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!