Developing characters

The world is full of interesting characters. The trick is asking the right questions.

I’m a people watcher. Whenever I’m out in public, I can’t help noticing the interesting people living their lives around me, and wondering how they got to where they are. It’s a habit that I try to restrain most of the time, especially for the women in the room. The last thing I want to do is make anyone feel creeped out and uncomfortable because of my glances and curiosity. There’s really no explanation that sounds plausible when you’ve accidentally been staring at a woman during her workout, so it’s best to avert mine eyes.

The gym is really the worst place for my curious creative brain. It’s a venue with an increased likelihood of lechery, and my brutish features don’t help convince anyone that I’m not up to no good. Nor does my habit of staring blankly off to space as I work through a creative idea. So far, I’ve avoided any disastrous misunderstandings, but the danger is always on the horizon. I spend a lot of time looking down at the floor between sets.

But there are so many interesting people at the gym! So many men and women with unique appearances and mannerisms who choose to spend hours working the machines and sweating profusely. There’s a fellow who works out with a speed and intensity that frightens me to watch. He focuses on quick, explosive movements and agility. He shadow boxes between sets. He can do more pull-ups in 30 seconds than I could muster in a day. My first guess is that he fights, either MMA or boxing. But he’s also entirely bereft of body hair, so maybe he’s a competitive body builder. On the other hand, he is as pale as a ghost, and you’d expect most body builders to sport a leathery ultra-tan.

Another example of a story waiting to be told: a woman with mountains of bright blond curly hair piled high atop her head pumps away determinedly on the stairmaster. Her overly ample bosom is restrained tightly enough to eliminate almost all uncomfortable exercise jiggling, and the disproportion of her cleavage to the rest of her body hints at artificial enhancement. Her arms, ankles and collarbone are covered with tattoo work, faded by the years of intense tanning. Her eye makeup is dark and dramatic, and her fingernails are long and shiny with polish. The severe look of her nose and jaw has a masculine quality to it. So why did she choose to make these choices? How did she end up here? These are the questions that run through my brain as I huff and puff my way through my own workout routine, questions that I could never walk up to a stranger and ask.

So I keep the questions inside of my own head and I begin to invent answers to them. That’s why I have a steady supply of ‘new’ characters to put into my stories: I’m harvesting my ‘wonder why’ file of invented stranger profiles.

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