Unlike most writers I have met either on-line or in person, I’ve not dreamt of being a writer all my life, nor did I start clutching a crayon and write my first novel by the age of 4 and a half. Between you and me, I get a bit of a complex sometimes; feeling unworthy of not having served a long enough apprenticeship to be able to utter the mention that I might write. However, getting over that pathetic pity party, thinking back on the skill I have used throughout my patchwork career; its obvious to me now that my expertise in people watching.
The best actors, teachers, HR and recruiters, waitresses and salespeople have outstanding people watching skills; fine tuned and moulded to their particular usage and needs. Certainly when I was earnestly seeking some sort of fame and recognition as an actor, watching people; modeling behaviors, accents and particular idiosyncrasies were some of the most important skills I utilized. I see writing as requiring very similar skills with character building – with the added bonus that characters created can have 5 arms, be as beautiful, ugly, old, short or slender as your imagination will allow; without having to go through lengthy prosthetics and make up set ups. As an aspiring actor, I was told to use everything ; every experience, every smell, touch, taste and emotion, to create a different state and reality. I see writing as no different.
Use Everything – even the bad stuff
Had a bad haircut? Got ripped off when you bought something? Got lost? Been dumped?All raw resources desperate to become the foundation of your next story. While its fine to wallow in self pity when things have gone wrong, the next step as a writer is to ask yourself how you can use that experience in your next short story, article or as backstory for a character in your novel. I’ve just come back from holidays – on a cruise – a different experience than our family would normally undertake – but one rich with inspiration, characters, plots and storylines. A cruise ship is full of charactures, relationships exploding in front of ones eyes, a veritable buffet of the human condition. During our time on board, my partner and I played versions of the same game – guess the occupation, guess the name or guess the disease/ affliction. Not only did it keep us privately amused for hours, but it served as a foundation for character notes for my future writing.
I wouldn’t go as far to say we didn’t enjoy our holiday, however it was a different style of break than we’d expected. Rather than being miserable, I turned it about in my own perception, and began cataloging the experience for future projects. Invariably, as one does, we went to one of the ‘shows’ on board. The introduction to this particular night involved an intricate lazer light show. Every moment during that show, my mind questioned what I was feeling, what effects I could see,touch, smell; as I was transported into another realm. As it proceeded about me, my mind was galloping at lightspeed; drinking in the experience and visual effects; ready for my next Sci Fi story which involved characters either being captured or entrapped by light forces or cages or battling with lazers.
Raw material resources are wandering about you every day. People watch (and covertly listen) and be gifted with storylines your wildest imagination could never have created. You don’t have to have traveled to a particular country to be able to write with authenticity – why not use the experience you had in the restaurant which features its food, the images conjured when listening to music from the region or the textures from homewares or craft originating from there. Use every shred of experience which you are gifted; in your writing. Turn every experience you have into an opportunity to explore, uncover or discover a character or storyline. But try not to be too obvious about it; or you’ll have fewer friends willing to spend time with you!
Image by Mark Berry via Flikr