• Sue Hawley

Not so close encounters


Developing characters is an interesting process. As I’ve written before, many times they appear from our subconscious mind even when we think we've intentionally created them. Other times we go out and find them- and sometimes they find us. Characters are sneaky like that.


Every once in awhile, you’ll find me sitting at the food court at our local mall. I’m not necessarily eating, but rather people watching. With a notepad in front of me just in case something or someone catches my attention (which is quite often) I simply watch as people pass by me. There are many times something as simple as the clothes worn by someone grabs my eye. But usually it the way a person carries themselves or an expression on their face that sparks the imagination. I find myself building an entire storyline built on what I perceive as they stroll past me. I'm not sure if everyone engages in these sorts of mental leaps or if it's part of what makes someone a writer. I do know that more than once I've been able to use my little notepad to help me find ideas when I've been stuck in a rut.


Recently my friend and author, Russell Little, wrote a blog describing a chance meeting he had while enjoying a night out with his wife. A stranger interrupted their time together with a question pertaining to cheese. While this initially irritated Russell he quickly realized the guy was far different than the first impression had made him out to be. As the brief exchange wound to a close and my friend returned to his quiet evening the gears were turning- this encounter would make an appearance in his next book. Maybe not the exact details but the feel of it, the shape and intention of it all. That's how it works sometimes. A situation or a person is just so perfect it needs little to no changes to make it fit.


People watching allows writers to expand their imaginations beyond the folks in our own lives, past and present. There have been more than a few times when strangers I’ve encountered show up in a book. People are fascinating, even the ones we only see rather than know. Chance encounters are gold to an author and I’m no exception, even when they intrude into our personal lives or temporarily interrupt our routines. Like Russell, I know they’ll find their way into the next book.