Stephen King’s novels start off quickly from the very first page. I would never stop reading long enough to enjoy each and every sentence that he writes though because his stories pull you along so fast. His true talent for writing and creating characters is amazing. Who else could describe someone without pictures and make the hair stand on the back of your neck?
Last year I picked up a Writer’s Digest Summer 2018 Yearbook, called a Writer’s Workbook. One of the chapters is labeled, “7 Sly Techniques for Adding Dimension to Characters.” There are great techniques and exercises to make a character pop, (for those of us who are not as talented as Stephen King). But in order to have character skills to draw on for these exercises you have to know a lot of people in real life, people from all walks of life, good people, funny people, bad people and maybe a few saints.
I’ve met a lot of “characters” but haven’t really looked closely at them. I’ve made a determination of someone’s value based on first impressions. But I haven’t watched them closely enough to describe to you who I met and why I didn’t or did like them. If I want to write well I have to really LOOK at someone. I have to become a spy, a bug on the wall.
My first spy assignment started today, my errand day. I discovered that I don’t communicate much with strangers which makes it hard to portray them in a story. I’m basing my description on their looks alone. It’s time for me to speak to them and force them to play their roles in every day life.
The library where I returned my books was a bad start. Few people talk there. But I was happy to realize that the employees recognized me and they said hello. We exchanged small talk. Did you know that relative strangers who talk in pleasantries and small talk don’t listen for answers? “Have you read this book? It’s great.” They’d say and not wait for the answer. “Next.” So my guess is that someone could hide in plain sight if they exchange small talk at businesses. Because to a police officer questioning a witness, you’d be “One of the regulars. And no, Officer, we didn’t see anyone unusual.”
I went to Walmart to buy some cheap seasonal crap and was greeted by a tall, good looking man a bit younger than me. He looked me dead in the eyes, coming into the store and when I left. I’m thinking ex-cop. He too exchanged pleasantries and didn’t wait for the answer but the entire time he looked me dead in the eyes. It didn’t bother me because he was good looking (eye candy) and I hadn’t stolen anything. Who wants to go to the Ensley Walmart tomorrow? The Garden entrance. Eye Candy!
The next stop was to Office Depot to buy some of my favorite TUL gel retractable pens. Then I couldn’t find a cheap thumb drive and finally started a conversation with another customer. I made him uneasy when I talked to him, like maybe his wife was watching us, although I noticed he was alone. Then I beckoned a sales clerk who had flamboyant hair and an odd gait but who was very self confident. We laughed about some cheap cartoon thumb drives. When I went to the front to the check out area I met a kind of, um, interesting youngish woman. It was the first time I’d seen someone’s face look “pinched”. She looked like she had been royally scolded and was working her last few hours on the last day of her job there. I got her to laugh at the credit machine but she looked very uneasy. I was dying to know her story and left without one so I’ll have to include her somewhere in my writing. Because that lady screamed for a real juicy back story.
All in all an interesting day for my first day out as a character spy. I wonder who else I can uncover this week? People are suddenly very suspicious, nervous, or strange, never boring like me. I’d never show up in someone’s novel. Yawn city. But you know what they say about the quiet ones. We can surprise you. We are the salty ones that end up as weirdoes in King’s novels, I’ll bet.