Tuesday, July 14

Finding Characters

Hi, Wranglers! Well, I thought that today I'd be flying home from a family trip to visit Son and Grandboy, but things have changed and Nanny gets to spend an extra couple of weeks here, taking care of my two boys--a working vacation, to be sure, because I still have editing gigs to do and Son will be pretty tied up with work and school stuff. Poppy is headed back home to take care of our lives, but I'm hanging here to give Son some much-needed help with his busy life. A special thank you to Wrangler Liz Flaherty for pinch-hitting for me last week, and actually, I'm going to play off her topic of inspiration today.

Being in a different town is always fun for writers because there's new fodder for characters, settings, plots, and story lines. Son lives in a very diverse area, so there are so many different people to watch and wonder about.

For example, the Indian gentleman I see walking down the sidewalk every morning when I take Grandboy to preschool. It's hard to tell exactly how old he is but the man's beard is long and snowy white as is the hair that peeks out from under his turban. He wears baggy pants and a knee-length jacket with what we used to refer to as a Nehru collar. (Remember when those were a fashion statement back in the late sixties? Yeah, me too.) I have no idea where he is headed, but he walks with purpose, his spine straight and his focus right ahead of him. I compose a new story for him each morning--is he a widower? Or maybe walking to the grocery at the corner for something to tempt his wife, who is ill at home. Perhaps he was once a university professor and now, retired, he takes long walks each morning...

Or the young Hispanic woman who works in the kitchen at Grandboy's preschool. She greets me each day with a sunny smile and a warm hello. She ruffles Grandboy's hair with great affection, sharing the day's menu with him. But her eyes are sad and smudged underneath with purple shadows. I wonder if she is a single mother working hard to make ends meet in a very expensive area of the country. Does she come home to a small apartment, make yet another meal for her own little ones, and then begin the second half of her day's work doing laundry, cleaning, helping her kids with homework? Is she worn with worry about how she'd possibly afford new shoes when the light bill nearly doubled and her youngest needs dental work?

Or Son's neighbor--an elderly Chinese man who works in his yard every day, keeping it perfectly manicured. His roses are lovely and fragrant and he always has a smile for us when we come outside. Son says he's the eyes and ears of the neighborhood, but since he speaks very little English, it's often hard to understand him when he tells you about what he sees and hears all day. Interesting character, no?

Talk to me, writers--do you collect characteristics or even characters as you travel or go about your day? At the grocery store or the airport or at church or your day job? Does a little bit of people you know creep into your stories?

8 comments:

  1. People-watching is probably my favorite sport, with making up their stories being the most fun part of it! Great post, Ms. Nan. Enjoy your boys.

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    1. I know, right? And it sure makes waiting in lines and at airport gates much more fun and interesting.

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  2. I love to people watch, and we have a LOT of opportunities for that here - there are the tourist attractions (islands, amusement park, lighthouses) of course...but I find myself people-watching the most when I'm on vacation..there is something about being in a different place that makes me pay more attention, I think. Fun post, Nan!

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    1. I think you're right about paying more attention when you're in a different place. People are people wherever you go, but Son's area is much more diverse than where I live, so naturally, I'm more curious.

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  3. People watching is one of my favorite pastimes. Working on a college campus I have many stories I have written in my head, and in my journal, about the students and others I meet. I have also written great stories about my neighbors and entertain my husband with their ongoing fictional pursuits. Great post, Nan. Maybe I will recognize one of those characters in an upcoming book of yours.

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    1. Oh, Carolyn, how wonderful for you to work on a college campus! That's like character mecca, isn't it? I love making up stories for people I see...you never know. The old Indian gentleman was out walking again this morning...he has real possibilities. ;-)

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  4. I'm a people watcher. If ever I'm stuck I'll go to a public place, or a mall, and sit on a bench and watch and listen. It's amazing what you can make up from a snatch of conversation from a stranger.
    Your post reminds me of the novel The Girl on the Train. She even gave names to total strangers she observed each morning, and through her observations helped solve a murder. :)

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    1. Oh, I haven't read that one yet, Roben, but I want to! I hear it's really good! Eavesdropping is right up there with people-watching. Last weekend in Carmel, I heard a couple having a huge argument on the street while I waited for DIL and Grandboy. It was no-holds-barred and although I didn't know what precipitated it, they were not at all happy with each other. Of course, I was trying to appear as if I wasn't paying attention, but the whole time, I've got my little mental tape recorder going because I'm awful at writing arguments. ;-)

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