Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Inspiration Monday: From Observer to Narrator

I'm currently reading On the Road by Jack Keroac. While it is billed as a novel, Keroac made no secret about the fact that it was built from his own experiences. The narrative rumbles on and on in stream of consciousness like a jazzy drum solo, complete with unexpected adjectives that ring in your ears like cymbal crashes. Every interaction the narrator has with another person is colorful and alive, not because of the amount of details provided--on the contrary, he blazes from one place to the next like a shooting star in Mexican huarache shoes--but because of the ones he chooses to include. This is a gift Keroac had, for sure, but another reason he was able to capture so much noise and turn it into music was that he was purposeful about it. As a writer, Keroac did not just observe. He observed with intent.

Through years of writing fiction, especially those projects with a dash of fantasy, I have become well-practiced in observing entire worlds unfolding only in my head. How a person talks or drives a car or folds his pillow under his head comes from the jumbled trunk of collected experiences stored in the attic of my mind. There are all kinds of odds and ends in there--little bits of conversations, half-remembered sensory experiences, a few scars, and probably a good amount of Jell-O.

I didn't store all those things in the back of my mind with the plan of someday channeling them into a story, a blog post, or even to color the way I see things when I read books. They are largely just things that somehow stuck with me for better or worse, unimpeachably stamped with my perception and voice, that find their way out of the box when the time comes. These things can be useful, but they aren't intentional

I recently tried a little experiment. During a conversation with Husband, I grabbed up a notebook and I narrated him. He wasn't sure what I was doing at first, but I read what I had written back to him afterward. He not as amused as I was, but he was a good sport (because as sports go, he is the very best good one). I noticed a few interesting things. There is a cadence to his speech and a little dip in his accent that is all his own. I must have known; we've been married for years. I would recognize his voice anywhere, but I still hadn't noticed. He didn't talk like I write, he talked like he talks. Instead of remembering him on paper, I captured him.

Try it out this week. Don't just listen to the world around you, listen with intent. Write things down the way they are, not the way you remember them. Put on your journalist's hat and tell it like it is. Not only is it good practice for developing varied character voices, it is a great way to stockpile images, dialogue, and scenes that could come in handy later. Pay attention to the nuance. Give yourself a chance to really notice things. It'll become second nature, and you'll find yourself remembering things in a new, purposeful way.

It is one thing to go through life as an unexamined observer, but once you become a narrator you take on the responsibility of opening your readers' eyes to the way you see things, and underneath, why you see them that way.

Your life story is happening now. Tell it.


Unknown said...

Wonderful post!

Marisa said...

Thanks, Ellen! Always glad to know you're reading!

kp said...

This was timely for me. Thank you.