On Writing: Character Profile

In reading through/listening to Stephen King’s book On Writing, I have been considering some of the points he makes. So much so, it has been invading that half sleep I used to love so much between punches of the snooze button on the alarm clock. I don’t know if it is my own twisted subconscious or the influence of Stephen King’s descriptions in the book, but this week gave me a really twisted character profile.

That particular one I am saving though. I want it to process and simmer a bit to bring out as much flavor in it as I can.

I did consider on the drive into work this morning the idea of the people you know around you as characters. I think it is a good exercise as I think the truth is usually stranger than fiction. So I offer this Character Profile and will leave it up to you to determine if it is truth, fiction, or (if a combination of the two) where you think I took creative license.

What can I say? I needed something to do while waiting for D&D Encounters to start this week and did not want to get dug into my writing just to have to halt it when the players arrived.

Frank the Baker

Frank came to work in the bakery a couple years after it opened. When the owners (friends of his) decided to open another bakery they transferred the current manager to the new store. She was as happy to do it as they were to assign it to her. It was closer to where she lived, so the location was almost hand-chosen for her by them as they were her in-laws.

Frank was a name that I had always been comfortable with. Although an uncommon name, I had known many in my short time. Namely, both my grandfather and father had shared that name. Of course, name is where the similarities between this baker and my family members ended.

He was a harsh man. Harsh language. Harsh looks. His faded denim jeans and polo shirt yellowing from a combination of cigarette smoke and sweat completed his sharp demeanor. The least sharp thing about him (other than his wit, that is) was his hair. A bushy mustache was held in check with a less than healthy amount of grease. His hair would have been the same, but the thinning nature of his hairline and the pressed look the baseball hats we wore limited any bushiness on his head.

The harshness of him did not end there either. Views, both political and personal, also had an edge to them. Of course this made sense as he was personal friends with the store owners who once instructed me not to hire any black people to work the front counter as “the people ’round here aren’t comfortable seeing them.” (And yes, the only person of color to ever apply there was the best counter help I ever brought on for my night crew.)

In an effort to endear himself with my night crew, he once tried to insert himself into the banter that we often shared amongst ourselves. What came out was referring to me as the Flying Nun in reference to the wings of my long hair curling out over the sides of my baseball hat. If the halting silence and the far off chirp of the crickets didn’t give him an out of place feeling, my informing him Wolverine would have worked better must have given him a clue. You know, since Wolverine was in print some time after most of my staff had been born… unlike…

His rapport with his day crew was no better from what I could see. His bakers had him convinced they spoke little to no English. What else could he possibly think that would fix that besides talking slower and louder, right? After hearing them discussing the state of his wife’s fidelity in the little Spanish that I knew, I made a point to inform them that if they decided to do little of what he told them was their business, but if they left my night crew in a lurch due to crossing him that I would inform him that they spoke English plenty fine. We agreed on it over a cup of coffee.

Although I have no definitive proof of it, my thoughts are that he chose to find other employment to save his friendship with the owners. They had likely only given him the job to help him out of a rough patch anyhow. For me this realization came when he decided to stick around late one day a bit into the night shift. Word amongst the day crew was that he wanted to see how smoothly the night baking went for himself. He walked up to one of my guys mixing the dough, his cigarette dangling from his mouth as if it were a windsock on a particularly clam day. He commented on how he wanted to check how well he had made the batch of dough. Pulling open the mixer top he reached in and kneaded at it, the windsock still dangling from his mouth as he spoke. “Needs more water. Too dry.” The look he gave me spoke volumes, as did my own observation of the ash that had floated down into the vat like a carcinogenic snow flurry. The dough was not too dry, but it was definitely now tainted.

For those of you of weaker constitutions, I told my guys to lay the batch on the table to rise as normal (covered under plastic for the heat) and when he was gone we would toss it out and start a new batch. Such was that particular summer for us… a life of us making sure we corrected any and all mistakes he made during the day that affected us while not getting into the bulk of our work until after he decided to leave for the day.

My personal favorite was, after a record breaking day that left us with no dough prepped for the night crew – making us have to make our own batches and leaving nothing for the next day – we stayed through the night to make sure there was a full cooler stocked by morning. His response was anger for us putting in that much overtime. When asked why they agreed to do it anyhow, I replied to him with, “Because their manager asked them to. I stayed because we are a team. And you’re welcome… your guys have dough this morning.”

End Character Profile

Note: Do not take that it is written in first person as a clue. Most of my fiction is first person, so this was the most comfortable for me to write in.

So, what do you think? Truth? Fiction? What (if any) do you think I fabricated?

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One thought on “On Writing: Character Profile

  1. My Word! I can picture him! I really can. What a great way to outline. I can’t wait to read more (hint, hint).

    I have a outline that I use, it’s more of a fill-in-the-blank type of format. I’d be happy to email it to you to look at. Feel free to steal any of it or all of it. I like to make up character profiles too. Often based on people I know. Being from a crazy Italian-American family (married into an even crazier Irish-American family) makes it easy to come up with characters. I then leave the character profiles in my file cabinet, and then I can pull them for different things!

    I can’t wait to read more about Frank!

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