I experienced a dose of déjà vu this week. Standing beneath the shower, lathering conditioner into my hair, I felt the warmth slowly disappear out of the water. It folded back the years to my childhood, when my brother would sneak into the bathroom and run the taps, forcing the same effect for kicks.

I squealed, jumped away, and furiously searched around the curtain for the culprit. But there was no one there. (Not surprising since my husband and daughter were out and I haven’t lived with my brother in years.) I fiddled with the buttons, turned the shower off, and back on. The water still ran cold. The element appeared to have broken. So, with no time to run a bath, I resorted to using a jug of water to rinse my hair in the sink.

It was with relief that I answered the door, the following morning, to a short man with a wide smile, my new shower tucked underneath his arm. I smiled back and, as he introduced himself, I couldn’t help but notice the twitch: his upper body jolted, causing his shoulders and head to flick sideways. Not wishing to stare, I averted my eyes, led him into the house. As we chatted briefly in the kitchen, he appeared calm and was very interesting, relaying anecdotes from a recent trip to New Zealand, before retreating to the bathroom to start work.

Later, I walked into the bathroom to deliver a coffee. Clumsily, I stumbled as I reached the door. It swung open and hit the bath noisily. As he shot round to face me, his forehead creased into a surprised frown, and his body jerked again. The combination of the strange expression and twitch made me physically start. His expression softened into a smile. Embarrassed, I apologised, planted his coffee on the window ledge and retreated. But as I walked into the kitchen a thought struck me – what an interesting layer those actions would add to a character.

I once read that fictional characters are partly made up of elements of people that we meet in everyday life. I guess there is some truth in this. As writers we are constantly observing the world around us – the man in the cafe with the six o’clock shadow, the perfectly manicured mum at the school gates, the child with the tuft of hair that sticks up around his crown. Whilst I hope my plumber isn’t reading this piece, I wanted to share this experience with you. We spend ages researching and building our characters, adding layers to their architecture. But sometimes they creep up on you when you least expect them.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year. And, Auntie Olive, when you come over for Christmas tea, just remember – I’ll be watching you!


Jane Isaac’s first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, will be released by Rainstorm Press in February 2012. Jane is still very much a Newbie and with a day job, a family and a very demanding black Labrador, she squeezes her writing into every spare moment she gets. Join her on the rocky road from pen to publication!

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  • Trish Nicholson
    Posted on December 20, 2011 at 7:23 am

    This is such a good post, Jane, too often we don’t really ‘see’ the people we come across in daily routines, but they are a feast of character quirks. I sometimes have a stall in a local farmers’ market – a great place to people-watch in a situation where it’s okay to ‘stare’. Train and bus stations are also useful places. I hope he was a good plumber too!

  • Jane Isaac
    Posted on December 20, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Hi Trish. Thanks for the comment. A market stall sounds fabulous. I bet you meet some really ‘interesting’ people. And yes, he was a great plumber. My shower is warm again:)

  • Damien
    Posted on December 20, 2011 at 8:18 am

    So I have this uncanny knack of picking up idiocincracies in people. Be it a lisp, or an eyebrow bushier than the other. My wife calls it judging people lol.

    I’m not perfect by any means but people fascinate me. Why one type of person is with another in a relationship etc.

  • Tammy Maas
    Posted on December 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

    This is all so true Jane, “people watching” really is an outstanding way to develop characters. I have so many quirks myself that I share at least one with each of my characters. It makes the character merge with my inner-being in some strange sense and allows me to write more freely. Your description of the plumber was amazing, I felt like he was sitting across from me at the table. Great job!

  • Jane Isaac
    Posted on December 20, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Hey Damien! Can’t wait to read your work. Sounds like it might be very interesting….

    Hi Tammy! Thanks for your lovely comments. Look forward to reading your book and getting to know you to know you better!

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