Mass transit is research

I may be on a major learning curve when it comes to the business side of writing, but I do have a  handle on the process. Every writer has personal tricks of the trade. These methods, silly or not, help her to keep the oil full in the inspiration and motivation lantern. 

I have my own ways. They could work for someone else. They could not. Everyone is different and if you have any aspirations of putting pen to paper, it would be helpful to explore what works for you. Don’t just sit there expecting the next great novel to magically appear in your lap, written, edited and ready for publication.

I have always been a bit of a people watcher. It was only in my later years when I started taking the writing more seriously, that I realized my hobby of harmlessly spying on what’s going on around me was priming the pump to bring ideas, characters and situations to the surface so I could describe them and create a story. 

I take a transit bus to work every morning and home again at night. Like most commuters, I see it as a necessary evil. I could complain about the squawking children, smelly bodies in summer, rude riders who seem to think it’s their own private limo. I have moments where I’m fed up with it, but mostly, I like to find myself a seat someplace and inconspicuously begin looking… I mean really looking… at the people sitting, standing and moving around me.

I find all of them interesting. I’m not as two dimensional as some drippy editor at “Only Beautiful Skinny People” magazine. I get engrossed in noting people’s features first. How is the nose shaped? Eye colour? Expression? Cheekbones? Hair style? Skin tone? It’s all fascinating. Lines on faces tell a story. Far off looks make me wonder what they’re thinking and what oceans do they have to cross in their lives. What are they wearing? Are they carrying a purse, books, shopping bags, a briefcase? 

Once I’m on the bus, it doesn’t take me long to pick one or two people on which to focus. A person can be any ethnicity, any age, any gender. I will see where they would fit into a story I’m already writing or a new story will begin to open up, making my mind suddenly pregnant with story possibilities. By the time I get home, I am racing to sit down and type out paragraphs. Sometimes I start scribbling right on the bus. Once in a while, I will make a quick recording of an idea that popped into my mind while the oblivious passengers carry on with their business. 

Sometimes that makes me feel guilty. There they are, inspiring me, and they don’t even know that they’ve done it. I’ve seen young men, eyes rife with worries, plans or questions, and I’ve thought, “There’s my leading man for such and such a book.” I’ve seen women who obviously don’t think they’re beautiful, but I see their quality and would be intruding if I said so. They end up walking and talking as a character in my work.

I can’t tell them. Of course I can’t. Then, I would have to confess not only to the heroes and heroines, but to the villains too. I’ve seen my lead characters. I’ve seen the quirky, eccentric ones. I’ve even picked out faces and frames that I can use to be outright jackasses and bad guys. They could be wonderful in real life, but for a few minutes on the bus, they were the masterminds of dastardly deeds! 

In the novel I have almost completed, I have a character that is nasty. I actually thought I had described him in an unrealistic way until one day, I saw a headline about a man being arrested. His picture was on the front cover of the paper and, lo and behold, my mouth agape, I exclaimed “That’s him!” Truth can be stranger than fiction.

I have started writing a new novel even though I’m not finished the other one. The characters were screaming at me, so I wrote. A week later, I was in a mall and smiled when I saw a lady sitting in the food court and I said, “That’s my Gladys. It looks just like her.” 

If you want to write, learn to people watch. It’s a valuable tool and the more you do it, the more you get used to inventing characters and making them authentic. I hear snippets of real conversations around me and it helps me write dialogue. If you don’t want to go out and be a public voyeur, turn on television channels that deal with real situations and watch and listen to the people. I don’t find that as effective, but some folks really don’t like the idea of watching strangers in public. I like it. It’s not harming anyone. I’m not stalking them. I just watch a portion of their world for a few minutes and it helps me to create believable fiction. 

95 000 words later and my first draft is nearly done. I am 10 000 words into the second book. These two seem to be racing now. How fun! I wonder who will catch my attention today. It might be you. Don’t be alarmed. I don’t want to know your personal life. I just want to use you as… a template. Tee hee hee.

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