The Life Blood of Fiction

I’ve had a wild spring full of peaks and valleys, nooks and crannies.

Many of you probably know that bracketed by the extreme merriment of the mystery conventions, Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic, was my dad’s death in April.

Then less than a week after I returned home from Malice, my husband and I hopped a plane for Budapest where we began a two-and-a-half week vacation, most of it cruising the Danube River.

At Chicks on the Case, I wrote about some of the memorable characters I met, which I hope will find their way into future books.

These people, and the character studies they’ve provoked in me, have lodged themselves firmly in my psyche. I can’t stop thinking about characters.

Over the weekend I went to the bridal shower for my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I was meeting most of these lovely friends of the bride for the first time. I noticed the way the hostess immediately made me feel so welcome and at ease. The timbre of another woman’s laugh. The ease with which a childless woman communicated with two small children. The women who wore a lot of make-up, the women who wore none, who was manicured, who, like me, was not. How they each approached the buffet. The diligence with which some attacked the silly games, and the way others didn’t even try, preferring simply to bask in the entertainment as it surrounded them. The deliberate — or haphazard — way each chose colored markers for the games.

Every minute of it was fascinating to me, for two reasons, I think. One, I was still mulling over the people I met on our trip, and two, these women were mostly strangers to me so I was seeing traits and interactions for the first time … no presumed ideas of how they were going to talk, laugh, act, connect.

Which leads me to today.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve got a huge family flung hither and yon. My local siblings and I have been endeavoring to clear out Dad’s house, but it’s slow going. The last time I was there, though, I thought about his grandchildren who lived far away and didn’t have parents sweeping through his house thinking about trinkets and remembrances they might want.

So I gathered up several boxes of stuff that spoke to Dad’s predilections: his horny toad collection, books, suspenders, fancy neckties, baseball pennants, Irish stuff.

Over the weekend I finally had a chance to photograph the items in each category and email them to all my nieces and nephews. I told them to tell me if they wanted any of the items.

I will admit to some preconceived ideas of who would want what, and who probably wouldn’t want anything. In almost every instance I was wrong.

These characters surprised me!

It was another excellent lesson for me about developing fictional characters. Know a lot about them, but let them surprise you.

Writers always get the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” It always seems flip when I answer, “Everywhere,” but that’s the truth.

Characters spring from fellow travelers, from a Dutch waitress, from an inscrutable concierge, from a young Latvian woman on a grand adventure working a job she loves, from friends of your future DIL, and from nieces and nephews you’ve known forever.

Donna Tartt said, “Character, to me, is the life’s blood of fiction.”

To that I’d add it’s also the life’s blood of an interesting life!

Do you have someone in your life who’d make a great character in a novel? Or someone with an interesting trait, some telling detail that gets to the heart of who they are?

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Author: Becky Clark

I write mysteries with humor and spend my free time attempting to rid my clothing of dog hair. My book FICTION CAN BE MURDER, the first in the Mystery Writer's Mystery series, was out April 2018, and the next one, FOUL PLAY ON WORDS will be out April 2019.

17 thoughts on “The Life Blood of Fiction”

  1. My dad was quite a character, too. Who else would confide in his treating physician that his father was from outer space just to see the reaction!

    Like you, Becky, I often study folks and file away the nuggets.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s hilarious! I wonder what reaction he hoped for? Personally, I’d love it if the doctor would have played along. “Well, then, you better watch your cholesterol because Plutonians are prone to heart disease.”

      In the almost-40 years that my husband knew my dad, he never knew when Dad was telling the truth or yanking his chain. Always made me laugh.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Becky! I loved reading this. Monday is the fourth anniversary of my father’s passing, and he’s very much on my mind – what wonderful stories you have about your father, and such interesting treasures to share. Diversity of character is so important, both for a good story and an interesting life!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agreed. Dealing with Dad and his stuff, I can’t help but wonder what my kids and nieces/nephews will say about me and do about my stuff. What will they treasure? What will they scoff at? Dad always said, “When I die, all this is trash.” Maybe to someone who didn’t know him, but to those of us who did, those horny toads are priceless! Kinda.

      About 10 years ago I started writing about things in the house that have a story. The antique table that my mom rescued from my grandparents’ house. The bowl I bought in Ireland. My tea set from England. The coffee table my siblings spent all summer vacation playing cards on while we watched game shows. If they don’t want them, fine. But I want them to know the stories behind them, why I kept them, what they mean to me. I guess that makes me a character too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful idea for your nieces and nephews, Becky. And the shower sounds like so much fun. Love the people watching aspect, and as you say it pays off in fiction. Life may imitate art, but it also inspires art.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m always amazed when writers tell me they can write out in public at coffee shops, in airports, hotel lobbies and such. I absolutely cannot. I get caught up in the people, their voices, their drama … and I succumb to what a friend of mine calls “conversational shoplifting.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a lovely post, Becky. I especially love the things you collected for your nieces and nephews, and how their preferences surprised you. I surprised myself when I discovered which of my mother’s things meant the most to me.

    As for characters, I look forward to writing about my husband’s grandmother, Viola. She was the ultimate character. Tiny, bun-ed, and with the strongest Brooklyn accent I’ve ever heard, she’d preach, rant, rail, and hug–all while grabbing you by the waistband lest you escape. She was nutty and wild and wonderful and left a crater when she passed at 93. Viola will definitely appear in one of my books.

    Thinking of you, Becky, as you scale those peaks and traverse those valleys. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Kathy. That’s interesting about you surprising yourself. This journey is a weird one, eh? But how boring it would be if we always knew what would happen and how we’d react to something.

      I wish I could have known Viola, she sounds like someone I could be besties with. And I’m going to start doing that waistband thing. That’s genius!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. When my sibs and I cleaned out our parents’ house, most of my share went into plastic tubs. I’m just now dealing with it, all these years later. I found a scrapbook that my dad had kept from the first year of their marriage, and it revealed a romantic and fun side to my parents that I never got to see. It’s so fun to imagine them as characters!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohmygosh, what a great find! One of my jobs is to curate my dad’s writing. In the 1950s and ’60s he wrote a bunch of short stories, mostly in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. Some are really good, some not-so-much. But they’re all so HIM that it’s hard not to love them. Like you said, it’s a fun side to see. But it’s a little sad, too, because he never, as far as I know, tried to get them published. Although I did see, mixed in with the manuscripts, a page with 4 or 5 publishing houses typed up. No indication he summoned the courage, though. I’m gathering/editing and will eventually publish the stories and some of the speeches I can recreate (he was a Toastmaster forever) for the family … you know, in my spare time!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am a devoted newspaper reader — an endangered species — and I constantly am amazed by both how much “drama and trauma” the newspaper contains, but also how many intriguing backstories are hiding behind a story such as someone getting hit by a car inthe crosswalk. I guess I read too many mysteries– NOT!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Right?? You can’t believe (or maybe you can!) how many newspaper and magazine clippings I have in my files. I read one of those short blurbs and end up with 10 questions I need answered immediately. Glad I’m not the only one!

      Like

  7. What a great post, Becky! I think the surprises come when we fool ourselves into thinking we know exactly how friends and family will respond to different things. Strangers are fun to observe and imagine stories around, but they rarely surprise us because we know so little about them.

    Like

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