It’s kinda difficult to be in a relationship with yourself. Usually, you need 2 or more in the relationship to define it as such. Now before you get on Twitter and tell me the most important relationship is with yourself, hear me out.
I write romantic stories about men and women who find each other, suffer through hardships, and wind up living their happily ever after. I was asked once, how do I think up the people I write about? Well, here’s my dirty little secret concerning my writing: I don’t make my characters up completely from my imagination. I actually incorporate nuances, characteristics, speaking patterns, etc, from people I know, have met, or have seen. I’m a huge observer. Part of my scientific educational background is in observation and methodology. In lay terms, I’m a watcher. Voyeur is too skanky a word to use because there’s nothing sexually based about my people watching. And the people I watch the most are couples.
When I’m out at a restaurant, I’ll discreetly glance around me and see who’s together, what they’re doing, how they’re acting towards one another. I may see an older man and woman holding hands across a table, waiting for their drinks to arrive. Or, I may observe a younger couple each glancing down at their cell phones and not at each other as they wait for theirs. I’ve seen couples seated at a square table for four sitting opposite one another or next to each other. If they’re seated in a booth, same thing. Either across the table, or together in the same seat, the guy’s arm draped around the girl.
All of these behaviors tell me something about the relationship that I can use for my own characterizations.
Ever go shopping with your significant other? It’s a trip, that’s for sure. In malls, I make it a strategic habit to watch men and women shop together. Body language is a huge component of my writing, especially in a non-love scene. You can learn so much about a character by how one non-verbally responds to the other. Next time you’re in a shopping mall, check out the couples you see milling about. Are they holding hands? Arms draped over shoulders as they amble along? Are they talking? Is one person the main talker, with the partner nodding every so often giving the illusion of listening? Or is it a real dialogue where the two of them are responding verbally to one another? In a store, does the partner simply wait in a chair while the other shops or do they shop together, giving opinions, etc? Are opinions valued or poo-pooed away? Are complements given? Watch a man’s face the next time you see his woman modeling something sexy for him in a store and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
I was at a professional baseball game once and “listened” to a couple seated in front of me. They were on a first date – how do I know? The girl mentioned it as she and the guy were talking. She had never been to a pro-game before and he was explaining who was who on the home team. Remember I said body language is key? Well, he was leaning into her as he spoke, and she to him as she listened, their shoulders touching often. He didn’t need to raise his voice to be heard because the noise level was good – not overbearing as it can be – so there was no reason for him to be so close to her just to be heard. They maintained eye contact throughout speaking. At one point during the game the home boys earned three runs on a single pitch. The entire stadium was on it’s feet, including the first daters. He grabbed her and hugged her in his exuberance and I swear I could see her fall in love with him before my eyes. The stadium could have been empty except for the two of them at that moment. I used that scene in an upcoming book of mine, First Impressions, and I was giddy when I was writing it because I’d actually seen it played out in front of me.
If you’re a writer, your every day experiences, the people you meet – even the people you know – are all fodder for you to use when you create your characters. Of course you never want to copycat a real person into a character – you’re setting yourself up for some serious legal action if you do! But there’s nothing wrong with a little cut and paste between people you know or have interacted with and your characters.
One final caveat: friends, loved ones, and family – please do not now LOOK for yourself in my characters when you read my books! You will never recognize yourselves if I’ve “used” you.