One of the best parts of being a fiction writer is imagining people’s secret lives. Even before I started writing fiction as an adult I was entranced by other peoples’ interactions in restaurants, and wondered what their background might be. I’ve been reminded hundreds of times by my dining companion to bring my attention back to OUR table instead of the adjacent one. I sit and wonder how long that couple has known each other, what language they’re speaking, why one is glaring at the other.
People watching provides fabulous material for character building. Airport waiting rooms. Public buses. Beaches. All provide such riches for studying how people walk, their facial tics, arguments. Imagining who they are and why they act that way.
Saturday I was sitting on a beach in Maine. A kind of regular-looking woman walked by with two young boys. She was slim and tan and wore a bikini top and cut-off jeans. And she was covered with tattoos, but only on the parts of her body that would be covered by clothes: her torso, her chest, her back. I started wondering why she needed to hide the body art. I imagined she was a high-power executive with a tattoo fetish. Or maybe she became a biker chick on the weekends. What if she had gotten tattooed when she was in the Army as a young woman?
I once stood behind a man in an airport line that was moving very slowly. He was a fit, handsome African-American with hip glasses, a leather jacket, and a shoulder laptop case. I whipped out the little notebook I carry everywhere and started writing down who I imagined he was: A college professor of jazz. The single dad of a little girl. Originally from Maine. Are any of these things true? Very likely not. But he might make it into a book or a short story one of these days. Hey, maybe his ex-wife is the tattooed executive on the beach!
I suppose I should also wonder what other people think MY secret life is. But that might just drive me into hiding. What, everybody’s studying me? And anyway, I’m not telling!
Have you put elements of a real stranger into a character in your book? What kinds of secrets have you imagined? Who have you seen lately that you wondered about?
I was on my way from Iowa to Alabama, and I stopped for a way-too-early dinner at an almost-empty Shoney’s restaurant in Clarksville, just north of Nashville. I was alone and tired, having gotten up around 4:00 a.m. I’d been through the salad bar and had started paging through the mystery I’d brought in to keep me company during a solitary meal.
A man and a woman came in, and the first thing I noticed was that she was scared of him. She had bruises on her upper arm, easily seen as she wore a tank-top and shorts. She sat across from him quietly, and he ordered food for both. They didn’t speak, but her eyes never left the doorway for long. She was expecting someone.
When her eyes had once more darted to the door, he barked at her to keep her eyes on her plate. He was a large man, whiskered, sort of beefy, in jeans and a tee-shirt. He was wearing a jacket that was a little too warm for the hot Tennessee day. I was checking out his clothing when I noticed
the bulge at the back of his jeans. He had a gun stuck into the back of his pants, covered by that too-warm jacket.
I put enough money down to pay my bill plus tip and left, my salad mostly still on my plate.
Ooh, not what you expect to see at a Shoney’s, Margaret! I wonder if he was protecting her against the guy who had given her the bruises? Thanks for visiting the Wicked Cozy Authors.
Most mornings I walk to Peet’s Coffee and back. Students headed to the middle school are often walking that same route.
There are two boys, probably 11 or 12, who meet every morning on the corner of Castro Street, coming from different directions. One has black hair, worn a bit long, the other has a blond crew cut. Sometimes one will hide behind a tree until the other is close and then jump out but sometimes the prey sees the jumper well in advance and they laugh. When they see each other they often both give a little leap and prance in little running hops to greet the other. They clearly like each other so much. I remember how fantastic it was to have a best friend at that age. It’s a wonderful start to the day when I see them.
I love that story, Susan! Especially with boys at an age where they might soon be turning, you know, all adolescent and gruff with each other. Hope you’ll visit our blog again.
Comments are closed.