Friday, August 19, 2011

Gifts from a Writer’s Notebook

Today was an ordinary day. The things I did—reading, writing, running errands, spending time online and with family members are all part of my day-to-day life. To an onlooker, nothing I did would appear to offer fodder for a writer’s imagination. But I end the day with five gifts, notes about five scenes I observed today, one of which gives me exactly the details I need to revise a scene to give it greater immediacy and power. The other four will doubtless make their way in some form into other manuscripts.

1.     Waiting in line to check out books at the library, I watched a father and daughter. The line was long, and the little girl, whom I judged to be between three and four, grew impatient. She asked her dad, “Why are we here?” When her father reminded her they were getting books for “PawPaw,” who liked to read, she said. “I like to read.” Then with a great sigh, she added, “But books are better when we don’t have to wait.”  All of these details and more are carefully noted, and the next time I need to think about child speak . . .

2.     The teller at the bank is a sweet girl, the daughter of an old friend. She’s been officially engaged for five days, after a long relationship that her parents feared would never culminate in marriage. Her ring is lovely, and I dutifully admired it. But I made mental notes of the glances she kept darting at it, the gesticulations to display it, and the smile that seemed etched on her face. I suspected if I could have seen her feet that I would have found them several inches above the floor. She’s a secondary character just waiting to be written.

3.     I had to do a grocery store run too, and Thursdays are senior discount days. I followed a white-haired, 80ish couple through the deli, produce, and canned soup departments. In the bakery, the woman debated cheeses. The man said, “Anything but Gouda.” She bought Gouda. In the produce department, she considered three kinds of grapes. He said, “The purple’s better for us.” She bought white. On the soup aisle, he said, “I’m sick of tomato.” She said, “But it’s on sale” and dropped four cans in their buggy. I think there’s a subplot there.

4.     I was reading in my room when I heard a visiting relative--a soft-spoken, peace-loving soul—shout “You SOB, you don’t know what you’re talking about. The least you could do for what those idiots are paying you is get the damn facts straight, you asshole.” I rushed into the living room in alarm. The big guy was standing threateningly in front of the TV. When he saw me, he reddened, ducked his head, and apologized, explaining that a particular sportscaster didn’t know a certain body part from an aperture in the earth. I’m adding a scolding mother to the scene.

5.     I took an afternoon nap, something I rarely do but allowed myself today since I was awake late and up early. If one can have nightmares in daytime, I did. I awakened with my heart pounding, my brow sweaty, and my whole body shaking. For a few seconds when I first woke, the dream seemed dreadfully real. It took me a minute or so to recognize familiar furnishings and feel safe. Tonight I revised a nightmare scene with all these details fresh in my mind and in my notes.
Do you keep a notebook? What extraordinary things have you seen in your ordinary days?



Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post. I don't keep a notebook exactly, but I do store away all kinds of things like this. They really are gifts, adding a rich texture to our writing experience. I saw a man waiting for his coffee one day practicing his golf swing and it instantly brought to mind a character's personality, someone I'd been struggling with. I love when this happens!


Janga said...

Thanks, Donna. I love the golf swing picture. I also love thinking of such things as gifts. In addition to feeding the writing, it gives me such a positive feeling. :)

quantum said...

I'm not really a people watcher, but more of a nature watcher.
Observing a hawk catching a sparrow in flight or a kingfisher diving for food are awe-inspiring.

On the more humorous side I recently watched a large seagull snatch a piece of fried fish from a man's hand on the front at Lynmouth. Immediately behind the man was a big red sign saying 'Don't feed the seagulls'.

I shall now be on my best behaviour in public. Looking out for attractive young ladies carrying pencils and notepads.

Though on reflection Janga, I would be over the moon if I recognised myself in one of your books! *smile*

Janga said...

I love the image of the seagull, the man, and the sign, Q. I record details of place in my notebook too, but I admit that people watching engages most of my attention.