You’re Not Paranoid, I AM Watching You

Posted: 09/27/2011 in Horror, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

When I first started writing (that is, writing anything of appreciable length with some semblance of a plot) around the age of 15, I really struggled.  Writing believeable dialogue was a challenge, so I typically wrote stories with one character, or I’d kill the others off so quickly no one would have to interact.  Part of that might have been due to the fact that I am a bit of an introvert, and even my characters don’t like to have to extrovert – but really, it was because writing dialogue that advanced the plot, was engaging, and didn’t feel contrived or forced, was difficult for me then.  I also struggled with character development.  They all felt somehow one-dimensional.  Probably because they were.  My poor paper characters couldn’t have stood up to one of those sub-tornadic gusts Kansans refer to as a breeze.  I also had difficulty with developing an interesting context for my stories.  Looking back, a lot of what I wrote as a kid was based on mimicry.  I didn’t know anything about stealing cars, but I’d just read a book with a character who was a car thief.  Guess who ended up in the awkwardly Lovecraftian story I wrote when I was 17?  That’s right.  A car thief.  Of course, as with all my fiction, he met a rather horrific end. 

One of the few good things about getting older, I suppose, is the increased life experience that lends itself to better writing.  The more I read, the more I hear, the more exposed I am to the natural ebb and flow of conversation in the office, at restaurants or sleazy bars (I am a musician, which makes me a de facto denizen of many sleazy bars), the more my ears have become attuned to more effective, realistic, and convincing dialogue.  So, yeah, you might not notice me sitting beside you at the counter of Waffle House, but I am probably paying at least a little attention to your conversation about the travails of replacing the water main in your backyard, your kid’s weird Little League coach, or your grandfather’s polyps.  I’m listening for both what you say and how you say it.  Who knows when one of my characters might end up needing a colonoscopy?

At risk of sounding creepier, I’m watching you, too.  I’m looking for descriptive detail that I might not otherwise know, but can really benefit from when writing and developing characters.  I’m studying makes and models of cars, paying attention to the rust on the rocker panels and the partially scraped off bumper stickers.  I’m noticing what you wear to work – jeans and work boots, heels and a mini skirt, a Little Ceasar’s costume – whatever.  You – the cook at Waffle House in Franklin, Indiana – yeah, you.  Don’t think I didn’t pay attention to how you multi-tasked the orders, how you cleaned the grill, how you interacted with the wait staff, and how you kept the restaurant running like a well-oiled machine.  You’re already immortal.  You’ll find yourself in my new short story, Public Enemy.  Apologies in advance for the infectious zombie bite you incurred when you stepped out for a smoke.

I’m paying attention because this increases my fund of knowledge, incrementally keeps refilling the well that I draw my words from, and offers me glimpses of possible scenarios and compelling characters.  Is writing still difficult for me?  Of course it is.  Sometimes I have to pry the words out with a crowbar.  If nothing else, I am learning that being a writer is as much about technical skill as it is about passion and perseverence.  But by keeping my eyes and ears wide open, I discover my characters are already walking beside me.

  1. Life experience is ace! I’ve found the quality of my writing has improved with age. You tend to tune in to conversations, or maybe remember them better when writing. But also that life experience gives you a great wealth of material to work with.

    I loved that last line too, so very true!

    • blackalchemy says:

      I think that wealth of material is one of the gifts of time – the more you see, imagine, experience, hear about, observe – wow! What an arsenal we accrue!

  2. I officially love this blog!

  3. blackalchemy says:

    @trawlingforgators You’e got me following Tumbling Down – I really enjoy your writing style, very evocative! What’s the tatus of Tumbling Down, and are you working on other projects?

    • Tumbling Down was my first attempt at a novel. I’m yet unpublished, but hope to be someday. I just started posting chapters to my new book, the untitled sequel to TD. I think that’s the one you’ve been reading. I’ll be posting new chapters as I write them. I’m hoping some internet exposure can help me get my writing career off of my laptop. 🙂

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