characterization, part three

mope florist

Odd photos can sometimes be the start of a whole novel, if you take the time to study them and think hard about the character. Looking at this guy, the first things that occur to me have to do with my father’s family (which doesn’t really make sense — but in this process, the associations don’t have to make sense and it’s usually more productive if they don’t).

So I look at this guy and I think: mope. Some young guy hanging out on the corner making rude noises at girls going by, bumming smokes. Goes home to his mother and expects to be waited on. His name (and this is a crucial step) might be Harry or Rollie or Steve. He looks like a Schneider to me, or maybe his name is more Dutch. Rollie Toon. Steve Staal.

Here’s the thing: there’s not much I can do, story-wise, with this mope called Rollie Toon. He’s not very interesting yet. Because I haven’t looked hard enough.

So I imagine him at work. For some reason, I see him delivering flowers. He makes jokes with the lady who owns the flower shop, but never gets much of a reaction from her. The money’s lousy. He could go work for his father in the (butcher shop? hardware store? train station?) but he keeps the flower delivery job, and he’s never late. None of his friends get it. Rollie, who was always the biggest screwup in highschool, never could get to class on time, rushing out of the house in the morning to deliver flowers. Bringing old ladies corsages. Rollie? Doesn’t make sense.

Except it does. How about this: Rollie does get in trouble at work, because he’s slow. Mrs. Woo (or maybe Mrs. Jackson or Mr. Price) is always asking why he takes twice as long as the other delivery guy. She’s always threatening to fire him, lazy bum that he is.

But here’s the thing. Rollie’s deliveries are always late, because as soon as he leaves the shop, he pulls around the corner to an old deserted strip mall. He opens up the back of the truck and looks at the flower arrangements, and he just can’t stand it. Mrs. Woo is a nice lady and all, but she should let somebody else do the flowers. Yellow carnations and pink roses, Christ, he says, I could do better blindfolded. So he does. He lines up all the arrangements, and goes to work. When he’s done he stands back and studies them. Now he’s satisfied, and he goes to make the deliveries.

Now, this just the start of a story waiting to be told. It’s what comes to me when I think hard about the guy in the photo. It’s a good writing exercise — try it. Study pictures in magazines and newspapers, and see who jumps out at you.