Friday, March 20, 2009

I've Always Wanted To...

For the past week or so, I've been going through my (thrashed) notebooks, trying to find little tidbits of information I've jotted down over time. See, I'm nearing the end of my current WiP, and I'm gearing up for the second round. Which means adding in little things to give the writing more depth, the characters more personality, the setting more believability. (Wow, that's a word. Didn't even underline it. I'm shocked.)

See, I carry a notebook everywhere I go. Little things I notice, I jot down, thinking I'll stick them into a story somewhere, someday. So I went hunting through the notebookage. It was actually quite disgusting. The corners are all curled, some type of granola bar was wedged in the wire, and was pretty gross. Good thing I found those sweet cream-colored-page notebooks at Office Max.

I found some interesting things:
  • Visor hats. These are cool, striped like a zebra.
  • A wall covered with old license plates, the smell of oil and machinery.
  • The smell of wet cement, the first rain of summer.
  • A girl who has super-short (shaved) hair.
  • A cat statue in the bathroom. I feel like it's staring at me. I had to turn it into the wall to use the bathroom. Someone who's rich?
  • Someone who doesn't like onions, but loves onion rings. Hates cherries, but loves cherry-flavored candy, etc.
  • High heels with skinny jeans. (maybe ankle boots)
  • Someone who never takes their sunglasses off, even inside.
This is just a partial list of things I've jotted down while waiting in line at the post office, waiting to cross the street for a Jazz game, while visiting friends, etc. That cat really did freak me out. Yes, I made it face the wall. No, my friend wasn't rich, but I thought it would fit into a novel where someone was rich and someone who wasn't was visiting. I still haven't used it.

I didn't find anything to fit the character I'm currently trying to develop. But it was still fun. And now I have something to think about while waiting at the next red light.

So here's my question of the day: What real-life observations have you used in your writing? Which ones are you still waiting to use? What quirks or characteristics have you always wanted to write into a character?


Unknown said...

I love your questions. You are such a thoughtful person. I also think it's awesome that you write down those little things you observe each day. The idea would have never occurred to me. Now I'll spend the next few days mulling over the question and you'll have moved on to something new and spectacular by then! Just my first thoughts, before you do. I actually try and stay away from writing what I see where my fantasy novel is concerned. Though character traits are pretty universal I think regardless of time/reality and I kind of like to use them all...

I also write song lyrics and that's where your observations would really help me I think. I LOVE character. To me, that's why I write and thing I love best in the books I read. You can have a mundane or stereotypical plot, but if you've got well-rounded, likable characters, I'll love your book. I'm easy to please like that. Sorry for the long post...

~Jamie said...

Well, I used a pink pearly laptop... because I had one and I think mine is fabulous.

A little girl jumping over the sidewalk cracks... that would be my daughter's latest obsession, and who doesn't remember doing that?

In fact... I use a lot of things SHE notices... she will point something out, and I will thing... huh... that needs to find a place in the book.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I don't know that I've ever consciously taken characteristics from something in real life to use in a story, but unconsciously I probably do it all the time.

Also, I am one of those people who hate cherries, but love cherry flavored candy.

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

I really need to start doing this. I'm going to write down all of the strange things I see in one week and see what I come up with.

This should be interesting. :-)

More and more, I've found myself pulling out things from my life and bits and pieces of my own memories to use in my writing.

For instance, I used to be a nanny for my three nephews when they were very young. My oldest nephew used to call his forehead a "crabby." I don't know why. I guess maybe because brows furrow when people are angry or crabby.

When I added a little boy to my mss, I snapped up that bit right away because it was so endearing.

Annie Louden said...

I'm comforted because your notes sound a lot like mine, and since you have been having so much writing success, there's hope for me!

Once on the bus in Sydney I saw a girl get on who looked exactly like the main character to a novel I was working on. I didn't really know what my character looked like till I saw this girl, but when I saw her, it just fit. So I pulled out my notebook and wrote about her before either one of us got off the bus.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Oh, good question. I'm ALWAYS noting things to use for characters, but I don't write them down. Just log them away, and if they fit if for a character, then great. I think I've always wanted to use is someone who plays the guitar and sings. I have no idea why.

Michelle McLean said...

Hmm, I should start doing this too :D I tend to use characteristics of people I know or run across rather than things...but I really should write things down like that, because I come across stuff I find interesting all the time. I do jot down names a lot - if I see a street name I think would make a good character name (esp last name); I've got whole lists of names....and songs, I write down little snippets of lyrics too.

Oh, by the way, someone who hates onions but likes onion rings...hate cherries but likes cherried flavored things - that is me, totally :D

ND_Green said...

I love doing this. One day, I saw this guy walking down the sidewalk at my school in dark green sweat pants and a black button down shirt. He was wearing Converse, had black frame rectangular eyeglasses and was smoking a cigarette. His hair was crazy. I don't know what I'm going to do with that, but I really liked his look.

I also come up with random quotes a lot and then find somewhere they'll fit in a WIP. That's always fun.

Anonymous said...

This is so me...I don't always use a notebook, but as someone who observes behavior for a living, I am always people-watching. My current WIP has three characters that are drawn from different people I see....everything from their physical appearance to little weird things in how they carry themselves or how they respond to others...I always pull ideas from watching how people interact...all of this feeds my muse.

Great post Elana!!!

Jenn Adams said...

I am such a slacker! I need to start doing this. I would love to open up a notebook and remember the cat I had to turn to the wall so I can use it in my book. :) I'm gonna start doing this. Thanks!

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

I'll have to get out my notebook to give a more complete answer later, but don't want to disturb the cat sitting with me right now.

My all-time favorite thing I heard someone say that I'm dying to use is this:

"He's a stainless steel lunatic."

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