You Can Get More Than Mashed Potatoes at Thanksgiving

Ah, the holiday season. Time to kick back, relax and enjoy family time, right?

Only in fantasy land folks, as this recent Saturday Night Live episode with Adele illustrates. But there is a silver lining to Aunt Mabel’s fear of refugees, Cousin Dan’s loud condemnation of Republicans or your brother-in-law’s liquor-filled expositions on life. At least, if you’re a romance writer.

Romance writers are keen observers of the world around them. Although many of them dread interaction with other humans, relationships compose the core of their work.

Thanksgiving leftovers
When I began writing my first manuscript, I thought the developing characters were pure fantasy–whipped up from some hidden part of my psyche with no basis in reality. But a funny thing happened when I read the story in its entirety for the first time. The heroine, Grace’s personality was strangely like my own, complete with all my quirky insecurities and inner fears. Although exaggerated, Grace’s mother, Elaine’s anxieties mirrored my mother-in-law’s, who frets over her children and grandchildren. And certain aspects of the needy sister, Claire, in the story, are drawn straight from my relationship with my own dear sister (sorry sis). Even my father-in-law, who couldn’t imagine he would ever end up in a romance novel, pointed out that he wants royalties since I gave the hero, David, his crooked finger.

These authentic personality traits, although unintentional on my part, made the story come alive. Contest judges reviewing the entry remarked, “I understand Grace’s worries. I have felt the same way” and “The sister is believable.”

Once I understood the importance of real-life situations and personalities to literary character development, I became much more conscientious about my own powers of observation. Everything…and I mean everything…has become fertilizer for the next crop of words. Yes, family and friends, beware!

Stuffing for the brain

This year's Thanksgiving turkey.

This year’s Thanksgiving turkey.

Besides the obvious writing inspiration, there’s an emotional payoff as well. It’s easier to ignore your cousin Cheryl’s barbed comments when you are analyzing their cause and effect. Instead of taking the words to heart, your mind is occupied with the words unspoken. What are Cheryl’s goals, motivations and conflict? Has she just lost her job and the fact that you landed a brilliant, new position hard to stomach? Perhaps she doesn’t feel loved by her husband and her bitter words reveal her pain and disillusionment. Or maybe she has never shared the close relationship you have with your mother, with her own?

Art doesn’t just reflect life, it mirrors it back at you in exaggerated form. The core of character development has its roots in reality. When I take the time to listen and observe the dynamics of the conversations taking place around the dinner table, I gain in perspective. Not just a greater openness and sense of wonder to explore my own life’s journey, but a wealth of material for my next great masterpiece.

So, thank you dear Aunt Mabel. Now would you please pass the mashed potatoes?

2 Comments

  1. Oh, no!I Now I’m going to watch what I say and do when your around. Although I have already given you plenty to write about.

    • Hey, I got your post this time around! I am in major revision mode at the moment on my first manuscript so no need to fear. Plus, although grandma-like, you are not an Aunt Mabel:)

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