Articles, Writer's Advice

Beyond the Coffee Shop: Finding Character Inspiration at Events

Your lips press against the warm, thick rim of your fragrant mug of coffee. The woman in the corner booth has kinky-curly hair. It keeps falling into her brown eyes, and she brushes it back to reveal a healed-over eyebrow piercing–wait a moment. You’ve written about her before. What does a writer have to do to get fresh meat in a coffee shop full of regulars? What you need is a muse, a character model. You need the fire of your creativity to bloom hot in your head and crackle down your nerves until it reaches your fingers and urges them to write, write, write.

If you’re looking for an inspiration encounter, why not attend events to find it? You may have a vague idea of the type of character you need to write. That can help you narrow down possible locations. Need a gardener? Visit a nursery. Want to watch cops’ body language? Consider attending a hometown holiday parade and watching them do crowd control. You have to match your excursions to your budget and comfort level, of course, but I have had a great deal of success attending events with various price ranges.

Low Budget Pick: The Cinema

If you choose to give this one a try, remember that you’re not going to see a movie; you’re going to see people. Buy a ticket to a film that doesn’t particularly interest you, but that might interest your character. Show up early, grab one of the first seats, and watch people filter in. Select a few people sitting fairly near who seem interesting. (Don’t stare at them too hard yet, or covert surveillance will become creepy stalking in very short order). Listen to their conversations. When the movie starts, observe reactions. How a person watches a movie is telling. Do they cringe at the scary parts? Laugh loudly during the jokes? Mutter advice to the horror heroine armed with only a pocket knife? Even if you don’t find a muse, you’re bound to be entertained by the things people do in a dark room when they think nobody is watching.

Middle Budget Pick: Renaissance Faire or Festival

It depends on where you live, but an adult ticket usually runs between $10-15 in my neck of the woods. I place this in the medium category because buying food at these things is a must—how can you not chow down on a turkey leg or drink mead?—and you will probably be tempted by souvenirs, too. Renaissance festivals are, of course, great for people writing high fantasy or certain types of historical fiction. They’re also an opportunity to observe people in a carefree state. Something about renaissance festivals seems to coax the inner child to the surface, so if you’re hoping to find inspiration for a joyful character, a faire is a decent place to start.

High Budget Pick: Comic Conventions

Comic cons also vary in price depending on the size of the convention and your ticket choices. The hardcore character-hunter (read: giant geek) might purchase a 3-day pass, a hotel room, and plenty of souvenirs during a convention weekend. You don’t, however, have to go all the way to San Diego during a specific weekend to reap the benefits of a comic convention. These events (colloquially called “cons”) take place all over the world. Peak con season is during the summer months, but cons can and do happen throughout the year. These are prime opportunities to observe “weird” people. Costumes, body modification, open carry of lightsabers—it’s all fair game. From quarks to quirks, the geeks at comic cons will not disappoint you when it comes to interesting and unique personalities. Because geeks like stories, they’re usually keen to share their own if you ask nicely, too.

People come to events to experience things that entertain and amuse them, completely unsuspecting of the fact that they just might serve as the amusement to an inspiration-hungry writer. Attend events that you enjoy, have fun, but always remember to view your interactions as interviews for possible characters. You never know where you’ll meet the model for your next protagonist.

Published by Kate Post

Kate Post

Kate Post is an author and editor whose stories and poems have appeared in: Stardust, Always; The Longest Night Watch, Volume 2; The News-Enterprise; and Notations. Virginia is for lovers; Kate and Netflix live happily together in the Falls Church area. In her spare time, she enjoys comic conventions, crochet, knitting, plotting, and scheming.

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