Finding Inspiration – Part 1: Characters

“Where do you come up with your ideas?”

That is a question I get asked a lot when I meet readers of my books, other writers, or when people find out I’m a writer.

“I don’t have that kind of imagination.”

If you have a desire to write stories then you must have some kind of imagination, it is possible you may just need to feed it.

“Feed my imagination? What are you talking about?”

Inspiration is everywhere but you have to actively go in search of it.  If you sit and wait for it to fall into your lap you might wait forever.

I waited 35 years for inspiration to strike me before I realized that if I started looking at things and listening to things differently I might find inspiration in it.  I kick myself every day for not realizing this sooner.  I spent 10 years with a large Sheriff’s Department, if I would have known then what I know now can you imagine how many story ideas I might have?  For many of those 10 years, my desk was located in the detective area, right outside the interrogation rooms.  On the other side of my cubical wall was where the deputies brought in all the arrestees. When I say that “I heard everything,” I mean I really heard everything.  I also spent several years in the front office of the department helping the public.  If only I had a “writer’s mind” at the time.

“That’s great but I don’t work in a Sheriff’s department so how is this supposed to help me?”

Let me reiterate: “If only I had a “writer’s mind” at the time.

What if every day when I went to work I purposely looked for inspiration? Making notes of how the different people that came through the office looked, how the different deputies looked, acted, carried themselves.  Jotting down interesting conversations between the deputies or between the deputies and the arrestee.  Write down the gist of the stories people would tell.

For example, A young man came into the office one day to make a report about his lost wallet.  He had an elaborate story about where and how he thought he lost it, but that isn’t something the department generally writes a report on especially since he had no credit cards in the wallet.  He insisted he needed a police report to show his roommate that he lost his portion of the rent payment.  As I talked with him and questioned him further he finally admitted he thought the wallet was stolen…by a prostitute he partied with the previous night.

It is one of the very few stories I can actually remember but it serves as a great example of always having an open mind to collect things.

“Still, I don’t see how this applies to me because I still don’t work in a Sheriff’s office.”

You don’t have to work anywhere specific but you do have to go out, into public, as scary as that might be it needs to happen.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to talk to anyone, just observe them.  Head out to a large store, park as close to the middle of the parking lot as you can, roll down your window and start watching and listening.  Make notes of the various “characters” you see.  What do their clothes, hair, make-up, overall appearance look like?  What did they drive to the store? Who are they with? Do they look like they are in a hurry or taking their time?  Happy? Mad at the world?

Now start asking yourself questions about those characters.  What were they doing at that store? Why did he appear so anxious and in such a hurry? What if he just heard on the radio that a freak blizzard was expected to hit later that evening and people were being warned to stock up on necessary supplies?  What kind of insanity might ensue before, during or after a devastating freak blizzard in Southern California?

Don’t stop at what the person looks like, start asking yourself questions and interjecting “what if’s” into the questions.

“I can’t get out, how can I do this at home?”

Time to turn on the television!  Find some reality shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette or Survivor and watch the characters.  Don’t worry about the background information the show provides, just watch them interact with each other, how they talk and act.  I know, the editors don’t give the whole story but you don’t need the whole story, you are a writer, you just need some inspiration for a character.

Some other great places to find character inspiration are airports, sporting events, community events, doctors offices/hospitals, college campuses, and restaurants.

In my next blog, I will talk about finding inspiration for settings.




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