I have two files on my hard drive devoted to “characters”. One is filled with snatches of stories I’ve heard featuring great characters who help in forming my own fictional characters. A popular saying these days is, “you just can’t make this stuff up.” And I agree that life is often stranger than fiction. So when I’m in the presence of a truly gifted story teller I laser in and pay attention. The essence of what’s being said is the nugget I can work from, and these real stories need only a clever twist or a bit of imaginative adornment to become something more.
The other file is full of pithy or hilarious sayings from various friends and acquaintences. And they’re just all over the place. Writers are nosey and inquisitive and keeping track of them can really pay off. There’s one man in particular I like to be near whenever we’re in the same gathering. He's like a lush strawberry field of remarks worth saving. He’s an armed services vet, several years my senior and is rarely shy about sharing his opinion. I remember rushing home after one social event to record this one before I forgot it.
“There’s so many people in China they have to take turns breathing!”
This cracked me up. I can’t remember what the conversational bent was, but that remark hit my funny bone. The story and moment within it will have to be just right but I know this gem will find a home. I’ve placed it in a character file with a sub-heading for this guy because I know some day I’ll be able to use it in some piece of writing. The man’s mannerisms and facial expressions are also brought to mind whenever I recall one of his maxims, and I know I’ll be able to work those in somewhere, too.
These character studies are part of the reason I prefer character to plot driven stories. Yeah, I know, a story has to be about something. But when that something is enriched by characters teeming with wit, charm, humor, pathos or impossible virtue – well, then you have something worth writing about, my friend. Yes, you do.
Coming soon: my take on British actors
Image: renjith krishnan http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/