About a year ago I was chatting with an old college friend and she was relaying a long, involved story about someone who was being an asshole. Frankly, I don’t remember anything about the story except that at a number of points in her storytelling she’d stop and say, “Really?! Really?!” You can hear how she said it, right? It’s with an implied, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” I wouldn’t have ever remembered it except that in that same week I was speaking with my neighbor and she was telling me something about someone, and again I don’t remember what the something or the someone was, but I did notice that she also said, “Really?! I mean, really?!” And she also implied a, “What an asshole” to whomever she was telling me about. And now it’s everywhere. I hear it all the time. What is that? Have I missed some cultural cue? Is it from some character on TV (which I hardly watch) who says, “Really?!” in that flabbergasted, unbelieving, judgmental way? Who is it? Tell me! It’s driving me crazy.
Do you hear other phrases or words or even cadences that have slipped into common speech? Writers, when you write your characters, do you sneak those things into their dialogue? It’s a great way to place a character in time or even to flesh them out as a certain type of human. Great use of that as a device is in the 2010 movie, The Kids Are All Right, when Paul’s speech (the Mark Ruffalo character) is peppered with, “right on” and one of the other characters (is it Annette Benning?) makes fun of that to someone. It creates Paul as a certain kind of person. And Benning’s character, Nic picks up on that verbal conceit. It was fabulous. I can’t say “right on” any more because I get too self conscious now. Which is probably a good thing, anyhow.
I met up with some high school friends over the weekend, some of whom I hadn’t seen in at least 25 years. I needed to gird my self confidence because whenever I go to meet a group of high school folks whom I haven’t seen in a while all my 16 year old insecurities kick into high gear. I don’t think my body is even capable of producing the hormones I had back then, but I swear that as soon as I know I’m going into that situation I get a PMS zit, my hair goes from curly to frizzy and I can’t find anything to wear that looks remotely good on me.
So I decided that I would wear my novelist cloak for this little reunion. No, it’s not an actual cloak. It’s an invisible cloak, (with a hood) that I put on sometimes so I can secretly look at situations as a novelist. I decided my task that night was to study character. I tried, really hard, to do that. Cocktails did not help this exercise. But I found that some people are just naturally “characters.”
The guy who was a stuck up kid (well at least he never gave me the time of day) still sort of blew me off when I said hi. There was a boy who was always very friendly, the kind of kid you knew would grow up to be a nice guy. And he did! His wife’s lucky and so are the people in his community where he works as a police officer. I saw the girl who was so beautiful I kind of hated her (when I was 9) and she looked exactly the same (but then I remembered that she was a nice little girl, despite her prettiness). There were a couple of guys who remembered me but who I wouldn’t have been able to pick out of a lineup. Funny. But after talking with them a bit I could sort of see glimmers of the teenaged boys they once had been. There was one guy who looked exactly the same (great eyes) only totally bald. And then there’s my good buddy from 5th grade, who still has a fabulous smile and a cheery disposition. The neighborhood friend I’ve known since kindergarten was always one of the kindest people I know, and now she can add hot and smart and funny. (It’s true! I know you’re reading this… Stop protesting!) And my homie who sang Cher songs with me into a hairbrush/microphone: Unbelievable woman. Like a force of nature. And what a character!
It won’t be difficult for me to use the rich material I gathered last night, because when I write my characters they are usually either totally fictitious or composites of people whom I know. And I can’t wait to make some awesome composites out of the people I didn‘t write about in this blog post! (Because maybe I don’t have such nice things to say…)
I had a great time at this reunion because by putting on my invisible novelist cloak in the beginning I quelled the initial fluttering of butterflies in my stomach and after a while they stopped.
What cloaks do you wear? Do you still break out? How do you create a character?