Monday, February 16, 2009

Devilish Details

In the earlier post, Jess suggests that one word that's a writer's friend is "why?" and I totally agree with her, especially when it has to do with plotting and world-building. But I'd like to add on to another suggestion that I think I first heard articulated by Neil Gaiman when I interviewed him many, many moons ago for a magazine called Science Fiction Chronicle.

That is the idea that writers are perhaps first and foremost observers. His example in my interview had to do with feeling a little awkward at times because he knows he's always taking mental notes, as it were, even at funerals or other places. He's watching for quirky "characters" (even if that character is YOU) and kind of stepping outside of himself to imagine how odd human nature really is at times... even when doing something sort of "routine" like burying our dead.

I was thinking about this because I've been ridiculously sick. I got hit last week with a cold that my doctor described as "macho," but which I think mutated into "killer," especially given that I'm one of those people who doesn't usually GET sick that often. When I do, I'm usually over it in a matter of days. This viral-smackdown had me on my back for almost a solid week.

It was so bad I couldn't really ENJOY the cold, if you know what I mean. Don't you sometimes let yourself relax into a cold? A little tea, a cat warming your toes, a lot blankets, some trashy daytime TV, and a lot time to read and snooze, right? Well, this one was so horrible that all I could do was focus on where my next Kleenex was and how soon until the next dose of cold medicine. So I had a lot of time to observe. I'm not sure if any of what I discovered is actually worthy of even a paragraph in a novel because they had a lot to do with how after taking an antihistamine the noise in my sinuses sounded like a bowl of Rice Crispies after you pour the milk...

But on a serious note, I do think that these are the kinds of observations that add voice and character to a novel, although maybe I'll save my mucus thoughts for a horror short story....

5 comments:

Jess Granger said...

I'm with you, Tate. This is a little too much info, but I remember after the birth of my son feeling angry because Mommy brain set in, and I couldn't remember what labor felt like. I felt like the experience was stolen from me, and now I couldn't write about it with the same clarity if I wanted to.

I've caught myself noting how the veins of leaves look when the sun is shining behind them, or the feel of cold stone under my feet when it is wet.

Jess

Natalie Hatch said...

Rice Crispies are never going to be the same Tate, lol thanks for that.

Ann Aguirre said...

You know, I've often wondered how many writers started out as socially awkward. We stood apart, noticing things, making mental notes... I wonder how much of that is true.

It would be interesting to find out how many authors are quiet, introverts who watch more than speak and how many are popular party animals.

Angie Fox said...

I think a lot of authors stand apart - and it doesn't necessarily have to be in the traditional way of social introvert vs extrovert.

For example, I don't fit into the image of a shy author, but I do look at things differently. I notice things, like Tate says. And when I bring them up, it's not unusual to get a few stares. I just assume everyone sees things that way. Um, no.

Maybe that's how authors/creative people get slapped with the quirky label.

tate hallaway said...

What is it they say about creativity and insanity? No too far apart.