Peculiar traits and where to find them
You are on the bus; there are tons of people to add to your character palette around you. Humanity at its best and worst awaits to be acknowledged. Then you noticed a bald guy with a beard, so skinny you can count his bones. The guy is in his forties; his feet move rhythmically, following an invisible tempo.
You start imagining which songs it’s trapped in his head and start counting the time: tap, taptaptap, tap, taptaptap. When you descend, you’re sure he was humming Eye of the Tiger by Survivor.
What did you do?
You tried your best to be a Sherlock, trying to guess a song starting from the appearance of the guy and the movement of his feet. What you did is OK if you want to write some boring novel swarming with flat characters. Here you’ve committed to building round-believable characters, so let’s try to go the extra mile.
Let’s do it again
The guy in front of us has something in his pocket, with a keychain bulging a bit out. From the colors, it seems it is the BMW symbol, so he has some car keys in his pocket. Why would a 40-years-old with a car decide to spend time on a bus on such a busy hot day? A mechanic, maybe? Or his car broke and he had to take the bus? Then, you notice his feet moving rhythmically, following an invisible tempo. It’s not the rhythm he’s following that attracts you, but something else. It seems he’s pushing on an invisible accelerator and breaking and repeating it constantly.
A good man
He’s a good man, he’s always has been, but then something changed, something deep. His values changed, together with his life, after the accident. He was a family man, stressed enough to have money to pay a loan but not too much to get insomniac.
He was working a night shift when it happened when he passed that guy with a scooter. They argued, as always, when you’re driving in a busy city. But, this time, it wasn’t a typical argument. The guy in the scooter started to follow him, shouting at our guy in his brand new BMW. When finally they stopped at the traffic light, the guy in the scooter descended and yelled again. Maybe he was under drugs, perhaps he was insane, who knows?
Our guy remained inside his BMW, just waiting for the green light to go. Too tired and too nervous about spending time with this useless prick. And then it happened. The guy outside gave the first kick at the car door and it got dented. The light was still red; the traffic light seemed frozen, a match ready to burn the city at any moment.
People snaps. People lose control for the most surprising reasons. For our guy, that reason was his car; he couldn’t stand another kick, and every time that foot kicked his car, it made him angrier and redder than the traffic light in front of him. He opened the door, grabbed the guy and threw him with all his forces to the other side of the street.
Fatally, the guy in the scooter fell badly, his head on the edge of the sidewalk. They said it was a once-in-a-while scenario, an accident, and he got heavily provoked. Police left all the charges, and everything seemed to return to normal.
Everything except the guilty sensation hidden inside him. His feet still thinking about that moment when he could put the first gear and go, his hand reaching for the keys inside the pocket, turning on an invisible engine.
What did we do?
We imagined a layered character doing something unexpected due to background we don’t know yet. In a book, even the minor characters must have a background story, even if it’s barely a simple, sketched one. This leads to the “so what” moment we discussed earlier. After that, we ask ourselves how a person with such a background will speak, walk and so on.
Curved shoulders, slight tic on one eye, moving back the glasses, or constantly sneezing three times. Add whatever you think is accurate for your character and his background.
In the following article, we will start speaking about levels to structure your characters correctly.
In the meantime, keep reading my stories here and see you soon!