Creating Realistic Characters
Prepare a one- or two-page "bio sheet" of a character you'd like to include in your memoir or novel. Include the following attributes:
- physical and behavioral characteristics
- habits of speech
- fears, anxieties
- likes and dislikes
Next, write a scene consisting of narration, dialogue, and action, in which your viewpoint character interacts with another character, and in which you capture as many of the above character attributes as you can.
- Physical and behavioral characteristics: 5'8" or so, athletic build, mid-thirties or so. Blue eyes, long, brown hair (to help hide). Runs her fingers through her hair often enough for others to notice it. Doesn't make eye contact for too long. Taken to looking out windows if they are available. She doesn't have a name set in stone for me yet. For purposes of this exercise, let's call her Amelia.
- Temperament: Calm, but quick to become emotional when faced with children.
- Habits of speech: Quite methodical in speech as if afraid she will reveal information she isn't ready to reveal. Chooses words carefully and speaks well and clearly.
- Beliefs: Liberal in politics, not religious at all and bothered by it but can't seem to find the right 'religion' or the right 'beliefs.' Nothing suits her. Believes in helping others provided it doesn't inconvenience her.
- Eccentricities: Doesn't answer questions right away since she is thinking of the answer to make sure she doesn't reveal too much. Runs fingers through hair. Wears inappropriate footwear whenever possible.
- Fears, anxieties: Has secrets and skeletons that she doesn't want revealed.
- Likes and dislikes: Children are a like and a dislike. Good, fresh food. Nice wine. Enjoys the outdoors and likes being alone. Solitude is her like and dislike.
Amelia saw the sign painted on the red barn 'Jesus Saves.' 'Saves what? Pennies? Puppies?' she thought and chuckled out loud.
The windows were down in the car and her long, brown hair blew about her face with the occasional strand getting stuck in her eyelashes or on her moist lips. She made no effort to brush the stray hair away. The thought that eventually all of her hair might be stuck to some part of her face made her laugh out loud too.
She continued driving into the small one-traffic signal town looking at the buildings and people gracing the sidewalks. It was a wonderful spring day in early April. Amelia guessed that the weather was unseasonably warm since so many people were out milling about town. It was the sort of place she was looking for - small, nondescript, anonymous. And the sign welcoming you to town about Jesus sealed the deal.
She parked in front of the small diner in the center of town anxious for something to eat. She hadn't eaten breakfast that morning since she wanted to get out of the town she spent the last couple of days in without success. She pushed and pull hair out off of her lips and face and tried to mat it down as best she could. She reached into her car's cup holder and grabbed a hair elastic to pull her long, unruly hair into a pony tail. She checked the rear view mirror to make sure there weren't any stray pieces standing up on top.
She walked through the screen door and heard the obligatory bell hooked to the chain at the top of the door ring. 'Must every small establishment like this have a bell?' she thought. 'Honestly, would they not notice me walk in. The place had 10 tables and no where to hide!' She could also hear the click clack of her four inch heels hitting the floor as she walked in.
"Hello," said the man behind the counter as he looked at her, his eyes seeming to bore into her. She felt her face warm, but not redden, and could feel sweat on the small of her back under her green t-shirt.
She looked around the diner and saw no one. Certainly it was lunch time. Why was no one here? That couldn't be a very good sign.
"Hello," she replied after leaving a silence to scan the room. "Where is everybody?" she said with a wave of her hand. She walked to the counter to take a seat listening to the click clack of her heels echo throughout the emptiness.
"You are everybody," he said. She noticed that he was the only person in the place and that he wasn't wearing a hairnet to tame his curly, brown shoulder-length hair. "It's the first nice day we've had in months and everyone is out enjoying the day. I've had take-out orders, but that's about it."
His smile made her nervous. The stare of his blue eyes made her uncomfortable and she turned her head to look out the front window at her car and the people walking up and down the sidewalk on both sides of the street.
"What can I get you?" he said as he reached behind himself to grab a menu nestled next to the cash register. "Something to drink?"
She looked at the fountain beverage dispenser and decided against it. "Water," she said as she looked from the dispenser to the menu.
"Where are you from?" he asked as he reached under the counter for a glass and turned to fill it with water from the faucet.
Amelia could feel the hair on her arms and the back of her neck stand on end. 'Where am I from?' she thought to herself. 'I don't know.'
"Not from here," she managed to say without looking up from her menu.
She heard him chuckle. He placed the water in front of her and leaned down, trying to make eye contact with her.
"I guessed you weren't from here since I don't recognize you and the town isn't big enough for me not to recognize people from it."
She looked up and saw him smiling at her. Instead of feeling angry or embarrassed, she felt a certain calm. This was the right place, she knew it. Not because there was a handsome man standing in front of her, but because she was treated with such kindness. It did help that he had blue eyes the color of a small, spring-fed lake.
The thought made her start and she shivered even though she could still feel the sweat on the small of her back.
"I'm not from here and I think we should leave it at that." she said more sternly than she wanted.
"Okay," he replied taking the cue. "What are you hungry for?"