One of my favorite parts when I begin a new novel is to create and name my characters, but what are the best ways to research characters that are memorable, yet realistic at the same time? In bygone times writers would sit and observe in a café, but these days most people don’t talk as much but text, message, or email instead. I actually find using public transport, especially the bus or metro (subway) is an excellent way to observe people from all walks of life. For that journey and moment in time, everyone is equal. They have all paid the same fare, and it doesn’t matter how rich or educated you are, only the elderly, disabled, and pregnant women get priority on the seats. Everyone is in the same boat as there is no first class on a tube or metro (although in Hong Kong and other Asian countries they do have different classes on the local ferries), and it’s fascinating to watch reactions and behaviors.
I observe casually behind a magazine or read the adverts that line the bus or train. One can’t be too obvious that they are eavesdropping! I do wonder why do people insist on having full blown (and long) conversations in public, or talk business when clearly what is being discussed should be confidential? The amount of times I have heard people give their date of birth, phone number, and address in hearing distance of a crowd of people is shocking, and they wonder why they may get hacked? It’s a good job I’m not a hacker or scammer. Then there are those who insist on having an argument in public (or on the phone), parents who have no idea on how to discipline their offspring, teenagers who put their feet on seats and have music blaring put of their headphones, and commuters who fall asleep (and snore) as soon as they sit down. It’s watching how people function in society; how they react and to observe how humanity is evolving.
I get the names of my characters from various sources, usually from the television series I am watching at the time. Law and Order (all the different spin offs) has served me well in the past, or I scroll through the list of friends on Facebook of a random person. Names are important, but they must also reflect the character and their role in the book. There are some names I detest, and I avoid them especially ones that remind me of ex lovers! Sometimes I use the names of childhood friends when I wonder where they are and what they are doing. I recently found out the fate of some of them, and let’s say my whimsical thoughts are a lot better than reality (one ended up in prison, another a heroin addict, and a couple have chronic illnesses).
I love creating characters, both the protagonist and antagonist, in fact I grew so fond of some characters I recently created that I wanted to add them to what I had considered was a finished novel. They had other plans for me, and while it means rewriting huge chunks, I’m happy with that because they fit into the plot quite easily. At times you can get carried away, and realize everyone must have some faults and to be too perfect is unrealistic. It’s hard to give your hero/heroine faults, but you have to in order for them to learn. Sometimes you get so close to your characters you wish they were real, but whether we realize it or not, we base them on those around us and ourselves. As for the baddies, who they are based on remains a secret!