Monday, July 22, 2013

Real-Life Characters

Let's face it. As writers, we sometimes pull from life for our inspiration.

I've been asked "where I get my ideas" and I don't really have a good answer to that. Sometimes I quote Katherine Anne Porter and say "Now and again thousands of memories converge, harmonize, arrange themselves around a central idea in a coherent form and I write a story." Other times I might do something like this:

But honestly, writers all answer this question differently, and some will be very conscious of where they're getting their inspiration, while others will be clearly influenced by stuff they've experienced and may not realize it themselves. Some writers even deliberately expose themselves to experiences or environments or people hoping to become inspired, intentionally gathering essential nuggets from their activities.

A couple years ago:
Grandma's 80th birthday

This weekend I visited my grandmother in a nursing home. (My out of town trip and events leading up to it is part of the reason I did not blog for like a week.) The visit did not go well. This is the first time since she's been installed in the home that I have gotten to see my grandmother, and she's dramatically less aware of what's going on than the last time I saw her. The first half of the visit went pretty well (though it was a little depressing because my grandmother clearly wasn't with it); my family was there, with my grandfather, my dad, my dad's partner, my aunt, and my sister, just all chatting in a comfortable little room. The second half of the visit is something I won't go into out of respect for my family, but I'll just say that for unknown reasons my grandmother got agitated and was yelling about things that weren't really happening, and she wanted us to leave her alone, so we did. It was very hard to watch and very emotional to experience. But here's the relevant part of this story: very interesting characters kept moving about the facility.

A woman with a walker that had tennis balls on the ends was consistently walking up and down the hall, apparently going nowhere in particular but looking alert. Another woman who stays in the same room as my grandmother was hanging about my chair, frequently touching my shoulder and asking me incomprehensible questions. My dad's partner managed to figure out that she wanted to go into the next room but did not want to operate the door herself or go alone. And another woman wandered through and told us all in a breathy voice that she hoped we would have a blessed day.

My aunt got my attention when all this was going on and said something like, "I can just tell you're going to use some of this in your books."

That hadn't occurred to me. I'm certainly not planning on grabbing real-life experiences and sewing them into my book, and I can't trace the origin of any of my book ideas to any event that's happened to me. (Considering most of them are science fiction and fantasy, that's probably fortunate.) I'm not, as a result of this visit, planning any nursing home scenes populated with colorful gray-haired women sprinkling blessings on visitors or timid dementia patients asking for help getting through the door.

But I'm sure that if I ever do decide to write anything about this time in someone's life, or about a person whose relative is in this situation, or even about people who don't have all their marbles in other contexts, these experiences might flavor my prose in ways I may or may not notice. More likely than not, they'll just mix with some other things I've seen and done and come out unrecognizable, but maybe make me think of my grandma anyway.

I'm going to discuss to what extent authors' own experiences inform their writing in another post sometime. I have a lot of thoughts on that. Until next time. . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment