Years ago, I attended a writing conference with a regionally famous author. Someone asked her how she came up with characters, and this author responded that a lot of the time she would listen for conversations in the line at the grocery store or in other public places.
I was a teenager at the time, and I found this bit of advice to be a) fairly creepy, and b) not worth much, because I lived in a small enough town that there wasn’t a great deal of variety of conversation taking place in public. And so, that bit of writing advice got tucked away in the back of my mind, where it lay alone, gathering dust.
At least, until today.
I had forgotten my phone/MP3 player, so waiting at the bus stop I was forced to *gasp* listen to the people around me. Around here, anyway, waiting for the bus involves listening to music, getting some studying or other reading in, or quiet, banal conversation with friends. Sometimes all three.
This afternoon, though, in the midst of all the common noise, there was a man arguing on his cell phone. He was far enough away that I couldn’t really hear him, except when he was getting irate with the person on the other end of the line. I noticed him first when he said “I’m the nicest guy who’s ever dated you!”
The phrase struck me enough that I wrote it down, and began trying to figure out who would say something like that. I wasn’t even thinking about the guy on the phone, I was thinking about a character in a story. And I was wondering why someone would say “I’m the nicest guy who’s ever dated you” as opposed to “I’m the nicest guy you’ve ever dated”. Not that I’d want anything to do with a guy who uttered either phrase; the nice guys I know show it through their actions, and not their words.
Now, I have to stress here, that all my time spent with psychotherapists has been on the patient side of things. I’m can’t emphasize enough that I’m not trying to analyse the guy on the phone, I’m trying to figure out who one of my characters who would say that would be. I’m looking at this from a literary point of view, not a psychological one.
The first thing that came to mind, by saying “who’s ever dated you” rather than “you’ve ever dated.” makes it all about him. The (presumable) girl on the other end of the line is an object to be acted upon, someone to be dated, not someone who dates. If I was writing this character, he would be very egocentric. Nothing is his fault, and every bad thing that happens was meant to disrupt his life and annoy him.
It’s easy to get under his skin. Because he’s not willing to admit that other people, well, quite frankly, exists in realms completely separate from his own, he takes everything personally. I imagine that this phone call was post-break up, with the girl being the one doing the dumping, and he is having a hard time accepting that she doesn’t find him as perfect as he does. While he wants to save the relationship, it’s more because he wants a pretty ornament on his arm, and a warm body in his bed than an actual relationship. He doesn’t care about her, but he needs to be the one doing the rejecting, not being rejected. I don’t think this guy would be above using…unsavory methods to get what he wanted.
Now, if my character had said “…you’ve ever dated”, he’d still be a selfish twit, but he would at least acknowledge that there are other people out there making decisions that have nothing to do with him. His girl is a person, not an object–though she still needs to be tightly controlled. He’s aware that she has interests that aren’t him, (while I’m not sure the “…dated you” guy does) even if he’s not thrilled about it. He’s nicer, but only in the way a bear is nicer than a shark.
If I were writing a romance novel, these would be the boyfriends my heroine has at the start of the story, before she meets Mr. Right. In a drama, they might stay together throughout the novel, but he’d be putting her through the ringer. A mystery might have one of our men killing the girl (or the girl getting fed up with being controlled and killing them).
I then started thinking about situations where the guy I could hear would be the hero of the piece–what could the girl on the other end of the line have done to provoke, or even deserve such ire. I came up with, well one, possible solution (She’s a con artist, who stole all his money and was in the process of fleeing the country. He’s wanted himself, so he’s not going to call the cops on her.) And maybe that’s where I need to take this little exercise next.
I really don’t have a place for either of these characters right now, so this was more of an exercise than anything else. It got me thinking about not only what my characters say, but how they say it. The way we talk reveals so much about us, and the same should be true for our characters. And truth be told, I really don’t know anything about the actual guy on the phone, except that if he were to ever ask me out, the answer would not only be no, it’d be hell no.
So, have I entered the realm of the creepy author? Does either of my readers have similar experiences, where a single overheard phrase turned into a complete character? Am I over thinking this in a bid to avoid doing homework and/or go grocery shopping? At least in regards to the last one, probably.
EDIT: I’d love to hear what you’re impressions of someone based on the lines “I’m the nicest guy who’s ever dated you” are. Are they different from mine? What about the girl on the other end of the phone? Do you have any ideas about who she might be?
So, first of all, I’d like to fully acknowledge the irony that I’ve been neglecting my blog because of all the work that has been required from my creative writing class.
The good news is, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer. For instance, I’ve discovered that I like to write creative non-fiction, which should be good news if I continue with this blogging thing. I’ve also discovered that I have a hard time with plot, especially when it comes to endings. Which is probably why I struggle with fiction. And probably the most important thing, I’ve discovered that when I’m hashing out an idea in my head, I need to sit down with a notebook and paper. The computer is great for the actual writing process, but, let’s face it, it’s a giant box of distraction. If I can find a quiet corner, and organize my thoughts before I sit down to the computer, my writing will be, well, written. And I’m not going to be distracted by Wikipedia or TVtropes or my favorite blogs.
