Creating Characters Inspired by Real People

Recently, I started my next Work in Progress. Yes, I wanted to start it in October, and not in November during Nanowrimo. I got 6,000 words in and realized it’s just not working. It’s going straight to trash and I’m going to restart it. I’m going to wait until November to start it. I’m going to spend the next two weeks of October planning.

Because that was the issue here: pants-ing.

I’m sure it works for some people. And I gotta admit, I love pantsing, especially during Nanowrimo when the point is to word-dump, not necessarily to come out with a perfect manuscript. But I want to do it right this time. I’m getting old, and I don’t want to waste a month of my life. I’m going to come up with a solid outline this time, and solve what was my biggest issue in the 6,000 words I just dumped: character.

While reading this Nano Prep article, How the Ancient Art of People-Watching Will Make You a Character Pro!, I realized that’s what made my previous novel come so easily. Everything clicked for me when I observed someone in real life who was exactly who I wanted my main character to be.

It was a girl I worked with. I even named my MC after her! (which I changed later, of course). The thing is, everyone in my office hated her. Even I would get annoyed with her. It made me wonder, why? I realized it’s because she has absolutely no filter. She always speaks her mind about anyone and everyone, and she is very, very opinionated. Shell also never let anyone talk shit about her. Not only that but she is very bubbly, optimistic, and a huge lover of gourmet tea.

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(I just realized she’s exactly like Kelly Kapoor from The Office)

 

Boom! Instant character. Suddenly my main character came alive in my story. I sat down and all the scenes came easy because I understood her reactions and motivations in the scene.

I don’t know if this is a right or wrong way to go about creating a character. All I know is it’s worked for me before. So for now, I’m on the hunt for my next real life character inspiration.

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Unfortunately, everyone else at my office is dull so I need to go outside this time. To the mall I go!

Where do you get your ideas from? – Part 1

One of the best places I browse for inspiration is PostSecret.

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I remember back in the day when it was huuuuuuge. Me and my friends would wait every day until new secrets were posted on Sunday, and then we’d scroll through them all and discuss our favourites or ones that made us think.

I even submitted a few secrets once before that were actually published, and they had no idea! There’s this strange thrill of putting something out there that makes you feel free, like you are not the only person who knows about it anymore. And when someone says “that’s a silly thing to be worried about”, it makes you stop and think that maybe something that has had a powerful hold on you, might not actually be that powerful.

Anyways, I still look through it from time to time and save my favourite secrets. Ones that are shocking and others that are ordinary. Then, when I’m writing a new character, I have a look and see if it’s something I can use to create a psychological roadblock for my character.

You never know what will hold someone back. And how easy it is to let go!

Here is one of my latest favourites:

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Describe Yourself as a Writer

<I>Q: Describe yourself as a writer using one word.</I>

A: zhogv3bi

I like weird things. And I like to write about weird things.

When I first started working as an advertising copywriter, my Creative Director gave me a little notebook on the first day (I’d love to picture it as a sexy leather-bound moleskin but nope, it was just a shitty dollar store book) and told me to write down anything weird I observe or experience during the day (of course I wrote that down as my first entry). This became my “There-Must-Be-An-Ad-In-That” idea book. If we were ever stuck for ad ideas, we were all urged to refer back to this book, just flip the pages and see if we could plug any of these strange things into an advertising concept.

I’ve never stopped doing this even though I’ve fled as far as possible from advertising. Only now instead of carrying around a notebook I just type it all into the Notes section of my phone.

Story on the news that made me laugh? I shove it in. I’m not a traditional person and my entire life I’ve been attracted towards the strange and things that are different. That includes reading novels based on strange situations (for example: Death and the Penguin, a story about a man who lives in post-USSR Ukraine with his pet penguin that he recovered from the bankrupt zoo). I love that kind of shit! Give me more of it! My thirst for the bizarre is rarely satisfied, though, that’s why I feel this need to write about it.

