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.
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.