Last winter, we were driving along an endless stretch of highway on our way to the Poconos for a vacation, when my husband started asking me about some home repairs we were planning.
“Stop, wait,” I said, holding the palm of my hand up toward him. “I can’t talk right now. I’m working on something.”
He laughed and shook his head as he turned his eyes back toward the road. He knew exactly what I meant. I was working with some characters on a scene.
Specifically, I was watching what my main character was going to do with her cell phone to ensure that she wouldn’t answer it during lunch. You see, I had recently begun working on a novel I had put away for a few years ago, back when cell phones were still a novelty. In my original manuscript, my main characters sneaks off to New York for an afternoon to have lunch with a secret acquaintance, but comes back to serious consequences because her kids were not able to reach her. These days, however, they could just call her on her cellphone. So I needed to find a way she could still be unavailable.
In my head, I watched her forget her cell phone on the kitchen counter as she leaves the house. But no, I thought, that would be totally out of character, as she never takes it out of her purse. I watched her grab for a different purse for this special lunch–but then she’d have to transfer her wallet to the new purse, and she’d clearly transfer her cell phone as well. Could she accidentally turn her phone off? I gave that one a try — but when I watched her do that, it didn’t feel real. She’s a pretty intentional kind of person, and she doesn’t make careless, accidental mistakes.
Put it on mute? Maybe. I saw her stop in front of the restaurant, open the purse, find her cellphone, and purposefully turn off the sound. But why would she do that? She wasn’t expecting any calls, and if her kids were to call her, it would be because of any emergency, and she’d want to answer. Although… how about if she didn’t hear the phone? Say her purse was on the floor and the restaurant was one of those loft-type spaces with background noise, and she had a little buzz because she wasn’t used to drinking wine at lunch and she was really into her lunch companion? Now, that could work, I thought, as I sat back and watched her sip her Pinot Grigio.
The two-hour road trip ended in a flash, and as our car pulled up in front of our hotel, I put my character away. I wasn’t quite done with her, but that was okay. I would no doubt visit with her again before the day was over.
I daydream all the time. I’m constantly living in my head. Sometimes I do it on purpose, and sometimes it happens on its own. But either way, it’s far from a burden; in fact, I really enjoy it. When I’m watching TV and the commercials come on, I play a scene out. When I’m on line at the grocery store, I listen to dialogue. When I’m walking at the track, I’m writing an article, envisioning the anecdote I’m telling or just watching the words on an imaginary magazine page. I read them to myself, change a word here or there, and then read it over again a few times to memorize it, so I can write it down later (although it never sounds as good on paper as it did in my head).
At the gym last week while panting in step class, I watched a juicy scene from a new story I may write. I pictured a campfire burning on a warm spring evening when my heroine learns that the man she loves is engaged to someone else. I saw her lean against a tree and look into the night sky. I heard the guy walk up behind her and plead with her to trust him and give him a chance to straighten out his life. Is he persuasive? I watched the scene over and over, changing his words, lengthening his pauses, adding gestures that would make both my heroine and me believe that yes, he is worth waiting for.
I daydream sometimes when I’m having coffee with someone who’s launched into a blow-by-blow description of the fight she just had with her boss, mother, or Cablevision agent. I can do this, you see, because I’ve acquire the ability to snap back into the conversation when I sense that an important part is coming. Usually I’m pretty good at getting the gist of the conversation. I may miss the details, but at least my friend has gotten everything off her chest and I’m not jumping out of my skin.
I daydream sometimes when I’m supposed to be listening to my kids, nodding so they won’t catch on. But they do. They’re not fooled. They know I’m somewhere else. They get really mad.
My husband, on the other hand, just smiles and shakes his head and lets me be until I’m ready to rejoin him. Now, that’s gotta be love.
How about you? Do you watch your characters throughout the day? Do you think writers live in their minds more than other people?
Another dreamy day in the life of just another working writer.