I just looked at a list online of 18 things authors do and one of them really stuck out to me as so true I had to laugh. Ignoring the PJ’s all day long (guilty!), I eavesdrop shamelessly. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not eavesdropping in order to write word for word what people are talking about in my next novel. No, I eavesdrop because I get to hear how people talk to each other in real situations. I am a shameless people listener and people watcher.
There is a saying that I have heard and it makes its rounds on the internet in various forms, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my next novel.” It’s gospel truth! Of course we writers will never use your name, but we sure will use the fact that you have to bite the end of your pen cap before you write, or that you like sugar on your eggs over-easy, or that you always say “Tally-ho!” before you drink bourbon straight. Why? Why such an invasion of privacy? Because those things make characters believable, loveable, and memorable!
Everywhere I go, I’m on constant alert. I don’t know which came first – the writer or the observer – but I do know that the quirks and oddities that make us human also make us into powerhouse characters on the page… provided the writer is able to transcribe and morph those little quirks into a brand new, fresh jumble of letters that makes a living, breathing, person in our minds.
Every person I see, (like the guy walking across the intersection who stopped traffic for a dance break, the one walking down the sidewalk who burst out in a Michael Jackson moonwalk, the woman in the DMV who stood in the middle and began preaching, the little old lady in Goodwill searching fruitlessly for the shirt she hid to buy later), is a story – a complete story that I don’t know. It’s pretty awesome to see life that way, I have to admit. I get to go home with little snippets racing around in my mind, filling in the blanks, until I come up with something new and fresh… and my fingers then fly across the keyboard to twist it, record it, and create it.
I suppose in a way, I’m a translator of real life. I add my own flourishes to the experiences I see. I keep a notepad in my purse at all times to jot down snippets of conversation that I find amusing, or that makes me laugh, or that makes me feel queasy inside. They blend and merge with others until what comes out is a mashup of humanity… then I only hope that I’ve translated it and transcribed it well enough that others understand!
Here’s to people and getting the chance to listen to them and watch them. Don’t be nervous to be yourselves, but think about it the next time you read a book and say to yourself, “This guy is so much like me!” You may very well be that character’s inspiration…