Saturday, February 26, 2011


By Keith N Fisher

I love this time of year. Days begin to get longer, the promise of spring lingers in the air, and hope is reborn. I finally cleared the last hurdle and submitted The Hillside this week. It has five solid story lines and several points of view. It’s written like an LDS version of Fantasy Island, or The Love Boat. Four couples and a stranger check into a bed and breakfast for the weekend. The stories that follow are as diverse as the characters. There is something for almost everybody to identify with.

Now, I’ve written my elevator pitch, its time to move on with the subject.

As a writer, I’ve learned to embrace my oddities. Since childhood, I’ve enjoyed sitting in a room full of people, watching them, and imagining scenarios behind their actions. It’s really not all that voyeuristic, since it’s one of the ways I develop characters. My watching becomes fodder for new projects, a defense against writer’s block.

It’s surprising, how many different story ideas you can get in a grocery store. Have you ever seen a young mother with several kids? She is obviously overwhelmed and some, kind soul picks up the crying baby to help out. Why do the mother and the spectators automatically see it as kindness? Why don’t we suspect a kidnapper at work?

One time, I watched a well-dressed man walk past a bank of phone booths once. He checked every coin return on every phone. His dress indicated his wealth, but he searched for loose change like his livelihood depended on the quarters he might find.

On another occasion, I couldn’t avoid listening to a person on the telephone as she sat right next to me. The whole scenario played out in my head and the woman became a character in a book.

I’ve seen many beautiful women treated like crap by their not-so-handsome boyfriends, and the women seem to eat it up. In the same way, I’ve seen incredibly nice guys raggedly running around trying to please old hag wives.

Yes, watching can be fascinating, but your subjects will provide stories and strong characters for you. Have you ever wondered, however, what happens when the watcher gets watched?

In the lobby, during a writer’s conference recently, I watched the people coming and going. As usual, my mind played with many scenarios about them. Then I realized I was watching a bunch of writers and they were also watching me.

I began to wonder what kinds of stories the other writers were drafting because of something I did. Talk about self conscious, it was like being in a room full of psychoanalysts judging my sanity.

My peers were watching me watching them watching me . . . When our imaginations run wild, and our neurosis kicks in, its nice to know we’re not alone. There are others like us, but networking provides more than strength, it’s an idea factory.

Yes, it’s a great way to draft characters and plots, but be careful. I’ve had angry people ask what I’m looking at. Everyone seems to hold onto a false notion of privacy. Little do we realize how much like a play, our lives really are. Someone once said, All the world is a stage and the people, merely players or something like that. Watch it, imagine it, and write it down.

Good Luck with your writing, and your watching—see you next week.

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