Holy Sh**, That’s [Insert Name of Character Here]!

That exact thought flashed through my mind the other day when I was waiting for the metro in D.C. to go home after a night out with some of my girlfriends. I look to the left, and there’s this guy, and he looked EXACTLY like I picture Nathaniel, one of the main characters in my novel. It was uncanny, but very cool at the same time. Of course, it does not happen very often that you see a personification of a character that you have been writing next to you on the subway platform. I could still kick myself for not saying hello to the guy … but what was I gonna say? “Hey, I am writing a book, and you look EXACTLY like one of my main characters?” Even through it’s true, it sounds like THE worst pick-up line EVER! So of course I didn’t say anything … I really hope I will run into him again, but I am not sure I would be better prepared next time.

After this admittance of having no courage to approach people I think are cute, I am getting to my actual topic: Although you don’t usually see your characters walking/standing around in flesh and blood, you can use bits and pieces of the people around you to shape your characters, to give them personality, background, and authenticity. You can draw a lot of inspiration from strangers and friends/acquaintances alike. Maybe there’s this really tall guy walking by, and just the way he carries his briefcase reminds you of your villain (my apologies to all tall men with briefcases out there … I am sure you are not all that bad :P). Maybe one of your friends has a character trait that works perfectly for one of your characters. For example, a good friend of mine is one of the sweetest, kindest and most honest people you will ever meet, and those particular attributes perfectly describe Cameron, one of the good guys in my novel. Cameron tries hard to be a friend to Kyra, whom he loves -which -of course- is good for the story as it creates tension, and not just between him and Kyra.

It also works the other way ’round: Say you have a character (or need a character) but are not quite sure yet how you can give him/her more personality and depth; next time that happens, focus on what’s going on around you, whether you are on the subway, in the grocery store or just walking around. There’s so much inspiration out there that’s just waiting to be found, and suddenly you come up with all kinds of great ideas on how to develop your character and also plot.

So the next time you walk around, or ride the metro, or are just sipping your cup of coffee, have a look around and just observe. You’d be surprised how many little things will stand out.

Happy Writing, and Happy Weekend!

For The Love of Learning: The Kid Experiment

Like many people, I go through each day with the goal to learn something new: a new expression/word, a new fact, the title of a new book. These experiences and -more importantly- how we make use of them shape who we are. In other words: They shape our very own story.

As writers, I think we go a tiny step further: We think about how the things we learn, the people we meet and the experiences we have can be woven into the stories we dream up. We keep scrutinizing our surroundings for little details –a scent, a sound, a visual we can use to overcome a writer’s block or to come up with an entirely new story.

Sometimes though, you experience something for the very first time, something that opens up entirely new possibilities and provides insights and perspectives you have never been able to get before. That’s what happened to me a few weeks ago, when my friend and fellow writer Timewalkerauthor came to visit me with his two kids (six & seven years old). Although I’ve had two Babysittlings (thank my tired brain for that word) years ago, I have never had kids in my house for more than a few hours, let alone for almost five days in a row. I am not a parent myself, and I am not exactly the biggest fan of children; despite the fact that both my mom and grandmother were kindergarten teachers, I don’t think I carry that particular gene in me. Trust me, if my mom read this, she would agree. In fact, she is probably the only mother that discourages her daughter to have kids. But I digress.

Being around Emma and Ethan has given me the opportunity to experience a tiny(!) fraction of what parents deal with on a daily basis. First and foremost, there is a a lot of stuff that made me want to pull out my hair:

Kid: “I don’t want to eat the rest of my dinner.”
Me: “Then you’ll have it tomorrow for lunch.”
Kid: “I will NOT!”
Me: “Oh yes, you will, because you won’t get anything else. There are kids who would be HAPPY to have this food because they never have enough food and are always hungry!”
(I refrained from throwing the “starving kids in Africa”-card … hey, I really don’t know how much kids that age can comprehend).
Kid is either in a pouting or tantrum-stage at this point … luckily, my friend backed up my resolve, with the result that the food was indeed being eaten the next day. Suck it!

On the other hand though, I had some truly amazing moments with the kids, and it made me realize that the effort is probably (somewhere, somehow) worth it. I can already hear most parents protesting: “OF COURSE IT’S TOTALLY WORTH IT, HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY DOUBT THAT?!”, to which I can only say “Baby steps, everybody, baby steps.” And whereas I doubt that I will be working on some parenting or a children’s book anytime soon, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to live a different life from the one I am used to, at least for a little while as it greatly expanded my horizon and will help me to see things from a different perspective.

Thanks, Emma & Ethan, for a truly sweet time (and thanks, Timewalkerauthor, for reminding me that -for right now- I enjoy my life without kids :P).