Adding a new “character” to your story is one of the most fun, most daring things you can do as a writer. Whether they get only a few minutes onstage or end up being a major player in a series, new characters stretch your imagination while grounding you in reality… of a sort. But in reality, what you’re adding are people:
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” ― Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
And it’s a learning curve – sometimes you’re adding a “person” with no precedent to work from. For me, creating an angelic character meant rereading Biblical references and then adding my imagination to the “what if” for them. Rereading demonic references and asking “what if” they were standing next to me and spoke… Or there’s the more commonplace folks like an Hispanic small-town female cop. Or a hard-bitten, almost-stereotypical security chief. And the list goes on.
So where to get ideas? How to tie the fantastic to the commonplace? My suggestion is to start taking notes.
Interesting people are all around us. We’re known dozens of “characters” in our lives and probably done a fairly poor job of taking note. I would suggest you take a few minutes a month and jot down the names of people you work with and live around. What makes you grin about them when they come by, the things they say and do – mannerisms grounding in reality. When the time comes to add somebody to your story, you’ve got a war-chest of “people” to mix and match from.
Oh, by the way, heed the advice of Donald Miller – “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” Whether we agree with them or not, the people around us deserve our attention. I think God would agree with me on that one…
There’s another side benefit to taking notes on the people in our lives – we tend to leave them and forget. In just my life, I’ve been grounded for several years at at time in New York, Sand Diego, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania. When I think of people from past iterations of my life, one of the sad things is that there are people who I’ve forgotten about, especially as I grow older (ahem). Faces without a name, or a fond moment in time with the people left out. These things sadden me… and perhaps this has happened to you as well.
So dig out the pen or tablet and look with a smile to the people in your life, taking notes. I think you’ll learn something new and even get an inspiration for a “character” in your next story.