In today’s busy world, many of us flit from one activity to another without taking the time to reflect on the small events that shape our lives.
Last Thursday after working all day, I drove home in rush hour traffic, picked up my second oldest son and took him shopping with me to buy all of the pieces to make Easter special for my family of six. I raced through two stores, buying eggs, Easter basket goodies, groceries, coloring kits, and the other miscellaneous items on my list. I arrive home and unload groceries while my husband begins dinner. My evening slows down just as it’s time to get the little kids in bed. I repeated this entire scene again on Friday, this time returning to the store with my daughter to purchase the items I forgot to purchase on Thursday as well as birthday presents for parties on Saturday.
During all of this, I received a message from a dear friend who told me to “Enjoy the joys of my little ones.”
That thought gave me pause.
My seven year old daughter has been excited all week. Saturday, she went to her very first birthday party that her brothers were not invited to. In her eyes, this was her first show of independence, that she got invited to a birthday party with other little girls, and her brothers couldn’t go. She’s watched with envy for years as her popular older brothers went to parties and had friends come to the house. She and I went shopping alone on Friday. She picked the birthday present. She picked the wrapping paper, the card, and the bows. Early Saturday morning, she was dressed and ready for the party before her brothers were even awake. She behaved well all morning in spite of her bubbling excitement. I thoroughly enjoyed my daughter’s joy.
So this Easter Sunday, or on any given Sunday, or any moment that you can, enjoy the joy of those you love.
Claire Collins is the author of Images of Betrayal and Fate and Destiny.
My mother ran her own business, starting with craft shows when I was only about five years old. I always went with her so I learned to make change at a very young age. I also learned how to smile and be polite to make the sale. When the crowds were slow, I learned to watch people and I would make up stories about them in my head. What else was a child supposed to do while working for eight to ten hours?
The mannerisms and actions of the people walking by the booth would portray what was going on in their lives. The ones who walked by very quickly had no interest in what we were selling, their minds set reaching their destination. The mother’s who walked by with strollers were usually moving much slower, the stroller still rolling back and forth while they stopped to look at baby blankets. A wayward child would wander by with a frantic mother coming soon after in search of them. I learned to watch their eyes. The eyes gave way to internal dialogue. This customer loved the items and would have paid twice what we were asking, or another person may have had a longing for the item, but the price was too high and they had to weigh what adjustments they could make and how much they really wanted the item. Most of those people came back.
When they paid for the items, I noticed their hands. Long graceful hands with sculpted fingernails always made me think of someone with disposable income. Women with chipped nail polish and weathered hands reminded me of the middle aged mother who still wanted to remember that she was a woman, but spent more time on her family than herself.
Dirty or calloused hands belonged to people who used their hands to work. It’s nothing to sacrifice a chunk of skin if you hands are bringing something broken back to life.
All of these observations paved the way for me to create characters. It’s very important that a character is a fully rounded person, from the way they stand, the way they walk, the way they move their hands are all just as important as what they look like while they move and what their hands look like. Character development isn’t only about the words they speak or the events around them. It’s about the unique mannerisms they posses and the mindless unspoken clues they unconsciously carry.
My office is in the back corner of a building at work. There are times when someone in the field will need to come see me. Typically, they may know my name, but they don’t associate that name with what I look like since they may only see me if I am out in the yard when they drive in or passing me in the hall. They will go to the dispatch office and say they need to talk to me, and dispatch will direct them on which halls to take, where to turn, where I sit, and what I look like.
Driver: “I need to go see Claire Collins to fill out a form. Where is she?”
Dispatch: “Follow the halls to the left. She’s at the end.”
The driver would stand there, not knowing any more information that he had when he started. He knows he may wander around the building for awhile and stumble across me. Or, he may ask someone else.
Driver: “I need to go see Claire Collins.”
Dispatch: “Go through this door into the main building and follow the hallway to the left. When you come to the main receptionist desk, take a right. You’ll come to a big room with two girls at desks at opposite corners. Walk through that room to the door at the far end. Claire sits at the desk right through that door.”
Now our driver can find me. He doesn’t know what I look like, and he may pass me in the hall, but at least he knows where to find me. What if the conversation went like this?
Driver: “I need to go see Claire Collins.”
Dispatch: “Open the door to the right of you by turning the handle to the right. You will step into a hallway that has an office to the right, an office straight ahead, and a hallway to the left. Take the hallway. At the end of the hallway is an office straight ahead and another hallway that goes off to the right. Follow the hallway. There are pictures on the walls and brown carpet on the floor. You will walk by the Human Resources office, the conference room, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the President’s office, and the CFO’s office. This hallway ends at the front door. If you’ve reached that, the receptionist will be sitting to your right. She has short salt and pepper hair and she will probably be on the phone so don’t stand there and disturb her. Walk back to the other side of her desk, and there’s a doorway. Walk through that door into the accounting area where accounts payable and accounts receivable are. Carrie sits to your left at the cherry desk with the pictures on the right corner, flowers in a vase on the left corner, and a row of filing cabinets behind her. She has long brown hair, blue eyes, and she is wearing a very nice black pantsuit today with a cream colored shirt. To the left sits Francine. Her desk is a light oak color and there’s never anything on it except her computer. She is wearing a really short skirt and spiked heels and her hair is about shoulder length and dyed this really tacky platinum color that clashes with her black eyebrows. Along the far wall is the fax machine, the copier, the folding machine, and bulletin boards loaded with all of the legal documents that have to be posted in a conspicuous place. Follow that wall to another doorway. This doorway is really wide. Through it, there’s an office to your right, and a row of desks to the left. Filing cabinets line the wall next to the door. The guy in the office is in a bad mood today so stay away from him. Through the doorway is a desk in front of the large window. Claire sits there but she might not be there because she’s always running all over the place at everyone’s beck and call. Anyway, she’s tall with long, reddish-brown, wavy hair and green eyes. She’s wearing jeans and a company shirt and tennis shoes. You can’t miss her.”
At this point, if our driver is still standing there, he’s been overwhelmed with useless information. It may all be true, but did he really need to know all of that to find me? Probably not. Do your readers need to know every single detail of events and descriptions to read the book? Probably not. The following is probably the best exchange of all.
Driver: “I need to go see Claire Collins.”
Dispatch: “Follow me, I’ll show you where to find her.”
Claire Collins, author of Fate and Destiny and Images of Betrayal, will be in the Greensboro, North Carolina area over Valentine’s Day for Second Wind Publishing’s Author Event.
I love research. I love it so much that I get wrapped up in the research and forget what the purpose of the research was to begin with. In college, I worked in the library. I was in research heaven surrounded by all of those volumes of information. I have a genealogy file with over 20,000 individuals in it that I work on in my spare time. One of my incomplete novels started in the year 1956. Since my mother was only a child at the time, I have no direct knowledge of this period, so I started researching. I became totally wrapped up in the history and evolution of Route 66 meandering through Arizona. I was certain this would be an integral part of my story. I bookmarked tons of webpages, went to the library and checked out books, and began a mental journey along the path Route 66 took before the Interstate Highway System was in place. In fact, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was approved on June 29th, only a few months before my story began in September of 1956.
The appeal of the open road pre-interstate appealed to me. Drive-in’s, bobby socks, and rock and roll all had their places outlined in my story.
Then, I started writing the novel. The characters took over and evolved my facts and figures into a story about people. The path Route 66 followed is barely touched on in the book. The music and clothes that defined a generation are simply garments and background noise. All of my research, all of the details of life during that time are put aside.
The book isn’t going to be about what they wore or listened to. It isn’t about popularity or fads.
It’s about people, and people are basically the same throughout time.