I finished a couple of books recently that helped me to
decide that I need work on developing characters. I was
amazed at some of the examples. I was riveted by the way
the authors added details, gave some definitive qualities
and built in some ‘quirks’ or sources of interest.
I like to listen to people when they tell me about their
family. Their loved ones bring “glow” to their words. I also
have written many love stories, shared by my simply asking,
“How did you meet your girlfriend, boyfriend, lover, spouse
or lifelong companion?”
These stories fascinate me.
The characters that are harder to develop are the ones of
your imagination. The words need to bring life to them, they
need to have some kind of resonating characteristics that help
make them appear in the reader’s mind. They can be based on
real people, too.
These can be your ‘springboard’ to developing characters.
There are four different homeless people who I run into around
town, in a variety of settings. I would like to describe them
first as I see them, then add some substance and a “back story.”
I will imagine where they came from, why they are on the streets
of our small town and hope to make them come alive.
The way they talk, walk, act, little details and interesting
features are already apparent from more than three times we
have had our paths cross.
“Pieces of a Puzzle = A Whole”
I will try to put their pieces together in a completely different
way from my usual ‘glowing,’ positive observations of people, in
general. I will give you some facts and try to fill in some
The first person I chose to do a character study will be a
tall, 6′ 3″ man who spent many hours over the summer, in the
coolness of the library. He would use his allotted 160 minutes,
if there were no waiting lines or ‘reservations’ made.
He had sandy blonde hair, longish and covering his collar.
Our paths crossed only on Saturdays and Sundays, since his
minutes were used up by the time I was out of work M-F.
I will call him “Joe” and his dog, Max would be leashed and
attached to the bench outside the library, around 9 a.m. on
Saturdays, noon on Sundays. We would be in the small crowd,
awaiting the doors to open.
Joe would go straight into the library and get Max’s silver
stainless steel bowl filled with water from the men’s restroom.
Joe would pat Max’s head, if there were someone young nearby
he would allow his dog, a mixed breed, to be petted. Max was
a tannish brown (caramel) color with short hair. He had a
boxer type head to be petted. Joe used the dog’s name, saying,
“Good dog, Max!”
I did not engage in conversation with this man, watching him
and sometimes even seated by him. I did know that he was
wearing similar clothes, a worn pair of jeans, a plain, no
logos or adornment, t-shirt and he had a red bandana on his
forehead, holding back, what looked like rather dirty hair.
Max also had a red bandana around his neck, which touched my
heart when I noticed this pair.
Joe’s hiking backpack was filled to the brim, tied tennis
shoes attached to one of the straps. He wore brown, worn
leather sandals on his feet on most days. Joe was homeless.
This became more evident each time I saw him.
Joe seemed like a ‘traveling man.’ I liked to imagine that
he would have enjoyed the seventies with his long, flowing
hair. The red bandana seemed to be a possible motorcycle
rider emblem. He did not have any tattoos on the exposed
skin when he took off his rather heavy duty coat, (saved
for a blanket?) in the cool air-conditioned library. He
did not need a pillow if he had that coat!
I hope that he found, by the end of the summer, his way
back to where he wanted to be. I hope the destination
became clearer, as he studied pictures of other areas.
I caught him using maps on the computer of southern states,
“That’s it! Become a ‘beach bum!'”
Then, another time, I glanced forwards to the next row of
computers and I saw a beautiful and serene mountain photo.
It had bright blue skies, sunshine and tall pine trees.
Those towering trees reminded me of the Western coast
up north, like Oregon or Washington. Or Canada. Or the
Upper Peninsula. I hope he headed towards the warm, sandy
beaches, (no offense to those other states but it gets
frigidly cold there and this young man, Joe, and his
very patient and calm dog, Max, need a hot place to call
It would be excellent to think that Joe’s long lost family,
including brothers and sisters, would somehow contact him.
I never saw him using Facebook and only saw him once on
the “courtesy” telephone by the restrooms. He seemed to
be getting directions.
Joe, to my imagination, was dissatisfied with the restraints
of a polished life. He did not want to pursue the direction
his parents sought for him. He was too carefree, yet sensitive,
to stay in the place he grew up. He didn’t want to disappoint
those that had raised and loved him. He had his own path to
follow. I would like to think he knew how to draw or sing,
that he might, with the right “patron saint” find a craft
or talent to provide his dog and he a life, a home and a
way to be proud once again.
I have known or recognized the other three homeless men and
one woman, visibly from a distance. I have been an apartment
dweller, walking resident, for about eight years now. The last
three, the familiar people, have been around town. There have
been times I considered giving them something, especially
when I have come across them, in the big dumpsters in Mingo
Park or my apartment building. I have refrained, not because
I could not “spare a dime,” so to speak, but due to the fear
of their pursuing this hand-out on a more regular basis.
One man is often outside of Walgreens on a bench, one is more
prominently located in Mingo Park and the last one is more of
a variable, the female, who spends time on the campus of Ohio
Wesleyan University. Sometimes, this woman is sharing her
sandwich or crackers with the squirrels. She makes clicking
and tongue noises at them, reflecting their own behavior.
She is good at catching their attention!
The woman is the most likely to find somewhere to go this
I worked in a battered women’s shelter, where if we were
“full” and no room available, we would find women with
children a place to stay in homeless shelters. This was a
‘truth’ that someone shared: Women are more easily placed,
less likely to become belligerent, fight or cause problems
in shelters. This was stated by a director and a social
worker, both with more experience than I had.
The Andrews House in Delaware, is a public office building
that once was the Case Hospital. Hiram Andrews built it in
It houses six community social service agencies. It has
six bunks in a loft for homeless people. This has a big
waiting list, I have heard. The Andrews House serves twice
monthly free meals for those who wish to attend.
No questions asked.
My church, First Presbyterian, serves meals on the two
weeks that don’t have meals available at Andrews House.
I am wondering this freezing and incredibly agitating
day, where do the homeless go?
Which reminds me of that sweet and powerful anthem,
(a folk song from the sixties),
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
This song was written by Pete Seeger in 1955 with only
three verses. Joe Hickerson added a circular round
with extra verses. Pete Seeger was the first of many
international musician and singers who performed this
song. I always loved Peter, Paul and Mary’s version
with their incredibly blended voices.
My variation that I thought of, with Joe kept in mind,
(I substituted ‘young men’ for the original version’s
“Where have all the young men gone,
Long time passing?
Gone for soldiers everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn,
when will they ever learn?”
I just thought the verses suited my pondering about
what choices brought Joe to Delaware, Ohio and then,
due to the bitter cold weather, where did he go?