So, anyway, I’ve put a few of my stories from this class in the “Stories” tab. But here they are in link form, for your convince.
The assignment for this story was to write in someone else’s voice. I was thinking of Mom when I wrote it; it’s her story after all. I don’t know how well I succeeded in separating my voice from hers. And yes, Mom, I know I didn’t get all of the details right. It was for a creative writing class. I was writing creatively.
This assignment was to write about what my character does for a living. This exact incident never happened, but I was influenced by my time working at PetSmart.
This was simply an assignment to write a piece of fiction. The first line was one chosen from a list–and I have to say, it kinda feels like I shoehorned the story to fit.
Also, I don’t know anything about fishing. But, my narrator doesn’t, either, so I suppose it all works out.
Hmm, that doesn’t seem like a lot for the amount of work I’ve done for my class, but, at the same time, it’s not everything. There’s stuff I’ve written that I absolutely hate and am not sharing with anyone I don’t have to. Also, there are stories that I’m working on revising for my final project that will go up, well, after the final. But for now, just know that I haven’t forgotten about you!
I’ll readily admit that I’m not the smartest person in the world, but I know that acting in anger only leads to more anger, retaliation, and the next thing you know the Navy SEALs are sent in, when the whole situation could have been avoided with simple words.
After giving myself a day and a half to rage about the lolcat, (also, here) I came up with several revenge plans–which are much funner to plan than to enact, especially if you’ve got enough foresight to envision the consequences–then made a decision as to what I should do. And, when I’m trying to smooth things over, what I do usually involves baking.
Today, I made a batch of bread, and left one of the loaves on the lolcat’s doorstep, along with this letter:
Please accept this homemade whole wheat bread, and my apologies. I feel like there is an animosity between us that, as neighbors, we can ill afford. I am sorry that my dogs are noisy at times, but I want to make my position known.
I have spent most of my life battling severe emotional disorders—I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at the age of ten, and my depression often manifests itself in the form of anxiety. I have spent a lifetime talking to therapists and trying to find the right combination of drugs that would get me, if not to normal, than at least to functional. Over the years I’ve learned that acting in the heat of emotion never results in the outcome desired, so I’ve allowed myself a couple of days to calm down, and collect my thoughts and feelings. I wish I was a brave enough person to explain all this in person, but I am not.
I share this with you not as an excuse, but as an explanation of how important Max and Lulu are. It’s been three years since they’ve come to live with me. In that time, I’ve been able to completely cease both psychotherapy and drug treatment—and it’s because of my dogs. On my very worst days, the days when I don’t want to get out of bed, I still have to, because Max and Lulu need me. They calm me down when I’m anxious. They cheer me up when I’m sad. They have quite literally saved my life—when I lost my job last year, I was suicidal, but I couldn’t abandon my dogs. The simple fact that before I could do anything to harm myself, I needed to provide for their care and welfare prevented me from doing anything rash.
Max and Lulu were adults when I acquired them. Their previous owners had done an excellent job with most of their training, but socialization was lacking. However, as the previous owners live on a side street in a quiet, rural town the fact that they would bark at passing vehicles or pedestrians wasn’t as big of a deal.
When they came to live with me three years ago, everything seen and heard outside the windows would set them off. Passing vehicles, people on foot, the roosters in the pen to the east, the trains, the birds…everything. I spent a lot of time teaching them to be apartment dogs, and have gotten them to the point where they only bark when they see, smell or hear another dog, when people are talking loudly outside, or when Lulu wants someone to come pay attention to her. And yes, I realize that that seems like a long list, but consider how much noisier they would be if they barked at every car that drove by, or every person going to check their mail.
I have tried to be a good neighbor when it came to Max and Lulu, and I honestly thought I was succeeding until a couple of weeks ago. I realize that living in a condo complex like Lakeridge comes with challenges, like hearing the neighbors dog’s bark, or crying babies, or loud music, for instance. I assumed that everybody else did too. I’m not really sure how to proceed at this point. On one hand, I’m angry at the idea of having to run the air conditioner when it’s in the 60s outside, because if I leave the glass door or windows open the dogs might bark and be annoying—I’m still looking for a job, and am on a very fixed income, and I don’t want to pay a cent more in utilities than I have to—but on the other hand, I don’t want you to be angry at me, or my dogs.
Likewise, keeping them contained isn’t an option. I know you didn’t believe me when I tried to explain this on Sunday, but being confined to the crate doesn’t stop the barking, rather, it intensifies it, and adds digging, growling and howling. The crate lives in my bedroom—directly above your bedroom. If the dogs are keeping you up at night, (and if they are, why don’t you tell me that, rather than the vague “annoying”?) restricting them to the crate would only make things worse. Furthermore, I don’t feel good about restricting their access to water at any time, especially as the weather warms up. You said that it’s not that hard. I say it’s not that easy.
