Developing characters: lift your eyes from the keyboard

Man in a cap typing on a tiny, very old typewriter

Writer John by Onomatomedia, cc by-sa 3.0

“I am always criticised for my unrealistic characters,” said a writer nonchalantly. We were chatting in a cafe. “People say they’re not interesting.” I moved my eyes and saw seven other people, making coffee, drinking coffee, reading, working at tablets and laptops.

“Do you ever look at strangers, and wonder about them?” I asked.

“No. I’m more interested in ideas.”

I hadn’t noticed that. I’d noticed something else, though. “I climbed Everest last Tuesday,” I said.

“I did a lot of climbing in Wales when I was young,” he said.

“I climbed Everest solo without oxygen,” I said.

“I climbed with a top team, and three of them had climbed Everest multiple times,” he said.

“I climbed Everest solo last Tuesday wearing nothing but a tutu,” I said.

“I sometimes think about climbing Everest, but my arthritis is a problem,” he said.

“Oh, that’s enough about me!” I said. “Let’s talk about you as a writer who is unable to create realistic characters. Do you ever eavesdrop?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, start,” I said. “Do you ever listen to what other people are saying?”

“I’m more interested in ideas,” he said.


10 thoughts on “Developing characters: lift your eyes from the keyboard

  1. bone&silver says:

    Very true! Well expressed

    1. I know it’s a good thing we’re all different. But sometimes I can’t resist an urge to be bossy.

      1. bone&silver says:

        Isn’t there a campaign to replace the word ‘bossy’ with ‘shows leadership skills’? 👍🏼

  2. Glynis Jolly says:

    Paying attention to other people for the sake of the writing craft is hard to do. At least, it is for me. I would love to learn the skill, though. I am sure it is just a matter of concentration. I do not think it would be wise to take notes while doing the activity, which is probably where I have my problems. If one of those people saw me jotting down stuff, it may upset them.

    1. Aha! Yesterday at the NZ International Film Festival We saw the complete 2nd season of Top of The Lake. (6 hours. Brilliant!) Writer/director Jane Campion was there. Her cowriter revealed this “bad” thing about her: sometimes she stares so hard at people it’s scary. But hey, like you I draw the line at taking notes!!

  3. Aunt Beulah says:

    With a few moments of dialogue, you wrote a complete character sketch. I know that man; and I also know that you are a keen observer of your fellow human beings and that, with humor and insight, you gave would-be writers some excellent advice. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

    1. I am honoured by your remarks. And reminded of the power of anecdotes. Thank you!

  4. I’m always taken aback when in attempting to converse with someone, they are more interested in what they are going to say than in what is being said. Coinsidentally, I too, climbed Everest in a tutu last Tuesday. I must have passed you on my way up?

    1. Oh sorry I thought that was a flamingo. Congratulations.

      1. 🎀 I cannot find a pink flamingo emoji 💕