I work at a gas station. The specifics of which chain don’t matter. I got talking with my co-worker about how some of the most interesting people come through the store, and it’s true. Anyone who works in a customer service job could probably fill novels full of stories of some of the interesting characters that come through the doors.
For example, there’s one guy that comes in who is a Korean War vet. He has a walking cane, and he always has to have his paper put in a plastic bag, and the cashier always has to pull out the money for his paper for him. Sometimes he asks for help in opening the door, unless someone holds the door for him on their way in. He’s also a regular at my gas station, and up until I got switched to evenings, you could predict what day and what time he would come in. He was like clock work.
There are regulars that come through that are too busy chatting on their cell phones and throwing money at me while asking for things in between conversation gaps. I never know who these people are, and, admittedly, it infuriates me because I find that thing rude. If I weren’t more occupied with my job, I might be tempted to imagine what kind of person they are.
Imagine just taking some random person you come in contact with at your job that you don’t know. Build an entire character by building them from the outside in. It’s a lot like speculating what’s making the unknown person tick. The added bonus is you don’t have to worry about being wrong. That unknown person in the office is now becoming a fully formed character in your mind, independent of the person that sparked the inspiration. It’s a great way to brainstorm characters for a story if you’re lacking ideas. If you have enough of them, you can build up a reserve of characters that you can borrow and adapt as you find yourself casting characters for other stories.
So the next time you’re at a gas station, a fast food restaurant or out shopping, look around. You never know what inspiration you’ll find for your next story.