“People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” ~ Author unknown
I am canvas. Every person I encounter becomes the charcoal, the pastel, the acrylic that colors my creativity, my writing, my life.
I’m not alone. I believe most writers find the templates for their characters from people who color their canvases.
Here are a few I Googled tonight:
Naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming, for example, received the assignment to trail a spy named Dusko Povo during the war. The guy was good, both with the women and with the secret services. Thus, Fleming found the perfect model for his character James Bond.
George Lucas based Indiana Jones on Giovanni Battista Belzoni, a 19th century archeologist.
Edgar Allan Poe based his famous poem on a raven named Grip, a pet that belonged to Charles Dickens. Most critics would agree that the women in his life who died of consumption (his mother and his wife, particularly) were the molds for the beautiful dead women in his works.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose works often make references to Puritans and witches, found his inspiration through a relative who was a judge during the notorious Salem Witch Trials.
Robert Bloch, author of the book Psycho, found inspiration for his Norman Bates character from the real- life serial killer Ed Gein.
And the Southern rockers of Lynyrd Skynyrd based the band name on their gym teacher, Leonard Skinner.
I am addicted to people watching. I caught myself at a red light today, scrutinizing all the drivers in the turn lane as they drove past me. Who were they? Where were they going? What were they leaving? I couldn’t resist.
I’m fortunate. As a teacher, I’m surrounded by characters all day. They all intrigue me, but the colorful ones capture my attention. Oh, beige is a nice color, but beige rarely stands out. When I teach, I like having a few kids in class who “make things interesting.” These are the “characters” who color my canvas and who just might show up in a book someday:
I’ll never forget my “Couch Crew,” my rowdy students who often dished out the drama and confessed their problems to avoid talking about English. I told them all they needed for their therapy sessions was a couch—so they brought one in and set up in the classroom when I was “called” to the office in the middle of class. The assistant principal was in on the deal and thought it was funny. I adored him too. He was a “character.”
Then there was the Terrible Two, who made a habit of taking my magnetic hall pass and sticking it to the metal walls of my classroom far beyond my reach. They built me a stock when we studied Hawthorne and the witch trials, and just for fun, they stuck one of their buddies in it and wouldn’t let him out.
I’ll never forget my sixth period class of country boys and girls who tried to talk to me into “skipping” with them so they could teach me how to fish. I had to go to the office one day before class, and I was late getting into the room. Guess what was waiting on me when I finally made it to the room. A note with two words—Gone Fishing. I finally found all twenty-something hoodlums hiding behind the lockers, but it was funny.
And finally, etched into my memory is the tough guy who stood up in the middle of class and threatened to sweep the floor with the face of the kid who interrupted my class one too many times. (It’s nice to know a “character” who’s got your back.)
Oh, how I love these bold and beautiful characters each day.
We’re surrounded by characters all day—especially the one-dimensional , stereotypical stock characters who provide themes and backdrops for our stories.
But you know what’s really a treasure? Crossing paths with that special multi-faceted character who’s worth getting to know. This is the character who shapes our stories and perhaps changes our lives. One-dimensional characters can be fun, but they’re always predictable.
Unfortunately, we often lump people, and characters, into categories and assign a label to them without taking time to get to know them. As I’ve said before, I believe people’s paths often cross for a reason. Sometimes it’s due to a divine appointment—or detour, as my friend’s blog suggests.
Whatever the case, we writers, we human beings, should take time to listen to the characters in our lives. Let them speak. Sometimes the right character can change our stories, our hearts, and our lives.