17 June, 2011

Where do you find your characters and plot?

Today, July 18th, is National Caviar Day.  Who knew?   June is also National Candy Month, National Dairy Month, National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, National Iced Tea Month, and National Papaya Month.  Who knew? Or cares?

Personally I think caviar is vile – probably a result of my brother telling me, in vivid detail, what it was when I had a large mouthful at age 7.  Mother was not amused when I spit it out. And, I’ve never touched the stuff again.  This is a bit of information none you are interested in, with good reason.  But what about the other sound bites we snatch every day?

As a writer, I love sites that list trivia, and that includes the “today in history” pages.   How else would I know that on July 18th, 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor aboard the French ship Isere , or that on this day in 1991, the remains of President Zachary Taylor were briefly exhumed to test a theory that Taylor had died of arsenic poisoning (results showed death was from natural causes). These are facts I might be able to work into a plot.
Most writers I know carry around little notepads so that they can jot down thoughts, bits of conversation or interesting ideas for future books ( I usually resort to the back of my grocery receipt).  You can pick up great ideas people watching at Starbucks or riding MetroNorth into the city.  

My town (population 17,637) still has annual town meetings.  Now just imagine the high school gym bleachers packed with hundreds of people, the town  Selectmen (we don’t have a mayor) up on the dais, everyone watching the line of incensed residents lining up behind the microphone, waiting for their 3 minutes of ranting.  Oops, I meant fame.  You can actually hear the buzz of speculation bouncing off the gym’s walls: who is going to bring up the increase in the tax mil rate?  Is Joe going to complain about lack of leash law enforcement again?  Will Sam and Marion get into a shouting match over wetlands preservation like they did last year? What a perfect setting for a murder.

Plot and character inspiration is all around us if we’re just willing to pay attention.

Have you ever used an overheard conversation in one of your books? Did you feel guilty or amused?

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