Max and Lulu are my world, but I know to you they are only yappy little dogs. Imagine if someone was leaving vulgar notes on your door complaining about your sweet baby, and perhaps you can understand why this has upset me so much Please know that we are trying, and we are getting better. In the mean time, please be patent with us.
I tried to be gentle. I tried to show understanding and compassion, and above all, I used vowels. I also signed my name.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I hope that we can put this whole business behind us. I’m afraid that it won’t be that easy, though.
edit:The neighbor that I thought was the lolcat came to return the bread. She’s not the one who left the note. On the plus side, I have a new friend, and an ally in this whole issue. On the downside, I’m horribly embarrassed, and have no idea who the Lolcat actually is. So… now, I don’t know what to do.
As I was walking through the parking lot to the bus stop on my way home from class today, I spotted a car with a sign in the window that read “Caution! Baby Inside”. The image was what appeared to be a giant floating head over a banana (a quick internet search when I made it home told me that I was right about the banana, at least, but the sign didn’t specify a baby what.)
The sign made me think of nothing so much as the notices placed on cages that transport animals of various degrees of domestication from place to place, and I had to wonder: What is so scary about babies that I need to be cautious? If I got too close to the car, would it growl at me? Would it snap at my fingers if I tried to pet it? If I feed it my peanuts or bread crusts would it become too used to adults, and start following random people around begging for food? (Come to think of it, that may have been what happened with my 15 month old nephew, E.)
I then started to wonder what a dangerous baby was doing being left alone in a car in a college parking lot–sure the caretakers could have removed the infant and left the sign, but that would be irresponsible–why make people worry about being attacked by a baby when there is no baby present?
The day was chilly, bordering on cold, so I wasn’t worried about the baby overheating–but I wasn’t going to check on it if I was being warned of it’s presence. But still, should I notify someone that there is a dangerous infant alone in a car? Surely whoever is responsible for those types of situations would be trained in how to deal with dangerous creatures, such as the baby we were being warned of. But what if it wasn’t there? Would that mean that it got loose? Is there a baby wandering around campus, savaging innocent students as they study or wait for their classes? What if it was in the bushes surrounding the bus stop? What if it had its sights set on me?
Fortunately, at this point in time, my bus came, and I managed to make it home without being attacked by a rabid toddler. I’m going to make sure to lock my doors and windows tonight, though, just to make sure no infants get into my house. Because, from what I hear, once you have a baby, there’s no getting rid of it.
WordPress sent me this email this morning. I think they overstated the success of “The Storyteller Chronicles” but it’s interesting none-the-less. And hey, look! I can officially call this a Post-a-Day entry!
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.
A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,100 times in 2010. That’s about 12 full 747s.
In 2010, there were 234 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 247 posts. There were 542 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 1,019mb. That’s about 1 pictures per day.
The busiest day of the year was January 5th with 119 views. The most popular post that day was Fighting the beast.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, cuteoverload.com, bumalafa.blogspot.com, en.wordpress.com, and touch.facebook.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for crab spider, josie greathouse fox, whistling at the northern lights, the storyteller chronicles, and ouroboros ring.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
Fighting the beast December 2009
Who I Am January 2010
My Nook Report November 2010
Just because I have a mental illness doesn’t mean I’m crazy February 2010
Indecision pt 2 May 2010
So, the B-I-L wasn’t able to fix everything that was wrong with my computer, but fortunately, his friend Jon was. And so, my computer has been returned to me, with instructions to be very careful with where the power cord plugs into the computer.
I’m a bit chagrined, I have to admit. I missed the computer in the days I didn’t have it, but it wasn’t the internet or the word processor I missed–it was the stupid games. I was suffering Sim withdrawal.
I did get a lot of reading done–but before I get any further, I need to share a clip. This is Steven King talking to students at Yale in 2003:
I found that book that I put down and said “This really sucked. I can write better than that.” And not only had the book in question been published, it was an international best seller.
I guess I better back up a bit. A month or so ago, I was wandering through the book section of a local thrift store. I found a hardback copy of “The DaVinci Code” in nearly perfect condition for $2. I hadn’t read it, I haven’t seen the movie, and decided to see what all the fuss was about. Yes, I realize I’m a few years late to the party.
Long story short, Dan Brown can tell a story, and apparently, he is an amazing researcher, but the man can’t write. The characters were flat and uninteresting. The first scene Langdon looks in a mirror and describes what he sees–a huge no-no. Superfluous adjectives abounded. Brown wrote paragraphs like “Sophie quickly explained that her grandfather had made puzzles like this for her when she was a little girl” rather than “Sophie smiled. ‘My grandfather made puzzles like this for me when I was a little girl.’ she said.”
I’m glad that I didn’t waste more than one day of my life on “The DaVinici Code.” But, the more I think about it, the angrier I get. How did this man, this book get to be so popular and famous?
Okay, I’m done. And I know not to read anything by Dan Brown ever again. And that I’m a better writer than an international best-seller. That’s a very good thing to know.