One goatee, shaped to a perfect point. A pleasantly plump woman ordering tea. The sound of glass breaking.
It’s funny what sticks in your head. The images I collect in my mind, tucked away for later use, are important for different reasons. They pop up in a scene in one of my books. The pleasantly plump woman is a best friend who has an evil side; the breaking glass becomes coffee cups shattered during a confrontation. The goatee still waits its moment to be highlighted. I’m not sure whose chin it will be on – will he be a villain or helpful stranger, a sidekick or an integral clue to a murder? For some reason though, I really liked that beard, so neatly trimmed and perfectly suited to the face it grew on. It’ll show up somewhere.
Writers are avid collectors. We listen to conversations for tips on how to write dialogue and covertly watch strangers for hair color, body size and clothing choices. If we’re smart, we carry a notebook to jot these observations. Memory fades too quickly and there are dozens of images I want to capture each day, fabulous in their own way.
Readers demand a real world in their fiction. They want to immerse themselves in a story and believe these characters and places exist. In order to provide this, writers need to draw a vivid written picture and this isn’t always easy.
My previous career was as a journalist – the flip side of fiction writing. Newspaper articles are bare-boned things, stripped of descriptions and adjectives. They’re just facts and numbers and brief quotes. I learned to get to the point. No world-building or fantasy, and creativity is tightly-reined. Was someone arrested for murder? In a newspaper article, the culmination of the story is in the first paragraph. In a murder mystery, the villain gets his come-uppance at the very end.
Non-fiction is the classroom; fiction is the playground. My imagination has to create everything that I write and so, like other novelists, I draw upon real life. And I’m not alone. Writers are everywhere, collecting body shapes, hair styles, and voice inflections.
Who knows, maybe you’ve inspired a character in a novel without your even knowing it.