Character Development

I touched on character interview and presenting them with choices. Now we can see it all come together. We are going to start with our new character whom I am naming Jen. I always start my character sketches with a choice. After i had an idea of who she was I gave Jen  a choice. There are two stores, equal in prices, distant and content. The difference is location. One store is located in a bad part of town. The other is in a better part of town. What does she choose?  Let me remind you I am just going to free write this. I have a character and a location. Now we will see if we can develop a character through a story, or maybe the other way around. Here goes:

Jen walked down the dark alley. The buildings were so tall that the sun rarely touched the pavement. This part of the city was commonly referred to as The Shades. Not many outsiders frequented The Shades. Too many rumors about it being a giant meat market. Prostitution, drugs, violence, the media made it out to be worse than the Bronx. But to Jen, The Shades were home. She grew up in a house not far from where she currently walked. The vacant lot across the street, her first cigarette. The alley behind the bookstore,  her first kiss. Most of her memories good or bad came from right here.

Jen sighed, and texted Iker as she headed straight for Bruce’s Hardware. It was more of a mini mall than a hardware store. They sold a little of everything. From a hammer and nails, to formula and diapers. There other stores, in better neighborhoods but she liked Bruce’s. It was the smell. The mill outback was always kicking fresh sawdust into the air. The last few steps to the door she would inhale the smell of the sap as it burst free from the cut lumber. She brushed off her clothes and kicked the dust from her boots.

The familiar beep sounded as she broke the laser line with her legs. It was empty. The only person she could see was the small boy who sat behind the counter.

“Hey Mouse,” she walked up and grabbed a stool. “Long time.” His real name was Mitch, but everyone called him mouse. A name that had stuck since grade school when the kids would call him Mitchy Mouse. The name suited him. He was small with big brown eyes and sandy hair.

“Hey Jen, where ya been?” He combed a hand across his messy hair hoping it would lie flat for once. Not happening. Jen noticed but decided not to comment. She new mouse had a crush on her. Had for years. However, her bony knees and dark freckles had always made her feel awkward imagining relationships other than friends.

“I’ve been around. Iker has me travelling allot.” She said tapping the folded paper on the wooden counter. Iker was her “boss”. At least that’s what he called himself. He was mid-forties, Mexican maybe, with a receding hairline and he sweated profusely. A heavy mixture of aftershave and booze was never enough to keep his rank body odor at bay. She hated him, hated their arrangement. But without him, she couldn’t make enough money.

“When are you going to ditch that loser? It’s not right what he does — you know, how he treats you and all.”

Jen thought about what he said. Iker was a piece of work, and it was sweet that Mouse was trying to stick up for her. However, it wouldn’t be an issue much longer and she didn’t want to talk about it anyway. They both looked to the door when someone honked their horn. “Sorry Mouse but, I’m kinda on a deadline here. Can you get me this stuff?” She handed the paper over to Mouse where he read its contents.

“An ax, a shovel, and a roll of plastic. Wow. Sounds like a fun evening. Big date planned?” Jen forced out a small laugh and blushed. She looked at her dirty nails and tried to rub some of the built up dirt from them. Mouse walked from behind the counter to get the things she needed. “Saw your folks in here the other day. Said you hadn’t been home in a bit. Sounded worried.”

“Yeah? Well they’re always worried about something.” she said picking up a box cutter knife and examining its sharp blade. “Things are changing for me though.” She tried to sound as confident as possible. Even though she was at this very moment not feeling it. Mouse put her order beside her on the floor, then finished by throwing a pair of latex dish washing gloves on the counter as well.

“Free of charge.” He said noticing Jen’s confusion. “Along with the rest of your list, they will probably come in useful later.” Jen threw the knife in with her list, thanked him and paid the bill.

“See’ya Mouse.” She threw back as she left. A rusted green Ford LTD was waiting for her at the curb. She almost popped the trunk, then decided against it. She placed everything in the back seat, remembering the trunk was currently occupied.

“You get it all?” The man in the passenger seat asked as she closed her door and started the car. Jen nodded that she had. The screech of the fan belt as she pressed the accelerator could be heard for blocks around. Jen turned up the radio and watched out of the window as she drove. Anything to avoid a conversation. Jen had things on their mind. Like what was Iker going to say when she told him she wasn’t going to work for him anymore?  They pulled the car up to the curb of a large Victorian home. Jen unbuckled and got out.

Grabbing the shovel first she asked, “You coming?” The scowl on his face told her everything she needed to know. She hated that look. A mixture of condescension and irritation. Jen looked at herself in the side mirror before standing up. You can do this, she said to herself.

“Hey, time is money Chica. Get in, get the job done, and get paid. I aint got all day.” He pulled a baseball cap down over his eyes. “And no less than one hundred. Got it?”

Jen scowled back. “Yeah I got it. Enjoy your nap.” She set the shovel and plastic by a rosebush around the back of the house. She touched the soil. It was damp. Good, this will make the digging allot easier, she thought. She thought about carrying the ax but opted for her razor knife.

She went back to the car. Knife placed between her teeth, she pulled up her raven hair into a pony tail, and popped the trunk. Inside were two pallets of flowers. Petunias of all colors. She loved planting flowers. This was the last job she would have to do with Iker. She had finally saved enough money to buy her own car. Now she would be working for herself. The thought that she had finally done it, finally made it on her own, caused her to smile as she dug her fingers through the cool black earth.

The end

Were you able to see choices that helped in Jen’s development? What kind of assumptions did you make based on going to the Shades? Do you think you got just as much out of the choices she made as her minimal description? 

Did it end how you thought it would? I think the story and character both grew off of each other. what did you think?

If this was your short story, what would your character have done differently?

A character needs choices. And don’t get ahead of your own writing. Having it preplanned is a good way to finish a story, but we lose opportunity for character development. Character development should be fun and inspiring. So, keep writing. If you like this way, you can use this same scenario in all your character building. Start with interviews and choices, then see where they take you.

Use the comments button to talk to me about your own version of the story. Or talk to others. I would love to hear from you all. Keep writing.

D.B. Flint