I've started taking a yoga class. Well, I haven't really started, exactly, since I've been doing this for several months. And I'm getting better at it. Actually, I've been taking yoga classes off and on for around a year. I like them. And I like yoga, though some of the poses are, well, kinda difficult. And I really like the instructor, a woman I'll call Beth. She's about my age, I think, and very encouraging, a generally nice person, who makes me want to get better at yoga. And that started me wondering. I know a little about her. She teaches yoga classes at several different YMCA locations around town. One of them is the one I started out on, in a different place than I am now, at 7:30 in the morning. That was too early for me, which was one of the reasons I ended up at another YMCA at a more reasonable hour -- for me, at least. And Beth teaches yoga there, too. She also is a Pilates instructor, and I hope to try that out one of these days(I would have tried it earlier, but she's been doing a training class).
And that, basically, is all I know about her. We all have people like that in our lives -- people we see regularly, but only under certain circumstances,e.g. your doctor, your fellow workers, people you see in classes of various kinds. You might or might not become friends with some of them; instructors, doctors, dentists, etc., are probably going to be a different matter. Even if two people work at the same place, one of them may be married with kids, and the other a single with none, with their own friends.
What I'm getting at here has to do with a writer's imagination. What is the rest of Beth's life like? Surely it isn't all yoga instruction. I also know she is a true fan of our local baseball team, the Seattle Mariners. But suppose I wanted to write something about a character like her. What would I have to go on? Her appearance, certainly, and her love of Mariners baseball could be a "quirk" I could use to develop something about her. But here's where the writer's imagination comes in. If you only know that much about someone -- and I would definitely not make a character like Beth "exactly" like her -- you have to use your imagination to fill in the rest. That's not always as easy as it sounds, but on the other hand, if you start with some character based on somebody you meet, perhaps occasionally, perhaps more often than that, you have the basic tools to start constructing a character. How you fill in those blanks, and the methods you use to fill them in, are going to be very much up to you, the individual writer. That is part of the creation process.
Here's another example: In my Invaders trilogy, I have a character called Elfgiva. She's not a "major" character, though her activities play a considerable part in influencing the lives of some of the major characters in the story. She's not particularly "sympathetic", but she's not the villain, either. And she isn't like anybody I know well. In appearance, she's a combination of two people I met in work situations. Both were blonde, blue eyed women, but they couldn't have been more opposite. One was a woman of average height, but definitely on the plump side, and she had very pale hair and a complexion and general appearance that reminded me rather strongly of Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Dough Boy. I neither liked nor disliked her. The other woman was also blonde, but more brownish blonde, and her hair was dull and straggly. She was very thin, and had red-rimmed eyes, and didn't look well at all. I was rather put off by her. For the Elfgiva character, I combined the physical attributes of both to create an "ideal-looking" person who has some definite flaws, which, incidentally, runs counter to notions common in the Middle Ages, that conventionally good-looking people must somehow have good characters, just as people who were not so good looking were supposed to have "bad" characters. I did this to underscore the fact that though she's not a "villain", she's not really likeable, either, though she looks quite ethereal. Writers do this sort of thing all the time.
The point of all this is, a writer, or any other creative person, should let their imagination flow freely all the time. Many writers have notebooks that they carry around with them. I don't; I'm basically not that organized, and besides, I'm not writing the kind of novel where you have to pay a lot of attention to the details "around you"(that's more the "literary fiction" type, I think). But that's another story. I do have an imagination, it works, and I use it. Otherwise, I wouldn't be he here writing this blog entry.