February 25th, 2011


In Which We Meet Again

Or, Stranger Things Have Happened


So there the Writer Monkey was, sitting in a crowded coffee shop, because we all know WM is powered by coffee, chocolate and banana daiquiris, and it was much too respectable an hour for the latter. Strategically placed at a corner table for two, armed with the proverbial Big Gulp for coffee and her trusty Notebook of a Thousand Musings, WM prepared herself to test the waters of the Stranger In The Room exercise.

And couldn’t focus.

Before you point accusingly at my 32 oz of finest Colombian, wait for the impending revelation to smack you between the eyes the way it did me.

Despite the standing-room only hubbub creating a solid wall of sound, one voice stood out among the general hum of activity. You know what voice I mean. The voice you can’t drown out, not even with Nine Inch Nails. The voice your dear old Granny has to turn her hearing aid down for, and still can’t get out of her brain. The voice that permeates.

It was baritone, and employed a yawning drawl for emphasis, bringing to mind Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s island. A voice that associates itself with names like Muffy.

With “Head Like A Hole” blaring in my ears, I tried to tune (ha) this distracting voice out of existence so I could concentrate on the experiment at hand. No go.

Does this voice want to be overheard by everyone in a three block radius?  I wondered, searching for its owner with the seek-and-destroy focus of a monkey prepared to fling bananas and screech with bared fangs until the interloper goes away. Listening to the braying words with growing irritation, I decided, apparently, yes.

Loud complaints about Kids Today and their incomprehensible Music and their laughable sense of Entitlement. Where Does It Come From? Nephew Johnny wants-not needs-a new laptop and expects Saintly Sister to buy him one. When I Was A Kid, I Mean Really, etc.

Genteel mumble of lunch companion—his, not mine. Coffee does not mumble, nor do notebooks.  I came nowhere near being able to hear the gentleman, whose back was to me. Dogs couldn’t have heard him.

Continued braying. I just can’t believe the State of the World and Ten Years Ago, when I started my Illustrious Career in this business, it would be Completely Unheard Of, and so on.

Murmur murmur. 

And so the conversation continued, as I waited for them to leave so I could concentrate, for gawdsake. Shut up shut up shut up.

Then the conversation took a surprising turn. The two stood and shook hands, clutching laptop cases as they moved to (finally) vacate the premises. Sir Brays-A-Lot thanked The Gentlemen for meeting him and expressed the hope he might hear from him soon. 

He had been having a job interview.

Suddenly I had my Stranger In The Room and for fock’s sake he was leaving. Crap crap crap. Just when things were getting interesting.

Quickly, before the impressions faded, I whipped out a blank copy of my character sketch, TWN, and make wild and unfounded conjectures about my braying frenemy.

Did he suffer from a tic based in insecurity that secretly made him want to be heard by everyone else, or make him seem important in his own eyes (and ears)? Did it come from anxiety, making him desperate to connect with this prospective employer in these uncertain times? Is he a natural trouble maker, creating drama wherever he goes to fill an otherwise empty life?

By the time I had a sketch full of notes I was already wondering how I could cast this character into my current project. Antagonist? No, too cartoonish with that voice. The word “frenemy” stuck with me. So did the idea of a trouble maker, at constant loggerheads with almost everyone around him, but who ends up redeeming himself in the end. A whole love-to-hate dynamic a reader can end up coming to terms with.

So, dear readers, as you can see TWN character sketch can be a worthy exercise whether you have an idea for a character already or if you have no idea at all. It’s this technique that makes me wish the new edition of TWN still started with character instead of plot, because for me my story almost always comes from the character work I do. Doing it the other way round feels wrong.

Tune In Next Week For: Back Story