Thursday, July 5, 2012

My New Favorite Character Shopping Mall

As a writer, I pick up interesting details about people see in daily life and later find them showing up in characters I make up. It's probably a common problem with writers.I don't really see it as a problem. It's more of an interesting quirk I've noticed about myself when I create a new character. I pull details from nowhere, and later on during edits I'll realize those details actually came from somewhere specific in real life.

I finally had a conscious moment of character shopping the other day. It was the first time I ever thought about characters while I was just sitting there observing people. Then again, I didn't really have much else to do at the moment.

Lulu is flying by herself in a little more than a week, and I wanted to make sure she had a proper ID card. This is the first time she'll be going through airport security without me. Even though United swears up and down she doesn't need an ID card since she's still under sixteen, it would suck rabid donkeys if they didn't allow her to fly because of it. With my luck, she'd be stuck in an airport somewhere with no way to get home.

I took her to the MVA (for those of you who don't live in Maryland, that translates to the DMV) and we waited. And waited. In the middle of all that waiting, I started noticing the interesting folks around me. I came to a startling conclusion.

When people go to get their driver's license, they do everything in their power to ensure the picture does not suck.

Despite the fact that the little picture on a license doesn't show more than the collar of the shirt you wear, I saw people dressed to the nines from head to foot. Not only did a lot of people dress nicely, they seemed to distill the essence of their personality and sense of style into a single outfit. And don't misunderstand. Not everyone looked like they were dressed to go to a wedding. For some people, dressing to the nines means something very different.

There was tattooed-arm-lady, who wore a revealing set of layered tank tops to show off her artwork to best effect. Her matching purple and black hair was coiffed to perfection. There was the guy who looked like he worked for a Colombian drug cartel back in the 80's, with his shiny alligator boots, silver belt buckle and matching necklace, and slicked-back hair. There was a teenaged girl who clearly was getting her first license ever. I think her mom took her to the hair salon before coming by for the picture.

Granted, not everyone put that much care into how they'd look on a piece of plastic they have to carry with them for the next five years. There was also the small group of folks who barely managed to dress themselves at all. There was one older gentleman who looked like he interrupted his busy day repairing a tractor to pop over and renew his license. Not everyone gives a damn. And you know what? They're great characters, too.

I had to restrain myself from taking pictures of a lot of these folks. I think the state government would frown on me loitering in one of their waiting rooms taking covert photos. Yeah. That could have consequences...

This rambling story does have a moral. Next time I'm having trouble inventing people for my stories, I'm going to pack a lunchbox and head over to the MVA.


  1. I used to work graveyard shifts at a convenience store. I also worked for hippies. I have PLENTY of material haha, but that sounds ripe with potential!

  2. There are times writers could be arrested for the way we look at people and study them...or get hit in the face.


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