Shopping for Characters

Collecting CharactersI went to the mall today, and while I was there I picked up a new character.

I’d already bought coffee capsules, two new t-shirts for my husband, and a Pandora charm. Then I saw… her.Watch Full Movie Streaming Online and Download

Clad in black, with a funky black beret that made her look very arty, she was standing beside an open display cabinet at the bottom of an escalator, consulting a clipboard. Beside her was a shopping cart full of bits and pieces that were obviously going into the display.

Huh. Immediately I thought: Now there’s a great occupation for a character. I wonder how you get a job like that?

Only one way to find out. I walked up to her and said, “Excuse me, this is probably going to sound a bit crazy, but I’m a writer and I collect characters…” (At that stage she could probably have been forgiven for calling security.) What qualifications, I asked her, did you have to have for a job like hers? Was there a course?

Yes, there was: it was called Visual Merchandising. She worked for a company that was contracted by the shopping complex, but she could be sent to a variety of different places – even birthday parties or weddings or other events, to dress the hall or room or surrounds. She could do shop windows or create a theme around the shopping complex.

I wished I’d thought of taking a sneaky photo with my phone to keep on file as a visual reference, but I can remember her pretty well.

Now I have a new career for a character in a story somewhere in the future, and by Googling ‘merchandising’ I was able to find out all about the kind of training and opportunities that exist. My new character (and her job) is now filed under Characters > Careers.

See? Go out for groceries, and you come home with a character. Gotta love being a writer.


Shopping for Characters — 32 Comments

  1. Oh, that’s too funny. My first job out of college right after getting married was as a visual merchandiser for Gimbel’s in Pittsburgh. Interesting job. Decorated the Christmas tree for Heinz Hall, and did other special event decorating. Had to come in on Thanksgiving Day and work until late to get all the decorations up before the next morning! Oh the stories…

    • There you go! I was thinking ‘what an interesting career to give a character’ and you’ve already done it! As you say. ‘oh the stories’… you could give one of your characters this background and write effortless narrative set in this world, whereas I’d have to work at it. You could also come up with all the potential disasters that this person could encounter in her day-to-day work; you know who she’d report to; you’d know who would frustrate her and make it hard to do her job – whereas I’d have to send a long list of questions or interview someone!

    • Yeah, wasn’t I brave? I hesitated, thinking “she’ll think I’m weird” but then thought: well, what the heck. So she tells someone later about this strange author who approached her…!!!

    • Wow, that’s great to hear! Although one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that different articles/posts resonate with different people. That’s why I try to vary the subject matter – and put in lots of stuff about what I do, just in case it’s interesting to someone else. 🙂

  2. I’ve sat in cafes/restaurants and discretely listened to conversations and watched facial expressions, but had never thought of creating characters this way. Great idea Marg; I love it. Thank you 🙂

  3. I love your style, Marg. I’d never have thought of approaching her. Interestingly, as I was crossing a walkway to Perth’s railway station yesterday a young man caught my eye in passing and my immediate thought was, I’ve got to put him in a story. I filed his image away for future reference and I’ll have to rely on imagination to create the rest.

  4. Ever since I started writing I’ve noticed that when I’m out shopping and stop for a coffee or something to eat i sit and study the passing parade. Before taking up writing i would just sit and read the paper or a book now i study people. I mentally try to describe their clothes, their appearance and assign them a job description. I jot all of this down in a journal. It helps when searching for character for my next story.

    • This is hilarious. So many writers out people-watching! I just went hunting for a post that I thought I’d written about body language – but it must be one of those that I’ve scribbled on a scrap of paper somewhere with a view to writing about it and not done it. Or it’s buried in a post on a different topic. Anyway, I leaned on a mezzanine railing one day while I was waiting for my husband and entertained myself watching the body language of the people in the coffee shop below. I particularly noticed a table full of business guys in suits and another with a mother and daughter – wow, this is ringing all kinds of bells. If anyone knows where I wrote about it, can you tell me so I can put a link to it? Hmmm… or did I put it into one of my Kindle books? Damn, I hate it when you can’t find stuff… !!!!!

  5. Strangely, or maybe not, it is my husband who does the people watching in shopping malls. He is very good at pointing out the interesting ones. I hate shopping so I’m probably missing a lot, and maybe he should be the writer!

  6. This really seems to have struck a chord, Marg. I’ve been thinking about the people in my Friday afternoon coffee shop…

    I find people always seem happy to talk to you when you say you’re a writer. I once rang a company to get some details about microdots and the man talked to me for ages.

    • Yes, people are often intrigued to be asked questions, actually. I guess what is commonplace to us (plots, research, characters) can be different and interesting for others.

  7. Sometimes I get one idea from one person and another idea from a different person, then mesh these into “one” character. It’s very
    “Seussish” in nature, the outcome is nothing short of epic.

    • Yes, you can mix and match characters’ looks and personalities just as you can mix and match plot elements. Writing is sometimes like fitting pieces into a jigsaw puzzle. 🙂

  8. Great story Marg. There are some amazing occupations around. Going back many years and before technology zoomed us away, one of my vacation work jobs was as a line-ruler for a printing company. All they did was print exercise books and stuff that needed lines. Required quite some finesse.

    • I keep thinking: we need a forum or a thread on an existing forum or an ongoing blog post or SOMETHING… so writers can ask: “Does anyone know anything about XXX job or XXX career or XXX occupation…???” ! Love the sound of your line-ruler job – I didn’t even know there was such a thing! Finesse… yeah, I’d reckon. 🙂

    • Which would defeat the purpose. A whole bunch of writers using each other as characters. It would have to be a Cozy Mystery based on a murder at a writer’s retreat.

  9. This is so cool! I didn’t know such an off-beat profession existed!

    I once saw a wedding display that had miniatures of soaps, shampoos,mechanical toys – popular brands, extinct brands – it looked so colourful and familiar (different from ice sculptures and such that you routinely see at weddings). When I asked around and found the guy who’d made them, he was so amused that I was excited about what he did for a living that he kept smiling at my questions, without giving me proper answers!

    • So he’d actually make a good character too. You could use his approach to answering questions to create a really annoying witness (or suspect) in a police interview! Nothing is ever wasted…

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