I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find myself watching others and listening to conversations, filing them away for later use. Little bits of life enter into my stories in one way or another. I don’t always do it on purpose, sometimes it just happens. Other times, it is deliberate. My eldest son and his friends have entered into my novels in more than one guise. They have such a colorful turn of phrase, creative insults and snappy repartee, I can’t avoid it. More than once their conversations have stumbled across my pages. Many of the young, twenty something men in my novels are based on combinations of their personalities.
Personalities, conversations, character types, all of these are grist for the writer’s mill. Let’s face it, when something is good, we’re not above snatching it. I don’t mean plagiarism of another author’s work. I’m talking about our own experiences. Sometimes that boring conversation overheard in the electronics department at Wal-Mart can be used all or in part for something else. I file these away in my mind. Sometimes, so I won’t forget details, I write them down to remind myself, but more often I rely on my memory to implant them where they need to go. Not my most reliable method, considering my memory these days, but I prefer to do it that way. Then my presentation isn’t colored by something I’ve already written out.
Often, my own experiences are parts of the characters’ backgrounds and upbringing. My own likes and dislikes color their choices. I try not to do it, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. They are a part of me, therefore they have certain of my personality quirks. I don’t think they ring as true as people if I don’t make them realistic. For example, the music my characters like. I have a broad reach of musical tastes, but you won’t catch me listening to much rap. Not my thing. My characters reflect that dislike.
I love music, art and theatre. Many of my characters are creative in more of these areas. I have several musicians – mostly guitarists, since my boys all love to play the guitar. I have lots of characters who love to sing, because that’s something I love to do. One is plagued by perfect pitch – another is tone deaf. Fortunately, as they live in totally different eras, they will never meet.
People whom I’ve met in passing, have entered my stories. The grouchy old lady who hit me with a shopping cart in K-Mart – she’s in a book. The stone deaf old man I encountered in the produce department of Winn-Dixie who wouldn’t move when I tried to get by – he’s in there. Grocery clerks, orderlies at the hospital, traffic cops, doctors, teachers, hair dressers – all of them have entered my stories in some form or fashion.
Some are done in the form of a tribute. The orderly, who cared for my daughter when she broke her arm, has been in more than one book. Not only was he genuinely kind to her, he was stunningly handsome. Tall, broad shouldered, muscular, with gorgeous eyes, straight teeth and big, gold hoops in his ears. She and I still remember him well. Whenever I need an orderly, I trot him out.
Another is a dear friend who was like a second mother to me. She was a wonderful lady from Manchester, England. She was warm, kind, loving and took everyone to her heart. She was also feisty and didn’t take crap from anyone. I needed just such a character for my romantic suspense novel, Undercover Lover. Thus, Julia Cross was born. She is my tribute to my dear friend.
Not only people are grist for the writer’s mill. Weird things that happen also enter in. Something that happened to my husband, will one day make it into a book. He was sitting on the balcony of a friend’s condo having a cigarette, when a man came out of the room in the condo across from him. He checked to see if his neighbor was looking, but didn’t check across the way to the other building. He whipped off his wet bathing suit and hung it over the railing. Suddenly, my poor husband was flashed by a pale, fat man! Fortunately, he’d seen worse, so he wasn’t seriously traumatized, but it very nearly put him off his dinner.
Something I’ve already used was something that happened when I was driving. An odd encounter with motorcycles on Riverside Drive eventually became the beginning of my novel, The Ninja Tattoo.
Author advice through the ages has been Write What You Know. I’d like to change that up a bit and say instead – Write What You Observe. Everything you see, think or hear can become grist for the writer’s mill.