Writing Tip: Look at the People Around You!

In the past I’ve had trouble coming up with believable characters for my stories. Not the main characters – usually those come pretty easy to me – but the background characters, the supporting characters. I’ve found them hard to create because they tend to be so unimportant in the long run that it’s hard to come up with the energy to make them interesting, noticable, and real.

These days I know that ideas for believable characters can come from all around us, and one excellent source is our coworkers. These are people whom we might see every day, who have different personalities, quirks, and traits, and who can in turn supply us with excellent ideas for characters who feel real. If you happen to hate your coworkers you might even use them as a villian in your piece.

I’ll give you a few examples.

My husband worked for a woman who was the manager of a franchise establishment. This woman was past middle-age, but she dressed and acted like she was in her twenties. She had short-cropped hair and wore contacts that made her eyes a different color. To everyone but herself it was clear that she was in the throes of a mid-life crisis, and she took out all of her frustrations on her employees. She was an angry and unreasonable woman who put too much enjoyment into lording her tiny piece of power over others.

I myself once had a coworker who was about my age, which at the time was around 23. She was a short, thin girl with long hair that was always up in a ponytail and she was a total sweetheart to be around. But the thing that made her interesting was that she was super dedicated to all kinds of sports. She played semi-professional basketball and in her free time would do everything from mountain biking to skydiving. She was fearless and fun and loved to take life by the horns.

Do you see where I’m going with this? The possibilities are endless. My father worked with a man who was almost three hundred pounds and smoked about two packs of cigarettes a day. I worked with a guy who was a genius when it came to facts and numbers, but he was strangely lacking in logic and common sense. I worked for a woman who was so unreasonably cruel to others that she refused to let one of her employees have half a day off to attend her cousin’s funeral. The list goes on and on and on. A hundred, maybe even a thousand perfectly formed characters just waiting to be written about.

Have you ever used people you knew in real life as characters in a story? What about coworkers specifically? Have you ever used someone you hated or who was mean to you as a villan? Please share!

30 Days of Truth – Day 8

Someone who made your life hell, or treated you like shit.

I’m tempted to go back and elaborate on the people who made my life miserable in school. But I’m going to rise above that one and go with someone who is not likely to ever, ever come across this blog.

I had this one particular boss…she was the manager when I worked at WalMart. At this particular time our local WalMart was being moved to a new building. We were, quite literally, constructing the place. We had to put up all the shelving, put together the check-outs, stock everything, and so on. And the manager we had while doing all this was plucked straight from the bowels of hell, I swear. She demanded more of us than any person should ever have to put up with for minimum wage, and she was a complete bitch 200% of the time. Once, she gave me a ten-minute (screaming) lecture because I dared to set a single foot on a pallet while removing stock from it (apparently it was a safety issue). Note that there was literally no possible way for me to remove stock from the center of the pallet without stepping on it. Another time she actually yelled at me for moving a ladder because I was “too small to move heavy things by myself” (um…sexist much?). The ladder weighed maybe 30 lbs, by the way.

But some of the worst things I saw didn’t even happen personally to me. A coworker of mine, a young girl of about 16 or 17, once dared to ask for the afternoon off…to attend her cousin’s funeral. The manager bitch flat out told her no, for the reason that a cousin apparently isn’t “close enough family” to justify leaving work early. For the record, I told the coworker to sneak off and I’d cover for her but she refused because she was terrified of getting in trouble.

That manager wasn’t the only boss I’ve hated, but she’s the only one that I’ve ever seriously considered telling to go straight to hell, and to this day I kinda wish I had.