Creative Writing 3: Making Characters Unique

Wednesday, October 15, 2008 0:37 | Filed in Fiction/Writing

Go somewhere public, like a café or a shopping centre. Take a notebook with you, and spend half an hour making notes on some of the interesting people that you see around you. You might want to start with a physical description, then go on to create a short imagined history for each one. Make notes on at least five different characters.BBC Get Writing: Making Characters Unique

The First

Man; late forties or early fifties. Covered with a patina of dirt, he appears grubby. Sat by the edge of a building near Manchester Picadilly. He has unkempt hair, brown but looking blacker because of its greasiness. His beard extends several inches below his chin, and is ragged rather than neatly trimmed. The assumption is that he’s homeless. What is less of an assumption is that he appears to be either drunk, drugged or otherwise disturbed, shouting “Hello Miss” at most of the ladies who walk past, and then unleashing a torrent of obscenity — not overtly sexual in tone, just randomised hatred and swearing — at the one who does happen to glance in his direction.

We’ll call him Cider George.

The Second

There’s a young man on the train, trying to present the image of a high-flying businessman. He’s wearing a sharp pin-stripe suit; dark blue with a thin stripe. As he is moved from where he is sat by someone pointing out that they have a reservation for that seat, he ostentatiously remarks that he knew his reservation was for Coach C but he hadn’t checked which seat, because he’d had a busy day and the office was high-pressure.

Something jars here: if you have a reservation, you tend not to sit in a random seat with a reservation ticket in it – you’ll either find your seat or one which isn’t reserved. Once sat down – he ends up taking the seat next to me: he shows off his iPod nano; the case; his case and his flash-looking mobile phone.

It’s like he’s trying to be Mr. I’m More Successful Than You.

I’m reading my book and listening to my iPod, which from the half-mangled headphones that just about work, won’t look nearly as flashy as his. I look up to see an inspector looking for tickets. I hand mine over. The ladies opposite hand theirs over.

Pinstripe is resting his head against the carriage window, eyes closed.

“Tickets, please”.

No response.

The inspector pokes his shoulder. No response. Lifts his arm and drops it. No response. Pokes him in the thigh.

This time there’s the stretch of the head, the “mmmm…whaaa?” sound and the slight shake of the head that signify to everyone sat near him that he has been pretending to be asleep.

Not surprisingly, he doesn’t have a valid ticket. He turns out to have a ticket that expired last sunday, which is in itself only valid when accompanied by a travel pass — which he has — except that both the ticket and the pass were only valid for off-peak travel anyway. Which it isn’t.

He has to show some identity and get written out with some kind of penalty ticket thing, all the while protesting that it wasn’t his fault – the people who sold him the ticket didn’t tell him when it was valid or when it expired.

Only the whole thing — the story about having a seat reserved on this carriage when he obviously didn’t, seeing as he didn’t even have a valid ticket — the pretending to be asleep, the protesting that he didn’t realise the ticket wasn’t valid — was obviously a lie.

So, was he just down on his luck, or was he a con-artist, a grifter, trying to present an image that will carry him further?

This is Daniel P. Alston. Or Pinstripe Danny, depending on which avenue we decide to take him down…

The Third

She’s young, but carries herself with confidence on the train by herself. She knows where she’s going, and she’s confident she knows how to get there without help. She’s wearing a green v-neck jumper, a white blouse with a red and blue tie, and a plain black skirt. She’s probably between about fourteen and sixteen. She has small rectangular glasses with visible shiny metal bits — some sort of decoration? — in the top corners.

She’s talking to a younger child next to her: someone not in the same uniform. Possibly a sibling, but as she is talking with an accent that is part American and part soft Manchester, and the other kid obviously doesn’t have an American twang, maybe not siblings. I would have contemplated exchange student, but I wouldn’t have thought that these would wear uniforms…

The Fourth

Now we’re down to the last two who were little more than a sketch, because I didn’t have time to observe these for as long. First is a young woman, late teens to early twenties, with that bleached blonde-almost-white hair, and without any apparent irony, with scrunchies in her ponytail, and an ensemble made up of mixed shellsuit and Burberry accessories.

She also has a pushchair which contains a small child — called Britney — probably around fifteen months old. The child is awake and looking around, but is otherwise placid. Everything about this person screams “Chav” at me, including the cigarette hanging from her lip and the somewhat … industrial … language she is using to her friend to describe exactly how fucking shit-faced drunk she was the other night.

In short, this appears very much to be the real-life Vicky Pollard. In fact, that’s what drew my attention to her in the first place; the fact that she looked more like a caricature than a real person.

I don’t know what to call her yet, other than ‘Chav Girl’, but it would be interesting to see if you could actually do something with this character which moved her away from the stereotype she very much appeared to be occupying.

The Fifth

Another businessman — well, I tended to make notes while I was travelling, so all of these people were either located at railway stations or on trains. This chap has a smart suit; he’s reading something which looks like the Financial Times, and he has an array of gadgets on the table in front of him. He’s got what appear to be two mobile phones, an iPod and a Blackberry resting on the table.

He also has quite a tremendous look of disdain on his face; I’m presuming that he is disgusted that his secretary has made an error and has booked him standard tickets with the common rabble. You can see the way he holds himself stiffly that he’s not happy about the people he’s sat next to, and it’s not like they seem scruffy or unpleasant or anything — they just look like they are about to go on holiday, which considering the train ends up at Manchester Airport, isn’t that unlikely.

Oh, and he looks like a Simon to me. Not that I’ve got anything against Simons, it’s just that I’m sure that’s what he’s called. Or maybe Si.

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1 Comment to Creative Writing 3: Making Characters Unique

  1. says:

    August 31st, 2011 at 1:41 am

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