Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writer as Observer

Most people who know me, know that I'm a writer. I've never come out and said it, but I sometimes use other's quirks as character traits in my writing. The very first manuscript I wrote - and which my agent is shopping around - has a character who calls both the main character's house and cell phone until the m.c. answers. When a friend of mine first read the manuscript, she said, "Hey! That's so-and-so." I was caught!

My point is here that writers sometimes use what they observe in the real world within their writing.

Two nights ago, I lost my voice. It's a common side effect from nasal drainage. It maybe happens 1-2 times a year. My kids sort of think it's funny, but mostly they get concerned, wondering when Mom will feel better. I was feeling better yesterday, so I went to work for a phone meeting with an out-of-country illustrator (she's from Canada). Good thing my boss was in on this phone call because I couldn't speak any louder than a whisper. When I arrived at work, my boss treated me no different than she normally does. I wrote notes to her to convey to the illustrator, and afterwards she and I even spoke about another project. I left promising to drink lots of tea and told her that I'd be attending another meeting the next day.

Driving home, I decided that I wanted to have some chicken noodle soup. I contemplated going to Panera, but that would require talking above an anticipated lunch crowd, since it was now after 12:00pm. I opted instead of going to Busch's and getting my own fixings for soup. I trolled through the store, picking up a few more items than needed, and landed at the check-out lane of a gentleman who I've often checked out with. He was his typical nice self, but when I indicated that I couldn't speak because of laryngitis, he started talking louder and slower.

Huh? I'm not stupid nor deaf (sorry to the hearing impairment community.) But, c'mon. I just couldn't speak louder than a whisper.

The bagger also treated me the same, and I left thinking that was weird.

Fast forward to the evening. My youngest son's Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet. Trust me, if I could've stayed home, I would have. But it meant a lot to my son, and I was clearly not on my death bed, so I went. Being in a room full of people and not being able to talk to them is quite an experience. I handled myself well. I hung at my table, wrote notes to my tablemates, and enjoyed the evening. At one point, my friend wanted to introduce me to another mom. The mom knew who I was, but I had no clue who she was. We both have 5th grade boys, and apparently they boys are friends. Who knew. Anyway, when she realized that I couldn't talk, her whole demeanor changed. She bent down, got closer to me, and had this look on her face that I imagine one would give to an elderly person when that person was having a hard time communicating. Was I seeing my future? Ugh.

Either way, both of these experiences really made me start to think what it would be like to live in a world where the only communication you have is with flapping your hands around, writing notes, and clapping to get someone's attention. Granted, people don't really communicate in this way most of the time - even if they do have a speech problem. But still, it was an interesting day and night.

Today my voice is still not there. I have a hair appointment at noon today and my hairdresser has a slight hearing problem. I'm not sure that I should keep the appointment because if I can't tell her what I want, she's not going to be able to understand me! Perhaps I can find a picture. Wish me luck.

I'd love to know as a writer, do you use your surroundings in your stories? Are your friend's quirky behavior the same as a character's? C'mon, spill it. I promise I won't tell. : )


Liz Lipperman said...

Kris, hope you start to feel better. Warm salt water gargles help.

My ghost story about five sisters is definitely a combination of my life with my own real life sisters and my YaYa sisters. One day while we were in Florida sitting around the pool having breakfast, one of the women who married a younger man made a comment that sent the orange juice flying out of my nose. Of course, it went right into my book! (Sorry, it's too ornery to repeat here. Only one of the sisters in the story can say it and get away with it.)

My friends who read my stories say it is like listening to me talk. What they don't realize is that it's like listening to them talk, too.

Great blog.

Liz Lipperman said...

After reading my comment, I had to clarify. My friend's statement went right into my book, not the OJ!!

Anita Clenney said...

I hope you feel better, Kris. I've never had laryngitis, but it can't be fun. Although you've gotten some interesting responses. Maybe some material you can use.

I find that my heroines have a lot of my quirks. Other than that, I don't deliberately write characters who resemble anyone. There are some I'd like to, but I'm afraid they'll recogize it :)

Tiffinie Helmer said...


You know how they say, "Write what you know?" I believe in that. Plus, I also see writing as the best revenge! I hope you get to feeling better. If you haven't tried some tea, try some tea.


Unknown said...

Liz~I don't think it's uncommon for writers to use little quirks/sayings of friends, as long as the friend doesn't mind. In my book, the friend I'd modeled the phone calling after knew that she did that and wasn't offended.

Anita &Tiffinie~Some of my women's fic characters have traits that are similar to me - they drink coffee, tea, and eat cinnamon rolls (God's gift to us mom's who need carbs to keep going!), but I try not to be mean, although one of the kids in my MG series is modeled after a bully in my son's school.

Thanks for all the well-wishes. My voice is back a teeny, tiny bit. Hooray!

Marilyn Shank said...

My favorite writing workshop was led by Han Nolan. She had us tell lies about our family, as though we were telling the truth. Much to our surprise, most of us ended up telling the truth within the freedom of the lies--a deeper truth. That's when I discovered what is meant by verismilitude.