The economy of a novelist is a little like that of a careful housewife who is unwilling to throw away anything that might perhaps serve its turn.
Not only do we collect it all we save it all. I’ve built databases in my lifetime so my directories are pretty organized but anything that falls outside of the realm of a hard drive is usually on a scrap of paper from my jotted musings to memorable fortunes pulled from fortune cookies.
And please, keep all those notes from the interesting and boring characters you’ve spied on throughout the day.
Photo of Old Books courtesy of © Vertes Edmond Mihai and Dreamstime.com.
The great advantage of being a writer is that you can spy on people. You’re there, listening to every word, but part of you is observing. Everything is useful to a writer, you see – every scrap, even the longest and most boring of luncheon parties.
Here is a little something for the writer’s toolbox, from the mouth of Graham Greene himself. Do you find yourself doing it? Or worse yet do others see you doing it? My favorite spying is listening. Hang on to every word, oh, you know what they really meant to say by the tone in which they said it. You don’t even have to see the look on the person’s face that heard it sometimes. You hope they didn’t just see you shake your head thinking, “Oh no I didn’t just hear that.”
The moment comes when a character does or says something you hadn’t thought about. At that moment he’s alive and you leave it to him.
Henry Graham Greene (October 2, 1904 – April 3, 1991), English writer
A little celebration for Graham Greene on his birthday, I’ll discuss the pleasure I had reading Our Man in Havana. If you haven’t read it, oh my, pick it up it is a classic.
When vacuum cleaner salesman James Wormold meets a man named Hawthorne his whole life changes. We watch on with as much amusement as Wormold while he is recruited to work for the British secret service in Cuba. His wife recently left him and he’d love to provide more for his daughter. Having no experience he decides to spy on Cuba anyway. It only gets better from there, I really hate to spoil it for you (spoilers everywhere on the internet too), but essentially he makes up all of his information from a vacuum cleaner manual.
I didn’t see the movie, will have to, and would love to see if it is as entertaining as this little gem of a book.
Someday I hope to have the perfect character like a James Wormold. Have you fleshed out that character yet?