‘A woman on a bus today carried her Pekinese dog inside her handbag. It had a red bow on its head that matched her sweater.’
This short description of a real person could be the starting point for a fictional character.
Who might she have been?
Where was she going?
What did her appearance suggest about her mood or state of mind?
How old was she?
How did she live?
In answering these questions you are starting to build a concrete sense of character. You are starting to get a story.
In the darkness I could only catch glimpses of the woman as the bus flew past the lights along the highway. The effect of the rhythmic lighting was magical, with each brief glimpse offering up a new detail about the old woman to me. I had been deeply involved in a novel until I looked up and she caught my eye.
In her days she was likely a pretty sight with her curly hair and perfectly shaped face. Now she was well beyond middle age with a wrinkled face, the sort one gets from leading a wonderful life filled with smiles and laughter. Still, she was pretty and I bet more than a few older gentlemen would give her a wink and tip their hat. When we first met each others glance I had smiled at her and she smiled nicely back to me. A wonderful and friendly smile. Shortly after the bus began moving she had closer her eyes and fallen asleep, the white noise of the darkened highway rocking her to sleep.
At first glance her clothing looked expensive but with each successive burst of light I discovered otherwise. The edges of her red sweater were frayed with the flash of light. The next one revealed a button missing. The next a stain on the shoulder. The woman had hit upon hard times.
Her one extravagant expense seemed to be the large handbag she held firmly at her side. Her meek arm was wrapped around the top of the bag, holding it tight and safely next to her. I blinked at the next burst of light - I thought I caught movement in the bag. I leaned in.
With the next rhythm of light the top of the handbag slipped open and a small dog's head pop upward. It glanced around, the sweater-matching red bow atop its head bobbing and swaying as its nervous eyes darted around the darkened bus. The little dog struggled and fought to get itself clear of its pretty and soft prison. The next flash and it was on the woman's lap, standing up and licking her face.
She did not move.
The little dog whimpered slightly through four flashes of light. It barked sharply once, drawing the ire of some gruff voice from farther back in the bus. It whimpered again and then spun itself slowly around three times before settling on the woman's lap, its sad eyes staring directly at me.
We locked eyes for another twenty-seven splashes of lights before the bus drew to a stop. The little dog looked up as the five other passengers disembarked, not giving the woman or dog a second glance.
I stood and it turned its little head sideways at me.
I took a few steps toward the door, then stopped and looked back at the dog. "Come on buddy, your going to need someone to look out for you."
It yelped once, looked back at his friend, gave her a quick lick and then trotted after me.