A Question of Character

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I’ve been sneaky. Mid week, the weather was gorgeous and Dog looked at me, I looked at him and we decided we would do another section of the Capital Ring. A post on that will follow. This, however, is about the woman in the picture above, walking away from me.

The walk ended in Richmond, on the banks of the Thames.  As we strolled towards the bridge and thought about tea and cake – as you do – I noticed a couple gesticulating, speaking high volume French. A few yards on and a woman pushing a buggy, clasping her iPhone to her ear berated someone in that mellifluous language.

Richmond has become something of an enclave for those fleeing the rubbish food and poor fashion sense that is endemic across the Channel.

And then this young woman overtook me. There she is, ahead, dressed top to toe in black, clutching what looks like a very worthy tome. Having moved past me she kept up an even pace and I mused, as you do when tea and cake are still a way off – who was she?

Was she as French as her get up suggested? Student or professor? Long term resident or passing through? Urban or urbane? Were her clothes a statement or merely a passing fancy? Was black dictated by fashion or mood?

Her stride was purposeful without being hurried. No anxiety but a destination in mind. Meeting someone? Male? Female? Family? Friend? Lover? Or just after a spot in the sun to read?

She didn’t look to either side, her gaze stayed centre. Preoccupied or enraptured? Eyes up or down?

I felt a mite guilty, sneaking a picture of her back  but it at least depersonalises her and allows me a lot of scope to capture her essence. Or her imagined essence.

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Eventually she broke off the tow-path and moved up the slope – shown above – in front of the Quinlan Terry development – famous for his new classical style of architecture – taking her seat and studying the book’s cover. We paused, Dog and I, briefly to regard this calm and self possessed youngster. She drew a finger round the edge of the book, her black framed glasses hiding her expression. Perhaps the faintest trace of a smile.

I’m not a creepy old soul, really. This is how I capture characters for my books, these fleeting images of real people whose paths I cross while walking. People watching on the go. Sometimes – it happened with My Father and Other Liars – that accidental first meeting, that happen-stance triggers something that eventually leads to the story of a complete novel. It’s people’s stories that fascinate me. If I can take hold of a character I can breathe life into a story. Maybe this curly haired woman will take centre stage sometime, maybe not. But it’s fun wondering.

How about you? Is part time stalking part of your box set of writing tools? Or should they lock me away?

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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32 Responses to A Question of Character

  1. Ritu says:

    If that’s a crime worthy of being banged up, the prisons would be full of writers!!! Surely to some extent we all use what and who we see are and us, to ignite a spark of inspiration!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like to people watch and imagine their stories. I don’t think it is a crime worthy of being locked up, taking a photo of her back. I know for me, that is my best side! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sacha Black says:

    Hilarious! Definitely creepy and stalkerish

    But I do the same!

    I don’t get out as much as you, but I spend a lot of time examining people’s mannerisms in meetings! I’ve been known to sketch someone or write character notes down the side of meeting notes! Haha.

    I also play the “what underwear are they wearing” game!! But that’s more for shopping centres and stuff!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Jools says:

    Same here! In fact one of my main characters in Singled Out came from just such an encounter, in the lounge at the Runnymede Hotel!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ali Isaac says:

    Love people watching! And walking around Richmond. Pity she’ll never be aware of the impression she made, unless she reads your blog. Tracing her finger around the cover of that book is interesting… its obviously important to her. Did she just steal it? Maybe its an ancient book of spells. Maybe it unlocks wisdom held concealed in a private collection for years, and with it she can rule the world. Or maybe its simply her diary. Who knows? But its fun to speculate!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Norah says:

    I think people watching and imagining their life stories is a wonderful past-time, and an important strategy for all writers of fiction. It probably helps develop feelings of empathy as well. No, I definitely don’t think they should lock you away, unless you go a little further than just watching and imagining.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I do the same watch people in a hope of getting some inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. lucciagray says:

    I have a friend who’s a painter and spends hours in parks and shopping centres etc. taking photos and observing people and sketching. Some of them eventually make it into his paintings or at least inspire them. I haven’t worked like that, yet. I’m not sure exactly where my characters are born but I tend to be inspired by paintings, places, objects, films, and characters in novels, as well as historical figures, rather than ‘real’ people I come across. Perhaps it’s because I write historical novels.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. noelleg44 says:

    I do the same! I even spotted a guy in Barnes and Noble, where one of my critique groups meets, who was perfect for the villain in one of my books. I’d seen him before – it seems he comes to that bookstore on Thursdays – so I asked if I could take his picture! He posed readily!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Autism Mom says:

    I remember once sitting in an airport across from a young woman furiously scribbling in a notebook. She kept glancing at me, writing more, etc., and I realized that she might have been using me as a character study for writing (I was in a cranberry colored long wool coat – New Hampshire in the winter, after all – so I stood out a bit). It was kind of flattering (at least based on my assumptions). I would like to think your curly haired woman would be flattered, too. 🙂

    Like

  11. Helen Jones says:

    I do this all the time 🙂 And, many years ago, I met Margaret Atwood. She told me that she keeps the people she meets in a filing cabinet in her mind (I’m paraphrasing slightly), because she never knew when she might need them for her stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. willowdot21 says:

    I love to people watch!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You should definitely be locked up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Charli Mills says:

    Having learned, from your Blog Tour, that MFOL emerged from a similar chance meeting with a stranger, I’m now interested in your ability to characterize the people you watch. And although that sounds creepy, I get it! I once had a prof who urged us budding writers to take notes on people in public.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. davidprosser says:

    Fortunately, walking in the same direction as, and slower, doesn’t yet count as stalking no matter what age group we’re in. Upping your speed to keep pace, and sharing the same destination might not be viewed as kindly next time you’re doing a character search, though. Just a friendly heads-up.
    Hugs

    Like

  16. Gulara says:

    What a great technique to create characters! Inspiring.

    Like

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