Character Study #1: “a picture of Joe”


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

word, ‘husbands.’)

“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?


About reocochran

I am experiencing crazy and hapless adventures in dating that may interest people over fifty. I am now approaching 62 later this year and enjoy taking photographs, incorporating stories or poetry on my blog. I have many old posts which are informative and written like essays. I have several love stories collected from family and friends. Even strangers spill their stories, since I am a grown version of the girl next door. I have been trying to live a healthy lifestyle with better food selections and active hiking and walking. I have written four children's books and illustrated them. They are not published but a battered women's shelter used one about neglect and abuse for their children's program and a 4H group used my "Kissing a Bunny is like saying a Prayer" as a coloring book. Please comment or respond so I may get a chance to know you. Sincerely, Robin

8 responses »

      • Thanks… I mean it. I don’t do the award thing here. I haven’t the time nor energy to do all that is required to do an award.. You deserve multiple awards.. You are a nice beautiful person…

  1. beautiful post robin, you have added compassion and humanity to these people, rather than just thinking of them as anonymous homeless people on the street. it shows your natural kindness and curiosity.

    • This is very sweet, Beth! I was glad to give these wandering souls some character and background. Your story today was awesome and inspiring! Thanks for sharing Michigan’s kind and giving nature there!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s