrings that enlarge the pierced holes in his lobes, created a space of about two centimeters in circumference, and then taken them out, and now, with a gapping hole, I could see right through to tattoos on his neck.
What did I write after this? I want to say I had lofty ideals about investigating the development of cultural markings on a person in a society in the context of supporting their religious beliefs; or that I had at least researched the need for expressing one’s self through the permanence of inking one’s skin.
No, it reminded me of a quip by a friend of mine about her daughters FaceBook page, where she had exposed too much information about a deteriorating relationship. “FaceBook posts are like tattoo’s – you think they are a good idea at the time, yet they never bloody go away.”
And then, not only did I have my character (I thought the girl was more interesting that the dangling earlobe boy!); I had the opening line as well.
Pity I forgot to buy the milk, which is really why I was at the supermarket in the first place!