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Friday, July 29, 2011

Thinking Like a Writer

I had this epiphany today. I realized I have a habit of pulling myself out of a situation and assessing it as if I were a narrator. Of course, I spend much of my life narrating situations. In a big box store this morning, I watched a manager and his female underling walk the aisles. I listened as the manager explained why some items on a nearby shelf shouldn't be there. I watched the facial expressions of the woman, assessed how she felt about her boss, guessed at what she was thinking. By time I moved on, I had written an entire scenario for them in my head. 

Then later at the dentist office as I waited for my daughter to have her teeth cleaned, I observed a family of three in the waiting room - mother, son and daughter - as they argued over who hadn't walked the dog that morning. I quickly summed up the relationship between the siblings, the parenting skills of the mother, as well as her marital situation. 

When I stopped and laughed to myself at what I was doing, I realized it was something I've been doing for years. I fill in all the blanks of the countless people I encounter in the course of a day. I write their back stories! 

Sure, some folks might characterize my behavior as a little weird, a bit on the intrusive side or even presumptuous, but writers get it. We don't find it strange when we hear someone say their characters have conversations in their head. We don't even lift an eyebrow when one of talks about a villain as if he or she is a living, breathing person. Because to us, they are living and breathing. They are our creation, the flowers we've coaxed from the fertile soil of our imagination. 

So rejoice if you find yourself the moderator between the voices in your head. Celebrate if you fill in the details of scenarios you observe amongst strangers. You're not crazy. You're just thinking like a writer.

What about you? Do you create characters and scenarios from people you happen to observe?

Just for grins, here's one of my favorite writerly scenes, from The Shining (Graphic language warning!!)

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Katt said...

In a similar fashion, I write "reasons" in my head.
If I see a yard which used to be well tended but has become overgrown, I come up with a dozen reasons why.
If I see a person overreact to a situation, become angry over some little thing, in my head I come up with reasons for why.
I guess that's how my books unfold as well. I begin with a scene, and by the time I'm done, I have created an entire book full of reasons why this scene has taken place. Quite often, the original scene is not in the finished book, because the reasons make it redundant.

Wynter Daniels said...

Interesting, Katt. We writers must all be searching for answers in one way or another - why such a thing could happen, why a person would be that way, etc.

MaureenAMiller said...

I guess I have to be careful about having you over for coffee, Wynter. :)

I love that scene from the Shining. Is it wrong that the scene just inspired me?!?

Rita said...

I love to watch how people interact. Body language. Is she coming on to him? That couple is into one another. That couple isn’t! I guess I have enough stories in my head don’t need to look for more. Although there is a fun game to play when you are people watching with another writer. Pick out an individual or couple, one of you starts a story about them and the other one finishes it.

Wynter Daniels said...

No worries, Maureen. I'd never be quite that mean;-)

Rita - I'm glad I'm not the only one who plays that game!

JB Lynn said...

I do that too, Wynter. Sometimes when I'm stuck on a project I go out with the specific goal of eavesdropping, lol.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Yes, I definitely do some creative "writing" when I'm around strangers. I wonder what people are arguing about (when you can tell from their body language they're not happy), why they aren't talking at dinner, what happened in their day to bring them to this place/mood/interaction. It's great fun!

Loved the clip, too. I felt particularly "grouchy" yesterday as I struggled through edits and got nowhere. I have to laugh, though, at his circumstances. I'm trying to write in a living room amidst a pile of laundry and three squabbling kids. Sometimes (all the time) I wish I had a room like his to hide in. LOL

Elise Warner said...

I've been people watching since I was a kid. Eavesdropping too. Right, Wynter,that's what makes us writers.

Toni Anderson said...

LOL--I do that too. And after we've been with friends I often say to hubby. "Well it was obvious (from that one pointed look) that..." And he just looks at me like I'm crazy. My imagination does run away with me :)

Wynter Daniels said...

JB - what a great idea! I've never gone on a mission like that.

Anne Marie - I don't know how you're able to concentrate. When my teenage daughter plays music nearby I can't write a word!

Wynter Daniels said...

Elise - I've always been a eavesdropper, too. So cool that we can justify it now, huh?

Toni - I have similar conversations with my husband. He keeps telling me "no one knows what goes on between the people in a marriage..." My response is that it's so fun to make it up!

Mike Keyton said...

My process is less instant. For example at a dinner party I will listen to others' conversation, sometimes participate but whatever 'is going on' is going on in my subconscious. Then, later when I come to write, the conversation/body language and internalisations, bubble through, sometimes with a surreal gloss and usually effortlessly as though my subconcious as been having fun behind the scenes.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Oh yes. I try to read the subtext of conversations based on the body language (body language never lies), I eavesdrop shamelessly and I ask questions. My kids think I'm amazingly snoopy because I always want to know *why* their friends did whatever they did, and what happened after. I just think I'm doing my job.

Wynter Daniels said...

Mike - I love that idea of conversations percolating in your head.

Marcelle - that's funny. My kids think I'm nosy, too when I tell them to hush because I am listening to someone else's conversation.

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