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 if...you'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.