In-between pain pills seems like a good time to post this week’s writing tip. I’ve been rereading some old favorites lately, trying wrap my brain around the kind of literary career I hope to have. This week it is MAKING A LITERARY LIFE by Carloyn See. Some of the book is directed at brand-new writers but the entire book is good reading for people at all stages of their career. She is, of course, the person who advocates the wonderful habit of charming notes.
But that’s not what this tip is about. This is about characters. She talks about how, perhaps, we already have our cast of characters in the people we know. She challenges you to write out a list of 10 people who had an impact on your life. Perhaps they were larger that life. Not necessarily your best friends and parents and siblings, though that could be the case. Take a minute and make a list of 10 people that have have been important (you define important) in your life.
Here are mine, in no particular order:
1. My uncle Fred who was a fireman and had no kids of his own. He brought me books that were never books for children.
2. My uncle Jess who lived with Uncle Fred. He had a spitton at the end of his recliner and was a compulsive junk collector.,,,to the point that he could never find anything because he had all sorts of junk he was saving for someday,
3. Mr. Lehmer, the guy who own the local Oldsmobile dealership. He was also my mom’s boss.
4. My grandfather.
5. Mrs. deBenedetti who lived across the street and had the huge rummage sale every year. She saved all the good stuff for me.
6. My aunt MaryJane who liked to go to USO dances and who had a son who was deaf and who was the only smoker I could ever stand to be around.
7. Peggy Harden, my first skating pro.
8. My mother-in-law Meg and her tireless devotion to doing the right thing.
9. Mickey, the lady who lived across the street from the house my mom rented. She used to make glass grapes and sell them.
10. the Tuey family, except for Grandma Tuey because she scared me.
Now what about the ones that left a less than pleasant memory.
1. The guy who exposed himself to me when I rode my bike around the block.
2. B – a guy my mom dated who made Brandy Alexanders after school and tried to get me drunk.
3. My aunt Pat who never like me no matter what.
4. The Navy guy I married.
5. CG – a friend of my first husband who was not a friend of mine.
6. W – another one of those friends who was not a friend but tried to fake it.
7. Any roommate my daughter has ever had.
8. One of the people in my neighborhood who has an issue with fences.
9. The lady I worked for when I lived in Virigina – the one that told me to kill the cat. That would be the cat that I took home and had for 11 eleven years.
10. Mrs. Truitt who never believed that her little darling hit me in the face.
This is just a first pass but already there are 20 characters and possible 20 stories. I forgot to mention the minister that ran the horse ranch. Or the guy I dated that had the black El Camino. (Both good guys.) Or the guy I dated with the van and a Napeleon complex, not a good guy at all. But at least I started a list. And now that I started it, I hope I will build on it.
The thing is, See wasn’t trying to tell me that I had 10 or 20 characters, what she was trying to get me to see is that this is my material. You will hear a lot of people tell you to write what you know and you will hear people tell you to write what you are passionate about. Whatever path you decide to take I think it is most important to know, or to at least acknowledge, where you came from. When I look at my list I know why I write the kinds of stories I write. I can’t help myself. It’s in my blood.
So who are you and where do your stories come from? Try making your own lists and see what you learn.
Write on, right now.