In 5 steps:
1. Pick the most interesting person you know and describe them in the most flambouyant language you can imagine.
2. Now add something to that person, give them a wart on their nose, or an oversized ear, or even a handicap.
3. Change their style or mode of dress. If the person you selected is normally a stylish dresser, put him/her in something
ragged and a bit distressed by wear.
4. Give the new person an appropriate name, find a hobby he/she might like, and give them a job that is suitable for
their new attire.
5. Now, look at the new person you created and give him or her a personality, some new coloring (red hair is a nice touch),
and add in some quirks that make them totally unique.
~ ~ ~
Dark curls covered his head, and that smile stopped a million ships. His eyes glistened with light and laughter, a joy
that went far beyond the surface. Cher wondered at the jubilant aire about him and wanted to tweek his dimpled cheeks and
maybe nibble at his ear, but she felt out of his reach, far aloof from this dynamic stranger. As he sat there, on the other
side of the table, Cher felt she knew him. She'd known him a long time, seen him often. He visited her home. His darkly
tanned and weathered skin declared a kind of character defiant of innocence, the kind of youth that denied age, and distinguished
him from the common man.
The scar over his left eye gave his eyebrow a quirk, that implied a kind of interest Cher noticed he rarely indulged.
His stance roared of independence, even as he leaned heavily on that old wooden cane, as he stood from the table. Limping
heavily on that left foot, she realized he still drug his right leg behind him, catering to injuries long in the past, though
still holding him captive.
Crisp khaki trousers, cuffed at the hem, were clean and pressed, but thread bare and worn. Shoes of leather were polished
until they reflected light, but obviously past their prime. His shirt the color of midnight had lines faded with age. This
man who had at some point in his life had money and class, now relied on his character and pride.
Eli Buchanan stood as tall as his stooped shoulders would allow, holding his cane tight in his hand, his eyes focused
and clear. Not a day went by that he hadn't accomplished some fete of great wonder, and this day was not unlike any other.
The man was a tower in the community. He stood alone, denouncing the irrepressed childishness of those who presumed to be
leaders while living out their wild dreams. He stood ready to fight for what he believed, even here on this day as they
cut the ribbon for a new prison he hadn't wanted them to build. Eli knew he was right. He knew the prison would bring further
collapse to the economy of a community faultering on the verge.
Retirement appealed, but there was more to be done. Eli was not finished. He had a lifetime of goals yet to accomplish.
Though his temples were graying, and there was more salt than pepper in his curls, his eyes remained clear and steady, his
thoughts strong. Eli was determined. He would never give up.
~ ~ ~
Often the location will actually determine the characteristics of your developing alter egos. While the character should
be appropriate to the setting, every character should be able to stand alone - without the setting. This is important, because
your character may not stay in the same setting throughout the book. In simple terms, just because your sailor is a sailor
on a ship, doesn't necessarily mean he will be a sailor when you take him off the ship? Can he stand alone, or does he need
the ship to prop him up and make him visible to the readers?
If being a sailor is characteristic of this man, he will be a sailor, no matter where he is. If it is not, however, then
he will seem out of place and lost in every other part of your story.
In the description of Eli, his breeding, personal ethics, values, and strength stand alone, without any of the "props"
that are occasionally in place for a politician, who may not be capable of standing alone. His focus is announced, giving
an accounting for his position, but his position in life is obvious.
This article contributed by Jan Verhoeff.
NOTE: The original character, described in the first paragraph is actually a rather famous person, whom we all know and adore.
And yet the character in my story bears little resemblance to the man. My character is based on Mel Gibson (a favorite honorary
member of our Writer's Group).