People who read my stuff always go “Wow you’ve got such a creative mind to come up with these things!” but let’s face it, that’s not the exact truth. Ideas don’t magically strike me down at any given moment. Maybe that’s how some writers work, but not me. It’s hard work – always observing, listening, and recording things down. That’s the key to it all – don’t hope you remember it later. Even if you’re lying in bed half asleep or on a crowded subway or in the shower – if it comes into your head, even if it doesn’t make sense at the moment, write it down! For those moments when you’re stuck with either where to begin a story or how to get one going, the idea swipe file will always come in handy. No matter how quirky the thought is.

By the way, QUIRKY has a close relation to CRAZY, so sometimes I straddle both lines…

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But I’m okay with that.

How would you describe yourself as a writer? Also, if you have any fab quirky book recommendations for me, please don’t hesitate to share! I’m always on the lookout!

 

Dialogue Problems – “Gonna”

My first drafts are word dumps where I do just that – dump out as many words and scenes and characters as possible. Then I go back and clean everything up. Cut out awkward scenes and kill my darlings, you know how it is.

Right now, I’m stuck on my dialogue.

We’re told to write realistically, to make it sound the way a person would speak. Sometimes I read a passage outloud and no, it doesn’t work, it sounds too formal.That’s definitely something I learned while watching Eastenders last night.

Here’s the word I’m stuck on now: “Gonna”.

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Nobody says “I’m going to head over to Starbucks.” I mean, maybe sometimes someone actually will say it? But I watched some TV shows and every character says “gonna”. So people generally really actually do say “gonna”. “I’m gonna head over to Starbucks.” “I’m gonna eat that pizza.” “This is gonna be good!” The word really is an authentic part of dialogue.

Then why does it feel so weird for me to use it? It just looks so out of place for me, and stands out when I read dialogue between characters. Is it just me, am I overthinking this tiny word? Or is “gonna” really bad to use in my writing?

Oh well. I’m gonna go drown my sorrows in more wine. And do more editing.

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*It’s never gonna get old

I still don’t understand half of what they’re saying

I read this article today about Renee Zellwegger watching Eastenders to perfect her accent for her Bridget Jones role.

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LOVE IT. In my latest novel, one of my characters is a Polish dude who watches Eastenders to learn how to speak English.

Me and this show have a bit of history. I once worked at a TV station here in Canada that broadcasts this show. My job was to watch all the week’s episodes and write a gossip type column about the week’s events. Yes. I was paid to watch Eastenders. Let that sink in for a minute. Best job ever, right?

Anyways, I haven’t watched it since. But after reading this article, I realized I need to start watching Eastenders again. Why? Because parts of my novel take place in London, and my British dialogue was falling flat.

OH MY GOD. I’ve missed this show.

I think I’m enjoying my research a LITTLE bit too much!

P.S. I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY

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Prompt: The Accidental (?) Boob Grab

Prompt: Tell us about a time someone accidentally grabbed your boobs.

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Okay. So there I was, walking down Bay Street, heading back to work after lunch. I was late, of course, because I had to pause to visit the LCBO on my way back. I was rushing like Usain Bolt to get back to my desk before my boss decides she prefers my desk to be empty, which caused me to dart in between the slowpokes. In front of me, a man was talking with a lady. They were so engrossed with their conversation that they were not in any hurry to get anywhere and clearly were in my way.

I rudely darted in front of the man so I could pass them at the light. The light was red. As I took a step forward, he took a step forward. Our bodies collided. Instinctively, his hand went up to pat my shoulder as he apologized. Accidentally, his hand landed riiiiight on my boob.

It was not a soft graze. It was a full on, palm flat against my breast. But it was totally accidental. Which is what made it so hilarious. Especially the look of horror on his face as he realized what he did.

The light turned green and I bolted forward. Both humiliated and amused.

 

Aimless — The Daily Post

Dating is hard. Filling out a dating profile is harder.

The blank text box taunts me. It also reflects me: blank.

Tell us about yourself. Hobbies, interests, activities.

