Seeing the world through a writer’s eyes

Something has happened to me. Something that is both a good thing (from the point of view of my craft) and a little unnerving. Also probably inevitable.

You understand, I’ve always done it. But it’s getting worse.

I’m talking about the part of my brain that views  people I meet in terms of their potential to be characters in a book. (Only new people, not ones I’ve known for ages. Friends and family, you are safe. Mostly.)

I write young and new adult, so this phenomenon happens primarily when I’m talking to young people. I suppose I should be grateful it’s not every single human being I encounter.

I first noticed it when I met the girl renting the house next door. I say “girl” but she’d be a NA character — maybe mid-20s. She was tall, fit and blonde, with an elegant Celtic-knot tattoo across both her shoulders and several piercings (that I could see). Polite, tanned and gorgeous. She struck me as someone who’d get on with Melaina, the main character in Lucid Dreaming, like a house on fire.

Dany Explosion

I don’t go out of my way to eavesdrop on the conversations next door, but let’s just say that if they’re in the yard talking when I’m hanging the washing out, I can’t help but overhear them. And I have a lot of washing.

Does that make me a bad person?

Another example was a week or so ago. I went into a telecommunication shop to buy a dongle (don’t laugh — yes, I know it’s a funny word!). The staff were all in their early 20s. The one who served me had this amazing auburn hair that I assume came straight out of a bottle. The other girl was plump with a very pretty face. The third was a tall guy, broad across the shoulders, with a mop of sandy curls.

They were chatting away, including me in the conversation, and I could feel the “muse” part of my brain taking notes. The auburn-haired girl would be the main character, with the other two her best friends (and the plump girl, like Samwise Gamgee, would be the real hero). The boy would have a secret crush. All I needed was for a brooding vampire to walk in the door and it would’ve been perfect.

Unfortunately all we got was a shaggy fellow asking for directions to a rival telecommunications shop. If he was a brooding vampire, he hid it well.

I do the same thing with songs now too. Which is silly, because most songs have a romantic theme, and I don’t write romance. And when I see a spectacular weather phenomenon or breathtaking view, I start thinking about how to pin it down with words on a page.

For those of you who are writers, do you do the same thing?

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4 Comments on “Seeing the world through a writer’s eyes”

  1. Hi Cassandra, to be inspired by real people you meet, sit near in a restaurant or see in the distance, and to leave your imagination free reign is one thing … lots of people, I imagine, do the same … ……..but to listen in to their conversations and “spy” on their comings and goings, starts to become a worry … at what point does it become an invasion of privacy? Writers get sued, especially in the US if people think the author has used their lives as a character in their books – even disguised. It’s understandable if it seems that the author is making money (even if not much) by “trading in” on someone’s life and reality … there may be a little more leeway with public figures and celebrities, but they can complain if you infringe their right to privacy …….characters in history seem to be an exception but even, then care needs to be taken not to offend their descendants … Maybe you’ll think all this is a bit OTT but Isn’t this why publishers need lawyers …

    • Thanks for your concern. I don’t actually plan to put anyone I know into a novel, because that’d be kind of weird for me. And them too, I imagine!

      I may have exaggerated my eavesdropping for comic effect. I do that sometimes – don’t tell anyone. (Confession: at least some of the girls in that group house smoke, so when they are in the yard I tend to flee if I can, as it wreaks havoc with my asthma). What I do pick up when I overhear them talk has nothing to do with personality or content and everything to do with speech patterns and “young person” idiom. I don’t apply that to one character but many, as applicable.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being inspired by aspects of a person you meet or know, though. For example, my son plays with his hair when he’s sleepy (although he hotly denies it). I could take that habit and give it to a character in a book, but that doesn’t mean I have infringed his privacy.

      Hope I’m making sense here – I’m on the tail end of the plague so a bit scatterbrained.

  2. I do this – only with an illustrator’s bent. I want to draw them and THEN turn them into characters! People are so amazing with their variety and their sparkling personalities. Even those who are surly and seem to just give everyone a hard time I can imagine as an obstacle in a story, or a person who’s been hurt or misunderstood. I want to rewrite their story with them happy at the end of it, uncovering some inner glimmer they don’t show in real life. (I’m such a sucker for a happy ending.)

    Writers are valuable to society, because writers are the scribes of history, the people who preserve personalities, capture essences of humanity (and inhumanity), wrap up a special moment in a big red bow for others to experience over and over again. It’s truly an awesome thing.

    Keep doing what you do, because you’re not alone. Great post! ^_^

    • Thanks for such a well-considered comment! 🙂 I met one of those people you’re talking about today — the surly, road block types. He was pretty awful. I may have to, as they say, eviscerate him in poems. Or something.


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