CHARACTERS: Lady in the Red Hat
Or wait. Maybe she'd undergone chemotherapy--and she had no hair. Interesting theory.
Little snippets of her possible character started developing in my mind.
I stopped at the stoplight and continued to observe (yeah, we writers are weird, stalkerish people). At that point I smiled, because I saw that instead of wearing sandals or flip-flops to match her feminine attire, this woman wore clunky boot-like shoes. Aha! Not your typical girlie-girl. An individual, someone not afraid to lose the overall ultra-feminine effect by pairing her sundress with stomp-worthy boots. That, or else she was very practical. I mean, if she planned to walk a lot that day, she'd need more of a hiking kind of footwear, right?
And then I glimpsed the final impression-changer: one of her hands came up from her side, and she took a drag on a cigarette. That surprised me! But her being a smoker did kind of match the boots. Nix the practical theory for the boots--back to the rebel individual, anti-girlie theory. The red hat was the initial flag that waved "I don't mind standing out!" Her character was solidifying before my eyes.
I wondered…do the characters in my books ever surprise my readers like that? Or are the kids, teens, and adults in my novels more like stock characters, easily put into a well-defined category? Normal. Safe. PREDICTABLE. Do I ever go beyond "normal" characters and make them individuals? Am I afraid to drop something more unusual into the mix, for fear that it won't seem "realistic" or "right" for that character? Fascinating revelation.
What about you and your characters?
A word of caution. You can go totally bonkers and overdo the unpredictable factor while making your characters stand out and be different. I've read books where almost every single character has an eccentric, bizarre, or unusual trait. Like (and I'm making these up) Uncle Harold has an alligator farm…petite elderly neighbor Ms. Crayville races stock cars in her spare time…BFF Hilary adores scorpions and utilizes them to get even with her ex-boyfriends.
It can reach overload in a short time. The quirkiness begins to be the new norm. As you read, you don't experience the exhilaration of glimpsing a parrot in a flock of crows. You experience…a flock of parrots.
Do you people-watch, and get writing ideas from people you see or meet in real life?
Do you tend to make your characters normal and predictable--or are they quirky?
What's your favorite zany/quirky/eccentric character you've read about in a book?