Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You Can't Hide Those Writer-eyes

My 16 (and a half) year old daughter left this week for a ten day CSI:Forensic Science seminar at John Hopkins University. The ten day camp is her first experience with college life - living in a dorm, sharing a bathroom with three roommates she doesn't know, on her own with meal cards and room keys to keep track of, a schedule to keep, etc.

We flew with her to Baltimore to help her settle in to her dorm. I saw her excitement as she unpacked her things into her wardrobe closet and desk. I saw the apprehension when she realized there was only one toilet and shower to share between four girls. I saw the nervous fear as we kissed her good-bye and left her on her own. And, I hear the homesick, lonely edge in her voice when she calls. She's experiencing the social and emotional woes of a college freshman as a high school junior, and I can't do anything but tell her it will all be okay. It breaks my heart to know that I can't be there to help her or give her a hug.

But I am so using this in a future novel. What a great set-up for a mystery or coming-of-age plot, don't you think?

My writer-eyes see potential everywhere I go. I can't help it. So often I hear people say they have nothing to write about, and I can honestly say that is not a problem for me. Everyday life puts us into situations that can become part of a great plot later down the line. These experiences don't make a plot by themselves necessarily, but they can inspire a storyline, enhance a character or drive a plot in a new direction. All you have to do is take the time to observe them - and as an added bonus, observing them through your writer-eyes can also save your sanity - something I realized on my way to Baltimore.

While sitting in the Detroit airport waiting for our flight, I found myself getting very annoyed with my kids. We'd arrived way early, like two hours early (I wasn't sure how many people would be in that security line so I thought early was better) and they were already stir crazy from weeks of being together at home, let alone *TRYING* to behave in an airport terminal. As I sat there getting increasingly irritated by their behavior, I decided to take off that mom-hat and put on my writer-hat. This is how that hat-switch saved my sanity:

When my ten year old shoved three pieces of Hubba Bubba bubble gum into his mouth and then blew a bubble so big that when it popped, it connected his mouth to the food container he was holding with a thick pink string at least six inches long - I laughed rather than yelled.

And when he played the *Random game with me every time I asked him a question, I made random statements too. (*he and his younger sister play this by stating random things either in answer to a question or as an ongoing conversation. The point is to sound the most sincere, as if you actually make sense, while, saying some ludicrous, nonsensical thing, like "The elephant is pink." "Yeah, but I ate the frog." "Run to the hills." "Jack Frost is an amoeba", etc, etc.) As I played along, I started thinking, "I could use this . . . "

When I visited the restroom with my seven year old twenty-two times in 45 minutes (I assure you, that is no exaggeration) I tried to note things about the bathroom and those using it each time I visited. Like the five year old who informed his mother he would not eat any salad today because it gives him gas, or the woman who slid on a wet section of the floor and went careening, head first, into the toilet. That was rather scary, I have to admit, and as we made sure she was okay, I couldn't help thinking, "What if she had hit her head?" Which then led to "What if she'd hit her head and passed out and while she was passed out someone stole her purse and her boarding pass? And when she came to she had no memory of who she was or where she was going?" That scenario actually kept me going for quite a while.

As did the dark hotel we arrived at when we finally got to Baltimore. We arrived around seven that night in the middle of a thunderstorm. After trying to contact the hotel's free airport shuttle by phone for almost an hour while standing outside in the rain with very agitated, restless children, I decided to scratch the shuttle and grab a cab. I was glad I did. The power was out at the hotel. Ever check into a pitch dark hotel? It's a very eerie feeling.

The staff was standing around with glow-sticks and flashlights. Several patrons stood huddled in the lobby. Since it was now almost nine pm, I asked if there was any way we could check in. I was told they could put us in a room, but we would have no keys until the electricity came back on (the van driver let us in with a master key) and would have to take the stairs (very dark, service stairwell, led by the key master aka van driver). So armed only with a glow-stick to light the way, we did just that. I sat in the pitch black hotel room with my three kids and our little glow-stick (my husband was meeting us the next day) for the next hour, waiting for the power to be restored. It was a freaky, scary hour, but the whole time my mind was spinning with ways to make that part of a story.

The point I am hoping to make here is: when you are in need of inspiration or are stuck with an area of your plot and unsure how to proceed - drop your hat, arm yourself with the question, "What if?" and step out of your box. You may be surprised what you find lurking around you when you let yourself view life through your writer-eyes.

7 comments:

Angela said...

Laura, what an adventure! I'm sure your dtrs camp would be a great setting for a coming of age novel - also a mystery...CSI camp with a real crime to solve. Even though it is hard for her to be away, I'm sure it's got to be pretty cool too.

No, I've never checked into a dark hotel. I can just picture your weary group marching up the dark steps.

The 'random game' is totally cool! I'm going to try it on my dh when my latest speeding ticket comes in the mail (yes, I got flashed over the w/e).

Him: About this ticket?

Me: The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is French onion soup.

:) Fun post!

Elizabeth Mosier said...

What a brilliant strategy, Laura! It's applicable to almost any situation: boring meetings, endless recitals, neighborhood cocktail parties...!

Laura Ellen said...

Let me know how your hubby takes your random-ness, Angie! It can be amusing - it is one step up from being mimicked though!

Libby, you should try the random thing at those neighborhood cocktail parties. In fact, maybe Friday night in LA at the wine and cheese reception we could try it? Anything to interest an agent . . .

Jacqui said...

My daughter just discovered the random idea this week. As in I grumbled, "What did I just ask you?" and she started giggling and said, "A really hard math problem?"

Laura Ellen said...

HA! Next time Tink wants a cookie or ice cream Jacqui, tell her "The Sea of Cortez admits no one." My son threw that gem at me when I told him to clean his room!

elissa said...

ah, I love using my writer-eyes! it's so exciting when you hear a random scrap of dialogue in a public restroom and it launches a new story! :)

(oh, also, followed you over here from the Upstart Crow blog...)

Laura Ellen said...

Thanks for checking out my blog, Elissa!