I hung out with a real character last night. After dinner, I went with a friend to a small, crowded jazz bar reported to be serving up the best espresso martinis. Between my age (ah-hem) and Covid-19, it’s been a long time since I went to a bar.
The first task was to squeeze my way through two or three rows of patrons to grab an edge of the bar and get a bartender’s attention. While I waited with one hand on the bar, a (ah-hem) gentleman with salt and pepper hair wearing a skinny navy polo shirt started talking to me. It was too loud in the bar to hear the words, but I noticed that he seemed unsteady on his feet. I eventually realized he was using the bar to help him stand. The bartender slapped a cocktail napkin and a full martini glass in front of him. A moment later, the bar patron reached out, put his hand on my arm, and said something that seemed to have the lilt of a question. “I don’t know what the question was, but no!” I shouted over the din. His rather sober-looking friend, or perhaps co-worker, shrugged. “He has a wife and three kids at home. He doesn’t get out much,” the companion said.
As my friend and I left the bar later, I thought about the drunk man, the character. I didn’t find him compelling, but I wanted him to be so I could turn him into an interesting person and put him in a story. What was his relationship with his wife? What type of father was he? Was he an easy-going type or a control freak? If we ended up hanging out in a bar after work, I hoped we would talk about what he’d expected his life to be like, what type of future he saw for himself. What is the one thing he wants more than anything else? What keeps him up at night?
Pick a character from a work in progress or a person with whom you have a brief encounter. Decide where they hurt the most. Write a scene that shows it and helps them illuminate it or begin to fix it.