I blew my wad on current events in yesterday’s posting about candy. I could hold back no longer and shared my thoughts on one of the candidates. I’m sure y’all can guess which one. Candy Saves My Sanity
This means I am in need of words for day 28 of the #WingWritingChallenge topic of Making History. I’ve lived through 40 years of history, and any time we wake up from slumber, well, that’s a form of making history, too, is it not? So there should be a plethora (shout out to The Three Amigos movie) of options.
I’m not going to use any of them. I don’t want to share my thoughts on the assassination of John Lennon, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars, the suicide of Kurt Cobain, the multitude of other artists dead before their time due to drugs and accidents, 9/11, our first black president, our first strong female candidate for president, assorted sex scandals, civilian planes being shot down, the hanging of Saddam, the rise and fall and rise of Apple, the invention of the Smart Phone, rovers on Mars, the killing of Muammar Ghaddafi, Black Lives Matter, none of that.
I’m going with a different take on the same two words. Are we ready for a bit of yammering about the writing process? I sure hope so because that is what you are about to receive.
I am asked, often, how I create a character. People understand (thank God) that I’m not pulling characteristics out of thin air and writing them because they sound good. There’s a process involved to make the characters believable, if not real.
For fun, let’s create a character today. Yay! Grab a piece of paper or load up an app, my friends, because I want you to do this with me. You do not have to answer my questions below as I do. Answer them how you see fit and we’ll see what you have in the end.
The first question is always is this character good, bad, neutral, or all of the above?
In this instance, let’s say neutral.
Male or female?
Let’s go female.
Mid 30s is a good place to be.
Name? This is where things start to involve some research. If you do not already have a name in mind, it’s good to go to baby naming sites and look at the most popular names from the year you decided your character was born. For me the character’s last name often comes, literally, last. Sometimes I make inside jokes using language (Anna Molly Mylan sounds like anomaly, Marie Lee Chase sounds like merrily chase) but I’m weird like that.
Let’s go with Christina for today’s exercise. It was extremely popular in the early to mid 1980s. I would know, I was there.
I think Christina should be a bartender. That profession opens up many avenues for this character. In a mystery this bartender could hold the clue that solves everything. In a romance she could assist the characters with meeting or hooking up. Admittedly she may only be in one scene of the book, but she is equally important to be developed. No one likes one dimensional characters.
Does she have insanely curly or super straight hair? A stutter? Tall or short? Is she average? Do her eyes sparkle with merriment? Are her eyes dimmed with memories of not great things? I admit you can take a turn of phrase, like the eyes dimmed with memories, and use that to base your character. Or you can choose not to go quite so deep. It’s up to you, my reader/writer friends.
Is Christina tending bar because she needs money to finish school? Does she do this job because she likes it? Is she actually the owner of the bar? Does she like her co-workers? Is she maternal towards the younger servers? Does she offer up handy advice?
Was Christina born in the location of your story? Is she foreign born? Does she have a fun accent? Is there something in her past, like abuse or assault? Did she win the lottery and blow all of her money and thus had to go back to working in a bar? Did she win the lottery and decide bartending is her bliss? Is she running from or to something?
What is she working towards? No one works a job purely to pay the bills. There is a reason people choose the profession they are in. Is she hot for the main character? Is she hot for the main character’s wife/SO? What is she doing with that nest egg and how can she make that egg grow larger?
These are the basic elements of a character. I know, it sounds like more than a base and it probably is. Let’s look at what/who we’ve put together in a short scene. Ready? I am going to use one of my previous characters to interact with Christina in this scene. He’s an FBI Agent named Sean Stone. He’s chasing a killer and Christina may have seen him.
The bar was dim on the bright summer’s day. It took a moment for Sean’s eyes to adjust once he removed his sunglasses. A few patrons sat at the bar, watching a TV showing classic football games.
Sean checked behind the bar and saw his target, Christina Bursett. She stood at the service counter and was cutting lemon wedges. Sean could smell the fresh cut citrus from across the room. Her blonde hair was long, curled at the ends in ringlets Sean could have placed his pinky through had he been so inclined. Her laughing blue eyes met his as he approached one of the stools pushed against the bar railing.
“Hi there! Welcome to Joe’s Bar and Grill! Would you like something to drink? A menu?”
“I’ll take coffee, if you have it fresh,” Sean replied. He had seen Christina’s photo and once again was reminded that Department of Motor Vehicle cameras sucked. She was stunning in a wholesome, cornfed kind of way. Had she not been a witness he would have considered asking her out on a date then and there.
Christina placed the steaming cup of coffee before Sean and he nodded gratefully. He groaned after his first sip. “This is great! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome. So what brings Law Enforcement to my bar in the middle of the afternoon?”
“Who says I’m a LEO?”
“The cut of that suit. I’ve dealt with cops before. What can I do for you?”
Sean removed a composite sketch from his inner jacket pocket and showed it to Christina. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen anyone matching this lately? Say the past month or so?”
She didn’t answer right away. Christina’s eyes met the agent’s, shied away, and came back. “Maybe I have, maybe not. If Joe finds out, I could lose my job for helping you. I need the money.” She switched from cutting lemons to limes. The thwack of the knife against the cutting board was hypnotic.
“If you help me find this guy, I will keep your name out of it completely. Joe will never know.”
“You say that, but I know better. I told you I’ve dealt with cops before.”
If you go back over the questions from above the segment, you’ll see we answered some of those questions. Had I allowed the dialog to continue, a lot more of the information we had decided on would be included.
And that, my friends, is how I create history on a regular basis. Sure, it’s not current events but it is fun!
Did you do this exercise with me? Would you like to share your character with the rest of the class in comments? Please do!