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Characters in My Pocket

Updated on June 30, 2014

Whenever I would read the works of really great authors, I would sometimes jealously make note of their remarkable abilities to capture observations that their characters would make in everyday life. They might relay a suddenly strange, possibly outrageous thought that came to the character's mind in a random situation. Or the character would make a clever, offhand remark about something ordinary or just the slightest bit out of the ordinary that they observed about one or more of their fellow humans.

I always wondered how they did that and assumed that it was some higher-level talent they possessed for completely inventing random, apropos-to-nothing, but yet extremely clever and real-to-life observations. Then I realized that like these fictional characters, I would make such random observations, some of which would nearly lead me to laugh aloud, perhaps giving the impression to the strangers around me that I was a little nuts...perhaps leading them to make little random observations that one might find a fictional character relaying in a story. I began to carry a little notebook with me, and whenever I would have such moment, I would write it down, no matter how much I wanted to drift off to sleep on the subway or just not stop and take the book out.

Character counts. Don't blame others carelessly. I had to take a picture of this because...well, you can't make this stuff up! It was too wordy to memorize and jot down quickly, and I didn't want to forget this gem. (For the record I wasn't driving.)
Character counts. Don't blame others carelessly. I had to take a picture of this because...well, you can't make this stuff up! It was too wordy to memorize and jot down quickly, and I didn't want to forget this gem. (For the record I wasn't driving.) | Source

Mysterious Posting

Spotted on a modestly sized sign along the median of a fairly busy highway:

Bio control of thistles test area

Sometimes I feel compelled to jot down a few words when noticing an odd sign or posting of some sort that makes me stop and think. Sometimes the sign will be oddly worded. Other times it just strikes you as obvious or redundant or misleading. Sometimes it will be so unique that you feel compelled to share it with someone - or perhaps to have a character relay it to the world through the thoughts she chooses to share with the reader.



  • If you are a purist like me, keep a tiny notebook in your back pocket or purse so you can scribble down a few colorful impressions of the world as they strike you. I suppose you can do the same on your I-phone, but to each his own.

  • Perhaps you have the skeleton of a story in your mind, possibly even fleshed out a bit on paper already. Then you already have an idea of who your characters are or will be, their personalities, habits, biases and vulnerabilities. If you are sitting among your fellow humans on the subway or isolated from them in the vast open loneliness of a virgin forest, crawl into your character’s skin and gaze out upon your surroundings with his or her eyes. Note: for the Hannibal Lecters out there, I meant this figuratively.

  • We have all met someone exhibiting a peculiar mannerism or consistently employing unique word choices. Even more impressionable are the occasional encounters with the consistent malaprop or two who likely hailed from other worlds and speak to us through highly flawed translation software. If we are self-aware, we may even recognize some of these in ourselves - good or bad. I have found myself observing these idiosyncrasies and incorporating them into my characters. And yes, I have culled these quirks from myself as well.

  • Expand your vocabulary. Look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary. Make a note of them and study the definitions. Incorporate the more esoteric or colorful words into your personal vocabulary or that of one of your characters.

Your Characters - A Poll

How do you create colorful characters for fiction?

See results

© 2014 The Zen Mistress


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Good advice for any aspiring writer


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