The struggle is real. Who has time for hobbies? When I come home after the daily grind of work, I’m too tired to do anything. I pull shut the curtains, turn on Netflix, and lose myself in endless hours of contrived programming until I drift asleep. During the day I browse all the recipes on Tasty that look so easy to make, and I tell myself that this is it, this is the day I make myself an impressive One-Pot Chicken Fajita Pasta, or maybe give myself a little kick with some Buffalo Fried Calamari, and one day, my Instagram feed with definitely be drooling over my Cincinnati Chili Spaghetti.

But not tonight.

Tonight I’m doing this, filling out this dating profile that I only bought a membership for because it was half-priced on Groupon. Prompted by my bestie, who would get a double discount if she bought it along with my friend, I couldn’t say no. I need to get back into the dating game, I told myself. What happened with Justin was an isolated incident. It will never happen again. Not all men are like that. There has to be one man out there for me, someone who will click with me.

The prompts taunt me. Tell us about yourself. What are your dreams and aspirations?

My dreams and aspirations?

I type my response into the text field.

Aimless. I am aimless. If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be aimless. I have no direction. No hopes and aspirations. I did, once upon a time, but they got crushed. Now I wake up every morning and toil away at a job I hate, to pay for a condo I hate, and I’m trapped. Trapped in an endless cycle, with no exit to take to get out.

I re-read what I just wrote, and then delete it all. No, that’s not right. I’m not completely aimless.

I’m looking for someone. And something.

And I’ll never stop searching until I find my direction.

 

 

Why Do I Write?

It’s one of the simplest questions people ask writers: Why do you write?

It’s the same reason why I read: to escape.

I’m one of those people who can’t stop thinking. My mind never shuts off. I’m always thinking what if I did this different? Why did I do that yesterday? What if I said this instead of that? Etc., it never ends.

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But once I’m reading or writing, it gives my mind something else to focus on. Someone else to obsess about. I just recently finished reading a book called Wreck and Order, and all I could think throughout it was whew, thank god there is someone out there who has a worse life than I do. If reading for one hour takes my mind off of how crappy my day was, even for 40 minutes during my commute home, then it’s worth it.

And that’s how it is with writing. When I start to zone out and my mind starts it’s endless parade of troubled thoughts, it helps me to create characters in my head whose lives are worse than mine, and it’s therapeutic to think what if? over and over about their lives, instead of mine.

And nothing beats opening up my Word document and spending time alone with my characters, who become like my friends.

That’s why, even if nobody ever reads anything I ever write, I will still continue writing.

I write because I need to.

 

Job Interview Nightmare #76

This job interview was the worst. And I’ve had a lot of bad ones.

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The job posting I applied to was for a start-up looking for a content editor. Writing deals for the website and publishing content? Awesome, that sounded like something I could do! My confidence was at an all-time high as I left the door.

I hadn’t had a job interview in awhile, so the professional black blazer I wore was a bit snug as I buttoned it up. But, oh well, it would do.

I sat down with the CEO and the Content Manager. Right away, they ask how my CSS, Java and PHP skills are, along with another list of random acronyms I’ve never dealt with in my entire life.

“I thought this was for a content writing job?” My voice squeaked. None of that was in the job posting. If it had been, I wouldn’t have applied. And if I had those skills, they would have been in my resume. Did nobody look at my resume?

“Sorry, we are looking for these particular qualifications,” the CEO said. “You are probably not the right fit.”

I stood, stunned, and gathered my untouched writing portfolio from the table. Just as I leaned forward, my stomach expanded slightly, and the button on my blazer popped off.

Like, it literally popped off. Flew up in the air, landed on the table, bounced, hit the floor, and rolled into the corner.

Everyone stared at the button, watching it. Horrified, my face flushed, I shook hands, thanked them for their time, and ran out of the room without collecting my button. Maybe if I didn’t acknowledge that it happened, it hadn’t happened.

Two days later I got a call from the Content Manager. “We found someone for the content editor position you interviewed for, but another writing job has opened up at another app we are working on. We would like to offer you the job.”

I think they felt sorry for me. I took the job.

I wanted to get my button back.