My characters are usually a created with a recipe of one third imagination and two-thirds real life. Many of the quirks and interesting traits that I use often come from students I have worked with both in the classroom and in the community.
One such student was Jason. I was teaching sixth grade at the time and knew this was one interesting kid based on the sympathy cards coming in from other staff members. Seems Jason drove many of his past teachers to an early retirement.
I approached Jason with an open mind and had one of the best years ever. Jason spent the first few days devising an elaborate booby trap for his desk and storage area. I stood back and let him create; making sure whatever he was building would be safe. It was brilliant in design and quite harmless unless you don’t like the feeling of three-dozen rubber bands suddenly attached to your wrists.
I didn’t know it at the time but Jason was a visual thinker using pictures in his mind to get by in life. If he could visualize, he could learn. Time was Jason’s enemy and moving on to the next activity was impossible unless he was ready. Writing of any kind was atrocious but the kid could read. The problem was he only read the last 20-30 pages of a story. He wanted to see how things turned out before he invested any more time. Assignments rarely got turned in on time but by letting him go with his interests I got more writing out of him than the previous five years combined.
Jason was a big awkward kid who always had a smile. I think back to him often when I’m looking for an interesting trait to use in a character. Jason left my classroom at the end of the school year and gave me a thumbs-up. That’s all I needed to know I had succeeded.
Six years later I came across a small two-paragraph story in our local paper. Jason had been killed in a single car accident. No drugs or alcohol but I knew he had been distracted by the pictures in his head.
Rest in Peace my friend. Your boundless spirit and energy lives on in my writing.