People and Details

I've been thinking about people, and characters, and details. I find that - often - my favorite characters in a movie/book/story are the oddball extra characters. In fact, an oddball extra character has ended up taking over the story in two of my manuscripts (Moiria in Bearskin, and Gertrude in the unpublished Nora in the Tower). Once they're written they are just so interesting, they are just so real. They take up residence in my head and start spouting all their interests and their demands as though they're the only person on the planet. And it's not just in my books, it's in other things I read/watch as well. Maybe it's because in movies/books oddball extras are often defined by their stranger characteristics. To make them different then a stock character they have to be distinct and extraordinary. The thing is - this seems to make them more like real people than those fully fleshed characters in the middle of the stage.

Because - really - people around us are oddballs. That's what makes them who they are.

For instance, last night, as a joke, Justin flipped Netflix to some documentary about The Backstreet Boys - I don't remember the title at all, so I'll have to hold off on recommending. Still, while Justin meant to make me laugh, and switch away to one of our easy watches after a few minutes of amusement, we both ended up watching the documentary, and laughing at the antics of these boys and their pasts. I honestly never knew much about The Backstreet Boys, and I don't know that I'm going to download all their songs and buy a T-shirt anytime soon. But the people, and the story behind the people, was interesting. The way they interacted with each other, the strange oddities of who they actually were, this was hard to look away from. Because people are just plain interesting.

This reminds me of last Friday. Justin and I were invited to dinner by the wonderful couple who helps provide our funding in Graduate School. The husband of the pair spent most of dinner discussing football and accounting and funding, all topics I'm obviously extraordinarily interested in ;) Near the end of the dinner, the wife was asked to share a funny story about her first experience playing golf. As this quiet, unassuming woman told her story, I found myself caught up in her memories. This right here was a story - much more so than any of the other stories told that night. And it was a story because it highlighted her oddness, her realness. It highlighted the wonder of life.

She told how she and her close neighbor decided they'd take up golf in their middle-aged years. How they gathered 4 clubs between them, all strapped in one bag, and headed off to their first lesson. And while I know nothing of golf, I still know this was a silly way to prepare for the greens. (Is "greens" plural or singular, who am I to say?) How they started at an all men's club, in a time and generation where that was definitely frowned upon, and how they felt out of place as soon as they walked in the door. But most of all she told about her coat. How it was chilly that day, and how she grabbed the only coat she had on hand. A long, knee-length number - complete with fur collar up top. And so, as she stood in the all-men's golf club, 4 clubs between her and her friend, fur-topped coat atop her shoulders, she became the character I cared about. The interesting glimmer of humor in a dinner of dull football statistics.

In my writing now, I'm looking for how to bring in this reality of strangeness and make it stay. The oddness is what grounds a story and what makes it real, it's what makes us connect to characters, it's what makes us see ourselves inside them. It's what makes things funny, and funny can only ever be good. And I'm going to look around me and find this oddness in the people around me. Because everyone's odd, and I'm most definitely odd too.


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