Unorthodox Writing Tips 20: Say Hello
The other day I had to go to the bank. As is usual with banks near the end of the working day, there was quite a line. It was going to be a while. Being the type of person that I am, I made a comment about long lines on Fridays. The gentleman behind me laughed. I forget what I actually said.
I turned around and introduced myself. I will leave his name out. I didn’t inquire as to his banking business, but I asked him how his day was going. He smiled, revealing a front tooth outlined in gold with a diamond in the middle. His accent distinctly Jamaican. Under his hat his braided hair ran out and down to his shoulders.
He said he was in a bit of a hurry. His daughter had a lesson to get to. I inquired what she had to get to, confused as to why he’d be wearing his sunglasses inside. It made it difficult to talk to him because I was seeing my own reflection. He didn’t seem to mind and smiled a lot as we talked.
His daughter runs track and is currently training with a gold medalist. I found this quite impressive. It’s not every day you end up talking about the Olympics.
I told him about my favorite daughter. He asked the usual question “You have only one?” I wanted to say “There can be only one!” but said just the one. He still got a laugh out of it. We talked about our kids until it was my turn. I shook his hand. Talking to him and looking at my reflection in his sunglasses I hadn’t realized how big his arms were. I thought he was going to crush my hand, but he apparently knew his own strength and kept from giving me the kung fu grip of death.
Meeting people will fill you life with something. A large number of characters to draw upon. I’ve said this before, you can only write what you know. Now I’m not recommending you go out to the back streets and find some thug to talk to if you’re writing about street crime. What I am saying is don’t be afraid to say hello to someone. You’d be amazed at the number of reactions you’ll get just introducing yourself.
For example at the poker game I thought I recognized someone. I smiled. I shook his hand. I said how great it was to see him. Then realized I had no idea who the person was. He smiled. Offered to buy me a beer. I declined and wished him well. Perhaps he thought I was someone he knew and didn’t want to offend me by admitting he didn’t recognize me.
But again, this reaction sparks little ideas in my head. I can use these reactions with a character to make him seem more real. Rather than just give some blank or sterile description of a person, I can insert an actual reaction a person had. This will bring a character to life in the situation. I can include how he cocked his head to the side and scrunched up his forehead trying to figure out who I was. The way he shook my hand a little too long as if physical contact might help him with recognition. The way his friends stood next to him and also looked at me like “Who is this guy?” I’m sure they all asked and wondered.
What I’m trying to say here is if you’re a writer you need to meet and talk to people. All sorts of people in all sorts of situations. You cannot be afraid of how someone will react. Not everyone will react favorable.
One time I was at McDonald’s or a taco shop or something. I was still trying to make up my mind. I turned around and there was a lady behind me with her daughter (or son, my memory is foggy). She didn’t look like she had a lot of money. I offered for her to go ahead of me and I asked her what she thought might be good. She didn’t answer. She looked at the floor and pulled her child in closer to her. I turned back to the menu figuring the conversation was a dead end and when I turned again to allow the lady to go ahead of me, her and the child were gone.
Color me confused.
As a writer you need to be able to store these events away and put them in your head and collect them. People are all very different and if you can pick out a little quirk during a conversation and drop that into your WIP you’ll have someone say “Hey, I know someone like that” or even “That’s happened to me too”
Don’t be afraid. Get out there and say “Hello”. Be safe, be careful, but don’t worry if someone reacts badly. It’s bound to happen. Maybe someday we’ll run into each other.
Until Next Time!