Last week, I talked about using music and iTunes playlists to develop character. Today, in honour of the coming weekend, I’m back to discuss another method: the day off.
No, not yours. I’m talking about your character’s day off. If you’ve created a protagonist—or an antagonist, for that matter—then you’ve probably got a physical description, a job, a place they live, maybe a car they drive, some hobbies, some preferences, a family, friends, all that stuff. You’ve got a good start.
But here’s an exercise for taking it a little further: what does that person do when they have a day off?
That’s right: a day with no work and no obligations. Do they sleep in? Do they get up early to go for a run? Are they so invested in their job that they make an excuse to go in anyway? Do they clean their house? Clean their weapons? Do they spend all day in bed? If so, who are they spending time there with?
Here’s an example from my own work to get you started:
Even on a day off, this woman still gets up early. It’s not really a choice; she’s got a two-year-old, and he’s an early riser. But while some days she’d really like more sleep, especially if the previous night was a rough one, she doesn’t mind. It’s hard to be mad at him when he looks so much like his father.
Once they’re both up, she makes breakfast, a proper one, something she rarely has time for during the week. There’s usually too much to get done before she has to be at work for her to do anything but grab a bite on the way out the door. After breakfast, despite it being a day off, she’ll probably at least do the paperwork; the business is hers, so there’s always something to do. Later, if the weather’s nice, she’ll head to the park with her son. Some of her friends might meet her there, if they’ve got the day off, or it might just be the two of them enjoying the sunshine. When he gravitates to the playground with the other kids, she’ll read the book that always lurks in the bottom of her bag, right next to her well-loved Sig Sauer, the one she’s used so much it’s almost an extension of her hand. Even reading, she’ll keep a watchful eye out, looking for trouble; old habits die hard.
Most of the time, she enjoys days off now. She works at enjoying it. Once she couldn’t stand to step back for a whole day, but that was a hard time. Now she’s trying to remember how to be normal again, and some days it works. And the ones it doesn’t…well, tomorrow’s another try, right?
You get the idea. Go on. Take a look at your character, and think about what they’d do if they had a free day. Would they train? Would they relax? Would they get blind drunk? And then think about why they’re doing those things. Who are they in those moments of stillness? That’s when who they are comes out, apart from all the fucked up situations they find themselves in. That lady up above…she’s a lioness masquerading as a house cat. Some days it works. Others you can see the claws.
So, what are your characters doing this weekend?