But when the characters in my novel go a bit stale, or I'm desperate to be reminded of humanity, I have to walk. Why? Because out there is where all the interesting bits of life happen. I like to imagine a person's backstory based on the little clues that give away points about their personalities. Take the following characters:
- The neighbor who walked her cat on a leash and always wore a sundress. This was when I lived on the northeast coast of Scotland, mind you. There I was, bundled in my Land's End Squall Parka, and there she was, in a straw hat and strappy dress. How did she do it? Why the leash? How did she get the cat to cooperate? (I'd actually really like to know the answer to the last question.)
- The man who constantly hung laundry. Every day, without fail, he put out his washing and then took it back down again in the afternoon. He was single. How did he generate that much laundry. Did he take in washing for other people? Was he running a business?
- The woman who walked with a shower radio. You know the kind with the great big hook? She walked with it held up to her ear. Did she get tired of holding it up? Is that all she can afford?
- The man on the tricycle with the pennant flag. I think every city I've ever lived in has one of these fellas. How long has he had the tricycle? What is in his bicycle basket?
- The woman who sits in shrubbery. There's a woman near my workplace who wanders the sidewalks every day. Sometimes as I drive by she will startle me by sitting in the middle of some business' shrubbery. Right there on the mulch. What is she thinking about? Who is she waiting for?
- The man who jogs in a chicken suit. Yep, in a full blown chicken suit. He lives in my parent's hometown in Oklahoma. Maybe living so close to the Panhandle got to him; I don't know. But I want to know why? It can't be comfortable.
These people are tipping points, little glimpses into the "what if" that can start a story or revive one. There's a rich, rich pageant out there that feeds the written page. What do you do when you're stuck in a story?