Friday, June 19, 2009

You Might Be a Writer If...

Has your son or daughter ever followed you around the house repeating every single word, gesture, expression of yours? Or have you seen your children do it to each other with the secret desire of driving each other nuts, and, of course, succeeding?

Imitation is the best form of flattery, they say. But what about when it's involuntary?

You might be a writer're a better parrot than your kids.

Most writers will admit pretty quickly that inspiration for their characters sometimes comes from quirky aspects of their own personalities, emotions they've been through, even kids they knew when they were growing up, or know now. We writers do pilfer on occasion, which I disclaimed on a while back. But what about when it boomerangs back on us and we start imitating our own characters?

When I'm revising heavy sections of a work (this happened with Dragon Wishes), I sometimes go through a low myself, carrying the emotional weight of my characters around with me after I turn off the computer. It's not so fun, perhaps necessary to make good writing into unforgettable writing (or at least decent writing), but not one of my more favorite forms of imitation.

It's not the only form, though. Oh, no. Not even close.

I'm working on a YA set in late 19th century New Zealand, and have been for the last 13 months. I've eaten, slept, drank, read, written and pretty much been in 19th century New Zealand for over a year. I even went to the modern day version for real in November 2008. I really did my research. Really went to live in the moment. It was well beyond 'imitation.' It bordered on total immersion. The imitation came later.

I started saying, "eh" at the end of my sentences. I have to say, it is a Canadian thing. Only, I'm not from Canadian, so I wasn't exactly sure why I was suddenly doing it. And I couldn't stop. My husband teased me about it. My daughers laughed. But it was my seven year old who got to the heart of the matter in perfect, no-nonsense kid fashion.

"I like how you talk like Charlie now," she said one afternoon after my umpteenth "eh" that day.


Who? What was she talking about?

Then it hit me. Charlie Mueller, the salty lighthouse keeper in my novel (Like any slightly obsessed writer, I've read my novel to my kids). Charlie's got this great "ye aren't the fastest ship in the harbor, are ye, laddie" kind of brogue accent. I really love writing his dialogue. I guess I love it so much, I started imitating it.

So what does all of this mean? Imitation is an occupational hazard?

I bet my kids would love to use that on me. "I have to imitate you, Mama. That's what kids do. It's an occupational hazard of being a kid."

How many moms would by that one? I know I wouldn't. Parroting really gets old after a while.


Does this mean my kids can threaten to send me to my room if I don't stop parroting Charlie right now?

I'm in trouble.


Rena said...

I think it's fun when you can get so into a story or a character that it practically engulfs everything you say or do. Good luck with your story!

kaye said...

loved this post.

adrienne said...

Boy, kids pick up on everything! I think that's cool that you started parroting your character.
Maybe I'll start writing about someone with a sultry voice who always has something witty to say... :)

Stacy Nyikos said...

It's fun. It's silly. It makes life a little more interesting, at the very least!

Bee said...

This is such a fun post, with so many great details in it. I have a feeling that your children might imitate you by wanting to become writers!

Speaking of New Zealand immersion, have you seen The Piano? (recently, or at all?) It is one of my favorite movies, and I find the hypnotic soundtrack excellent to write to.

What made you choose that setting, btw?

Also: This is the first time I've been able to get onto your site in weeks!!! I think that it has something to do with Internet Explorer, but I only experience it with you and a couple of others. Anyway, sorry that I haven't visited.

Keri Mikulski said...

Love this post - great example. Sounds like you're having fun with your story. :)

Barrie said...

Very fun post! And I enjoyed talking with you the other day!

Sarah Laurence said...

It’s fun to hear about your method. Maybe you should avoid writing murder mysteries, though! I think children of writers learn to have a sense of humor. Writers are all a bit nuts - we listen to voices, right?

Like Bee, I loved The Piano too. Wasn't The Lord of the Rings shot in New Zealand? I'd love to visit one day.

Lilly said...

Oh wow, kids do pick up on everything. How interesting your New Zealand experience is. And how thorough are you! And it would be fun too. Like living a different life or at least a few at a time. Hope it all goes well.

GutsyWriter said...

After 25 years in the U.S., I still say certain words with a British accent, like the word, BLOUSE. My kids make me repeat it over and over, and make fun of me, but I refuse to say it the American way.

gabe said...

Stacy, I love your new online 'look' and it's great to read that your book got a 'honorable mention' in San. Fran. Way to go!!

Pen Pen said...

:) I love it! I do that too! Even when I was little I would have characters in my head and I'd walk around talking in different accents-trying to be them.
I'm writing a piece based in New Orleans-my mom is from there and I was SOOOO lucky to get to go there with her alone last year. I made notes the WHOLE time, and experiencing the place taught me what it smelled like, what it felt like--the small things. Her accent changed when we crossed the state line from Texas to Louisiana too-It was SOOO funny, but she couldn't stop talking that way. I can still hear it in my head and it helps me know how certain characters would say things. I think you HAVE to research--to FEEL what the characters feel in order to pull ur audience into having an authentic experience! Ur mimicing is a good thing!! It's like method acting!! :)