Last week, my husband Dave and I were traveling (with the company of my brother Matt and sister Amanda) to the bright and exciting city of Las Vegas. As we walked around the strip in the 110 degree heat, there were a lot of different thoughts going through my mind. One of those thoughts was that no amount of gel would keep my curly hair frizz-free in that heat. Another thought was about potential characters for my writing.
Anyone who’s been to Las Vegas knows that you’ll see all kinds of people there. Young and old, exotic and ordinary, carefree and stressed. Simply looking around provided me with all of kinds of character inspiration.
One young girl that we saw is bound to make it into my next middle grade novel. She was about 9 or 10 years old, walking with her mother. Her dark black hair was pulled into a high ponytail and she was trying to stay cool in shorts and a brightly colored t-shirt. But what really caught my attention (and my sister’s as well) was her footwear. She was wearing peep-toe wedges that had to be about four inches high. And they were a few sizes too big! She was fumbling across the walkway, trying to follow her mother’s advice about how to walk in heels. What?! Amanda and I (clad in our summer staple of flip flops) gawked and whispered about what the heck the little girl (and her mother) were thinking. Which got me thinking about a potential character.
I’ve also found that I like to base characters (loosely) on people that I know or have known. Traits from various people find their way into the characters that I develop and create. The best friend of the protagonist in a short story I am writing is based on my friend Mel. When I was writing and described the character as “fiercely loyal,” Mel jumped into my mind. I needed a character who would stand up for her friends and not be afraid to let her opinions be known. Having Mel in my head as I wrote helped me to make the character all the more real.
Writing for a middle grade audience, I often find myself thinking of my students (former and current) when developing characters. This summer, as I’ve been editing a novel that I wrote a few years ago, one of my students from this past year kept popping into my mind whenever a certain character came up in the manuscript. Thinking of this colorfully-mohawked student, with a propensity for making his classmates laugh, helped me to make this character more real, and endeared him to me even more.
So I guess that this summer I’ve learned to look around myself even more and notice the people who could inspire characters in my writing. And I guess what YOU should learn is that, if you know me personally, you may just find one of my characters a tad bit familiar…