Monday, May 12, 2008

Careful what you say. It might end up in a novel.

A wonderful memoir writer with the initials Robert Rummel-Hudson once wrote, "If they had known about the book, they might have behaved."

Writers are born spies. We are watching and recording even when we don't realize it. Often, a story is inpsired by a slice of conversation between a couple we overhear in the next restaurant booth – "This is not the time or place, Fred!" or the way someone artfully complains to a steward on an airplane – "Maybe this service goes over well at Greyhound, sweetie, but this is first class and I shouldn't have to tell you."

I was recently having drink with a friend at a coffee chain. We were sitting inside next to a window. As we talked, I noticed a couple sit down at a two-seater table outside.

They didn't arrive together, that was clear. She, natural and not in-your-face-pretty in a Gwyneth Paltrow kind of way, sat down first. Her ram-rod straight posture against the hard, wire-framed chair suggested she felt very relaxed and confident.

He, equal to her looks in an everyman, but not leading man fashion, carried a large laptop case, pulled out his chair and made to sit down – but not before his whole case came tumbling open and the contents of it, including his laptop, spread around on the pavement at his feet. Fortunate for him, it was not a windy day. He stood there for a moment looking like he'd just wet his pants on the playground in front of the popular girl. He scooped the papers and pens back into the case and shoved them under the seat. (I noticed she did not help him with this task.) Then, he sat on the edge of his seat, slightly hunched toward her, continuously running his hand through his hair. He was talking fast. Whatever he was saying, probably tinged with a healthy dose of nervous laughter, just made her more interested in her frothy drink and straw, which she was moving up and down inside the cup with the tips of her coral colored manicure. She was bored. I assigned her a bubble thought: "I think on my next polish change, I should go with Make Mine Mauve."

His bubble thought shouted, "Idiot! Stop talking about how your new Dell laptop can withstand a drop from three and half feet."

I felt bad for them. Well, actually, I felt bad for him.

It was clear this was a first and possibly last meeting. Through the window glass, I never heard any of their exchange. Still, I could see a story play out in front of me. Would she be worn down by his nervous charm when he called her the next week and they'd go out again? Or was she counting the minutes until she could text her girlfriend about this bad date? Was he waitng for her to leave so he could sufficiently flog himself for being so clumsy, fueling the start of his future serial-killer infamy as the Manicure Maniac? Or, would this send him inside for a double-tall latte from a sweet barista who would become his next girlfriend merely because she asked, "Is that the latest Dell laptop?"

The story could go so many directions, which is the pure joy of writing. We take human observations and weave in our own "what ifs" and life experiences until an interesting scenario emerges.

Do you observe people and conversations? Do you sometimes fill in the blanks about what is taking place?

--

Karen Harrington
Author, Janeology

Today's JANEOLOGY blog tour stop is a review from ReviewYourBook:
http://reviewyourbook.com/review.cfm?reviewid=545

1 comment:

Cheryl Kaye Tardif... said...

ALL the time, Karen! :)

Like you, I find people fascinating. I watch their facial expressions, mannerisms, how they relate to people around them.

I also study their hair, partly because of my past life (real past life) as a stylist and partly because hair tells a lot about a person.

Is her hair styled, freshly washed? Is it simple or elaborate, or wildly colored? Is his hair naturally that color? Did he straighten it for her? Is there a squished in patch at the back that suggests he just woke up? Why did he wake up so late? Is he lazy or was he moonlighting as a criminal fighting vampire?

You can tell a lot by how people dress too.

Is she wearing make-up, fashionable clothes and expensive shoes or did she just throw on a sweater over her PJs, thinking no one can tell she's in her night wear? Are his jeans practically falling down under his butt? Does he really think this is cool? Why would a sixty-year old man think that?

Okay, these people haven't made it into one of my novels--yet. However, there is a young nanny at a park in my new (no release date, sorry) novel Children of the Fog, and she is a composition of many women I used to see at the park when my daughter was a baby.

Other people I've watched may not have made it into a novel, but some have made it to my blog. People are fodder for writers. Not that we'll chew you up or spit you out, but more that your actions or words may spark something in me and I'll assign them to a character, knowing that if nothing else, they'll ring true.

Well, now that I've written all this, I think I'll have to post it as a blog post. lol

Cheryl Kaye Tardif