I’ve been on Walkabout. After crawling through the seedy underbelly of a big city, I feel dubious about the idea that there are unbelievable characters. There are so many strange people walking around, we shouldn’t be so dubious when they turn up in fiction.
Just this morning I saw:
1. A guy dressed up like a Bollywood character in a flashy musical. Same big goofy smile, too.
2. A handsome man, dressed in a sharp black suit and sporting a $200 haircut, looked like he belonged at the airport picking up cocaine from Columbia.
3. An impossibly sexy woman walked by. It’s Stella, long before she lost her groove! With asthma.
4. A very muscled young athlete strutted by. He’s had a great summer. The pancreatic cancer has already taken root.
5. Homeless people of all ages. They all have that same haunted look around the eyes. Their postures show that boredom is terribly heavy. I did not expect the dirty, skinny Santa to pull out an iPhone 4, however.
The trick, of course, is to provide enough character detail that your fictional actors have a believable context. Strange characters need a lot of reality around them to find the sweet spot on narrative’s balance beam. Let your mob goon have a soft spot for kids. Let the sweet grandmother swear when she doesn’t think anyone can hear. Don’t allow cardboard stand-ups and clichés in lieu of character development. Characters can be weird. Really weird. You can even clump them together since freaks often do gravitate to freaks. I’ve noticed Goth kids with parrot haircuts often do travel together, for instance.
Just avoid making them one-dimensional. For instance, one of my novels has a couple of gay characters. Ever notice how gay characters are often safely relegated to the flamboyant dancer who’s good with make-up or the safe gay neighbour who’s just a stand-in exposition device? In my novel, compared to the protagonist, the gay guys are proactive in how they deal with plot obstacles. By that I mean, they have skull-cracking ability and they are not just sitting around articulating plot details with pie charts. They have their own backstory and you’ll find yourself curious to follow them out the door to see what happens to them after the novel is over. (At least I’m curious.)
I plan a series. In the first book we meet Romeo, a young New Yorker who wants to be a movie star and becomes a murderer’s target. The next in the series will follow Romeo’s estranged mother as she tries to track her son down on his journey to Hollywood. The third book will be Romeo in Hollywood and once again in mortal danger. Things will get strange but will feel real.
Verisimilitude is easy because reality is scary weird.
Look at the news.
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