I Might Kill You

Plasticwrapped dead woman © Rasmus RasmussenAs a writer it happens that you meet people, who will want to be in your stories. Some literally ask for it, while others have something about them, which lends itself well to whatever you’re writing on.

A while back, I attended the opening of a new restaurant here in Seattle. As I made myself comfortable in the wine bar (where else?), I started talking to this lady. She was dressed in a sharp, navy blue dress that could probably serve as both a business outfit and something for a night out. She turned out to be a lobbyist, working for both republicans and democrats, helping them push issues through where ever she was needed.

There was definitely an aura of power about her. She worded every sentence carefully, as if the world was listening, smiled a lot and it was obvious to me, that someone like her would be an interesting character to put in a crime novel. So, when she asked me what I do, I told her about the books I write and added that I thought, I might kill her off in one of them. This luckily went over very well, and the stories she told immediately grew even more exciting. Thinking about it now, I probably should have gotten her e-mail address.

Though that time, the person’s job, charisma and even clothes were like taken right out of a novel, most often I am not this lucky. Usually, there are only bits and pieces of a person, which I can use. A barista at the local coffee place, where I often go to write, joked around one day and said: “I want to be in your novel.”

At that time, I was currently planning the plot of my next project, so when he said that, I started looking at him. His name is uncommon enough that it’d be good, and him being a skinny dude, barely out of his teens, his description and body language were perfect for a character I was going to add anyway. Okay, so I will have to change his profession, give him a few bad habits and so on, but that’s how it usually is. I don’t think he believed me, when I nodded and answered, that sure, I’d put him in there.

Modelling characters is one of the most important aspects of writing. If you do a bad job, your stories will be flat and fail to grip the readers. It really doesn’t matter if they love or loathe the character, as long as they believe in it and build up an idea of how this person would act under various circumstances. In my experience it is really the little details, that make your characters stand out, and what better place to find those than in the real world, where we are constantly surrounded by people. If you need characters, I suggest you go shopping and do a little spying on the other people in the store. You’ll be surprised what you can pick up.

When people want to be in my stories, I immediately begin to dissect them in my mind. Nearly anyone will have one or more qualities (and in this case, qualities also refers to less fortunate traits), that you can pick up and use. If you’re lucky, there’ll be a whole bag of qualities, and you’ll have an almost finished character right there, ready to get killed off in chapter seven. Or whatever else you might need them for.

The image used for this piece was shot by me and is available on iStockphoto.

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