I had an experience a few weeks ago that I’m drawn to talk about. One of my gifts each Christmas is a Border’s gift card, and I judiciously use it. My goal is for it to last as long as possible. My writer’s group meets there so I took the opportunity to pick up a new novel I wanted to read. Unfortunately, somewhere between the cafe and the YA section, I lost my card. It had a significant amount left on it so I was tearing the store up looking for it.
Finally, Marsha and I went to the information desk and a manager arrived to help me cancel it before someone used it. He was talking on the phone to the individuals who handle such matters when I noticed a young person in the YA section paying a lot of attention to our conversation. A few minutes passed and a woman rounded the corner. The girl began an earnest conversation with the woman and she began digging in her purse. Meanwhile, manager is still on the phone. A few minutes pass and the woman approaches and says she’s found a gift card. She holds it tight against her chest and says if I can describe it, she’ll return it. So, I explain it was one of the white ones with silver snowflakes. I fail to mention there is a bird on it. She says, “Too bad, this is the bird one.” And begins to place it back in her wallet. The manager isn’t slow. He points toward her wallet and says, look at the number. All we need are the last four. That will tell us if it’s her card. Reluctantly, she took it out and read off the numbers and sure enough it was my card. The manager took it back and took me to the front of the store to verify that it hadn’t been used. It matched my last receipt. (This is how we had my last four digits of my gift card so word to the wise, keep those receipts)
During this exchange I watched this mother-daughter and the mother when she approached and the nuances of her reactions during this is it or isn’t it her’s period, were amazing. I realized how general my character’s reactions can be. When in real life there are all these subtleties. Tweaks of movement of an eyebrow here or a nose there. The lip that curls when a moment of joy is lost. Animus that hovers around a tightened jaw. Seconds that build around these tiny movements can bring chain reactions from those around them. It was a magnificent epiphany for the writer in me and made a nearly sad moment into a learning experience.
I can’t begin to know the dynamics of that mother-daughter, but I do understand those of my characters. My job now is to find those subtle movements in their interactions to give them animation.
What about you? Do you find yourself incorporating the people around you into your writing? How has it improved your writing?