Creating Colorful Characters
For novelists, creating a memorable character that jumps off the page and into a reader’s imagination is darn hard to do. Which is why I frequently envy the person working at his desk in the other room, who always seems to be having fun.
When my husband retired, people who knew him speculated on how he would spend his time once he left the company he’d founded. Write a book about his ground-breaking career? Open a restaurant? Learn to sail?
Nobody expected him to become a trash collector, but that’s exactly what he did. And then he created colorful characters from what he found.
The first creations came from a long-neglected “junk” drawer. Once he had repurposed most of that supply into a few funny faces, he expanded his search for more bits and pieces outdoors, where he struck it rich.
We live near a big city park with hundreds and sometimes thousands of visitors daily: runners, joggers, walkers, golfers, picnickers, folks pushing strollers and herding children. They come to ride the zoo train, see the animals, meditate in the Japanese garden, steer the paddle boats, or simply sit under a 100-year oak and feed the squirrels.
After a day of family fun, there’s always stuff left behind: a random baby shoe or sock, an odd earring, a broken barrette, the cap from a juice drink, the innards of a smashed calculator or mobile phone. If he comes across an interesting piece of detritus, he’ll bring it home and turn it into a piece of whimsy.
Besides the stand-alone Critters, he’s made magnetic Doo-dads that can be worn on clothing or stuck on the fridge. These funny-faced eye-catchers tend to be conversation starters, which encourages him to make more. Neighbors have donated their own odds and ends, eager to contribute to the process.
With each face, a unique personality emerges. A character you might want to meet, or avoid. A face that reminds you of someone you know, or would rather forget. Sometimes I grab a magnet pin to wear, depending to my mood. Feeling spiffy? Bad hair day? Or, if the writing’s not going well, I may sport the one with the DELETE button for a mouth. Enough said.
From time to time, someone asks to buy a piece, but the creator is not keen on selling. For now, his Critters & Doodads reside on shelves and inside cabinets, and only come out on request.
Yet every time a new Critter or Doo-dad emerges from a box of junk, it’s guaranteed to bring smiles. And these days, we all can use more of those. Including novelists.
Is there a silly something that brings you joy?
Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.