I met a character in one of my upcoming books last weekend. I don’t know who the character is just yet, or where I’ll use him, but I do know I met him.
It was on the platform at a light rail station in Baltimore, where I had just come from an appearance at Comic-con. One of the other people there made such an impression on me that I decided to base the appearance of a character on him. He’ll probably end up being someone’s best friend or big brother since he didn’t strike me as the protagonist type, but who knows who he will end up being in the end.
One of the tricks to making your writing realistic is to use as much of the “real world” as you can in it, and the best way to make sure you do that is to always be on the lookout for inspiration.
As another example, while walking to that light rail stop, I passed by an old boarded up restaurant whose sign was falling apart. Where once it said “China Doll” restaurant, it now reads “Chia Doll.” My immediate thought was “don’t eat the salad.” I will probably use that setting and that joke somewhere down the line, too.
It’s not just characters and settings that present themselves to you at random moments, either. Whole story concepts can smack you upside the head at times like these. While “backstage” at our local Fantasy Fair (where I was performing some scenes from Shakespeare with a friend) I saw someone’s sword and helmet laying on a blanket, next to a pair of high top sneakers. It took the better part of a year for that image to yield fruit, but it stuck with me, and when I was trying to come up with a story for a new novel I remembered that image and Sidekick was the result.
If you’re serious about writing, spend some time just wandering around looking and listening. Walk through neighborhoods, especially if you’re in or near an old historic town with lots of character. Make notes in your handy pocket notebook (which you do keep with you at all times, right?) whenever something strikes your fancy. If you have your phone handy snap pictures of images or locations that strike you as interesting. I won’t advise you to take pictures of people you find interesting because that can get a little stalkerish, but to each his or her own.
Sit in the Mall or a park for a couple of hours and look at the people going by. Try to imagine stories about them: who they are, what they do, what their hobbies are, etc. If you find an interesting idea, write it down. You might find use for it somewhere down the road.
As a writer, your eyes are as important to your craft as your fingers are. Keep them open at all times. You never know when your next story is going to stare you in the face, or vice versa.