HOW DO YOU SHOP FOR CHARACTERS?
If you’re a writer—fledgling amateur or seasoned professional—you should not be surprised to spend a lot of time in research. While much of this work can be performed on a computer, tablet or smart phone, some reference materials must be accessed in person. If you’re lucky, the information you’re seeking can be found at a nearby library or university.
Otherwise, you may need to travel to complete your research in another city, region, or country to visit libraries, museums or archival collections. Unfortunately, the cost of travel and time spent away from home may be higher than you wish to invest in a project. Another option is hiring a research assistant. While this scenario may save time and out-of-pocket expenses, be prepared for unforeseen complexities in working with someone you may never have met. Even when you speak the same language, the manner in which each of you approaches research may be wholly different.
Whether you are an author seeking fictional characters (or a business executive writing descriptions of your target clientele), you may need to present snapshots of people that truly grab a reader’s attention. Writing succinct portrayals of people can be challenging to the most creative writer. Fortunately, the answer to this research dilemma may be close at hand.
In addition to your visionary skills, consider people you already know and can easily depict. While you may not want to author a description of someone likely to read your work, you can combine the attributes of several individuals so that no single person can take offense.
In the weekly writers’ salon I founded a few years ago, one member has shared a unique research technique. Like her, you might consider using newspaper obituaries as a source for biographic images. Available online or in hardcopy, this resource is readily available at little or no cost. Often accompanied by photos of the deceased in their prime, these simple paragraphs offer highlights of individuals from every variety of background, education, profession and economic level.
Due to the cost, writers of obituaries usually limit the number of words they use, often omitting physical descriptions of the departed if photos are included. Despite the brevity, you will find a rich palette of words from which you can shape a dynamic biographic image. To enhance the available descriptive text for your own project, you might want to draw on information from more than one entry.
Keep in mind that rules of plagiarism apply to any writer’s work, including obituaries. This fact should not detract from your ability to draw inspiration from an obituary to develop biographical sketches for your work. The effort you invest in this activity should minimize any assistance you may require from a professional editor.
Wishing you the best in your creative endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, author, consultant, and motivational speaker
To learn more about the award-winning Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian Mysteries, including Murders of Conveyance [Winner, Fiction Adventure-Drama, 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards] and other projects, please drop in at my author’s website JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com. You’ll even find Island Recipes that might inspire your culinary creativity.
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