Friday, April 27, 2007

I wonder . . .

One of the amazing things about little kids is their capacity for wonder, their curiosity. (It can also be maddeningly mind-numbing if you're their mom and it's been a long day and naptime seems like a mirage. I remember, not proudly, moments of absolute impatience waiting in the Ninja Turtle aisle at Target for my sons to choose which ninja they were going to buy with their saved up change. They'd discuss, endlessly, which accoutrements came with which guy. I'd finally succumb to sitting on the hard bottom metal shelf, chin in my hands, giving them warnings. Five more minutes, guys. Two more. If you can't decide in the next thirty seconds you can't buy one. No wonder I never won mom-of-year honors.)

But, taking an interest, being curious, wondering about what we see in the world is what connects us to others, isn't it? And little kids model that better than just about anyone. I like to think that's part of why I became a writer. I love to discover all the layers of my characters--kind of like an artichoke. I peel away a leaf, scrape it, then find more underneath, until I'm at the heart--where the flavor is strongest and sweetest. And each of us peels away differently and discovers a myriad of nuances. I firmly believe that you could take a room full of fifteen writers, give them all the same basic plot points and thumbnail sketches of characters and they'd come up with 15 unique stories. We each bring our own experiences to the writing table. That's another thing for me to remember as a writer--there might be only so many themes in literature, but there's a never-ending array of how those themes can be explored.

People sometimes ask where I get my ideas. And I'm never quite sure how to answer. It's like a patchwork quilt or the junk drawer in my kitchen or staring at the shapes of clouds--an idea will nag at me, or a character will start talking to me, or I'll see something in the paper. And I'll wonder. And I'll file details away in the wrinkles of my brain until all these pieces start to coalesce into some pattern. And it's like pulling a loose thread--I'm never entirely sure where the unraveling will take me, but I know it'll take me somewhere. And along the way, as I write, bits of memory will float into the story and settle down, sometimes quietly, sometimes with a thud. And then, I might be given a day like I did yesterday, where I was just staring into space, drinking coffee and wondering about how to get information from one narrative line to the other (cross-pollination, maybe?) and an idea drifted into view. And it was perfect (at least I think so now, until an editor sets me straight). I'd just let myself wonder.

I think as a writer, the letting go might be the most important thing I can do.


Larramie said...

You described me perfectly, Judy, since I'm always wondering. ;o) It's definitely about letting go of reality and allowing your imagination to take over, leading the mind to who knows where. Wondering is such an adventure, something that can be done anytime, anywhere. So don't you wonder -- along with me -- how anyone can ever be bored?

Therese said...

What you've described is very much my process too.

I'm a perpetually curious person, and am always watching/studying the world around me. Very useful traits, I've discovered!

Combine that with a few decades of life experience and the possibilities are endless, as you know. :)

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

I agree, Judy. I think curiosity, or wonder, has to be at the core of every writer. But I'd add to that, the capacity to observe. I think a lot of us tend to be the person standing off to the side of the party, watching everybody else make fools of themselves. So we observe something small - a snippet of a conversation, perhaps - and then we start to wonder at all the possible meanings and contexts surrounding it, and before you know it, we have an idea for a story.

So it's the wonder combined with the observation, in my opinion.

cce said...

I agree about observation being the key to writing well and with believability. I'm so fond of giving my characters little quirks that I observe in people I'm close to...things that are endearing or irritating or a little of both. It gives the story roots in reality to draw on the things that make us all human.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

It's so nice to know I'm not alone out there--listening in to other people's conversations, noticing all the little quirks in those around me, often not even being aware that I'll use all this material until it's just me, and my pen and legal pad.

(And, it's also nice to know I'm not alone here on this blog--thanks for stopping in.)