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!
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
While I acknowledge the end of one year and the beginning of the next as a perfect time for change and renewal, I’ve never held much truck to the idea of making resolutions–they don’t tend to stick.
That being said, I have been thinking about what’s happened in 2010, and what I would like to happen in 2011. Personally, emotionally, I think I’ve made great strides in 2010–and accomplished something I wasn’t planing on–namely, going back to school. I don’t remember if I made any resolutions for 2010–I could probably look them up here, but I’m far to lazy to do that (now watch WordPress find it automatically for me…)
so, here they are, my goals for 2011. The goals that one might say I’m resolute to see happen…
- Get (and maintain) at least a 3.5 GPA. Seeings how I got a “D” in one of my three classes this semester, this might be hard, but I think I can do it.
- Go to church at least three times a month, and all three meetings at least once a month. Along with this, scripture study and prayer every day.
- Blog every day. WordPress has a Dailypost challenge thing to help remind people to blog everyday. I’ve signed up for that…it’s a little intimidating, blogging every day was the goal of The Storyteller Chronicles, and I failed miserably. So were trying it again.
- Write every day. Not connected to the blog or homework. Stories, free-writes, whatever. Every day. Connected to that…
- Write a novel. 150,000 words–that averages out to about 410 words a day–not counting things like outlining and editing. It doesn’t have to be ready to send to an agent, let alone a publisher. It doesn’t even have to be good. It just needs to be a complete, lengthy story. Um, eep.
Looking over this list, it’s going to be tough, but an easy goal isn’t really a goal, right? So, here’s to big things happening in 2011! Now if you’ll excuse me, this big, ambitious list is making me tired. I’m off to take a nap.
I have an assignment in my English class that’s driving me nuts. When it was first handed out, I thought that it would be simple–that the paper would be fun to write and pretty much write itself.
Yeah, not so much.
The paper is a personal narrative. It’s supposed to encompass a single point in time, and have a point beyond “one time, I got bit by a shark.” type of deal. My professor warned against doing anything too emotional, because people tend to get upset when they’re graded on the quality of their writing rather than the emotion that the story encompasses.
So the story I want to tell is basically this: When I was seven, we were at a family reunion on Cedar Mountain. My extended family is huge, to the point where amongst the first cousins alone, there are about 13 girls all born within about 5 years of each other, with my sister and I smack-dab in the middle of it
I’m on the right with the pink shirt, big glasses and even bigger hair. Sis is on the left with the pink pants and white tee-shirt. Ahhh, that awkward age. Which has somehow followed me to the brink of my 30s.
Anyway, when I was seven, Something happened with this big group of girls, and I got irritated and offended, and decided I had had enough. I wanted to be alone, and needed to find a place to hide. I was smart/well-trained enough to know better than to go wandering off in the woods by myself. I could go to our camp trailer, but Mom would be in and out, and that would probably be the first place anybody would look for me. While I loved (and still do) my extended family, I didn’t feel comfortable hiding in someone else’s tent or vehicle. And so, the only logical place was the back of Dad’s pick-up truck.
The truck had a camper-shell on the back, so it wasn’t obvious to the casual observer that there was a little girl hiding in there. I had a book, and a few toys, and the truck had a mattress in the bed, along with lots of blankets, where my sister and I could sleep. I contented myself with reading and playing.
I don’t know how long I was there before I realized that people were starting to call me. I ignored them, because my feelings were hurt because of what my cousins had done, or hadn’t done, and I thought they wanted to tease me some more.
Eventually, I fell asleep. I woke up slightly when the truck started moving, but I was still smarting from whatever slight may or may not have happened, so I didn’t let the driver, my dad know I was there, and fell back asleep.
The next thing I knew, Dad was waking me up, and pulling me out of the back of the truck. Night had fallen–and it was mid-afternoon when I went to hide. All the aunts and uncles and cousins were standing around, and I was informed that everybody had thought I was lost (I was incensed by that. I didn’t get lost, I knew exactly where I was the whole time.) that’s why they were calling me. Dad had taken the truck out to look for me, and they were on their way to the ranger station to report a missing child when my cousin Seth (just older than the gaggle of girls) noticed my hair in the back of the truck.
Simple enough, right? Except I can’t stretch it to make it the length of the paper required, and I’m having a hard time tying in the “moral” of the story.
I know a lot of this has to do with the fact that I didn’t do as well as I expected on my last paper, I’m stupidly upset because I only got a B+, not to mention the fact that I had a panic attack before class last week, and ended up having to run out of the classroom in tears. And a big part of the problem is that I feel like I shouldn’t be having a problem writing this paper.
I’ve been so stressed out by this, that I’ve been losing sleep. This morning at 3am, after tossing and turning for a couple of hours, I decided to start cleaning my bathroom. After de-cluttering and washing the counter-top and sink, I went back to bed and fell asleep. Today, when the stress got to be too much, I cleaned the bathroom floor. At that point, I figured I might as well do everything else–so I scrubbed the toilet and tub as best I could (I need a pumice stone to really get things clean, but I don’t want to go shopping just for that) got the bath mats washed, and even washed the walls (gasp!).
I’m still stressing about my paper, but I feel really good about getting the bathroom cleaned–if not spotlessly, then at least to the point where I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have my grandmother see it. Instead of the mystery smells that tend to come with dogs, neighbors and two roommates who both like to cook, my house smells like Mr. Clean. It’s really rather soothing.
Now, if only I can get this stupid paper written…
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.