By Martha Reed
I warn everyone that I meet that I come with a disclaimer: I am a writer, and I will use everything you give me. Tell me the funny story about your grandmother’s thumb, or the odd thing about your dog, and somehow, somewhere, I will find a use for it. I mine human foible; it’s what makes my characters human. When I’m asked if my writing is autobiographic I reply: well, yes, sort of. None of my characters are actually based on any one person, but give me a funny line or goofy situation and you might end up in my next story.
Here’s the perfect example. I have two characters, John Jarad, and Sarah Hawthorne. In my story, they haven’t met yet. John’s a police lieutenant and he’s just broken off his engagement to a local girl. He’s not interested in meeting anyone else just now, thank you very much. Sarah has also broken her engagement and she’s run away to Nantucket to bury herself in work. As the omniscient author, I - of course - arrange for them to meet nicely at the end of Chapter Eight. Except for a snag: they’re still not interested. Yikes! How do I resolve this?
The answer came to me on the street today. If you live in Pittsburgh, you’ve been chilled, damp, and probably knee-deep in mud for the last three days. As I was heading back to the office I saw a twenty-something woman walking toward me with her bare arms wrapped tightly around her body – she was in a light spring dress and severely underdressed for the weather. Directly in front of me, a twenty-something man met up with her – it became obvious they were meeting for lunch – and in the smoothest, drop dead sexy move I’ve seen a years he took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. Pure Cary Grant. It was obvious she wasn’t expecting his gesture – who does that anymore? But she was clearly delighted – her face lit up. I could even see that she was thinking: He likes me! And I thought: Ah-ha! That’s how I get John and Sarah together, because underneath it all John is a gentleman, and he would offer Sarah his coat if she looked chilly, and she would wake up to the fact that this gesture was thoughtful and his jacket was warm and smelled of quality aftershave, and she would take a look at this great cool guy and they would get together, and hey, I’m saved!
Which brings me to the question I want to ask other writers: when you find yourself at a crossroad, a hurdle in your plotline, do you go ‘find’ a solution or do you wait for one to show up?
If it’s a matter of research, I do go find the solution, but I’ve noticed that when I hit a snag about a character’s motivation that if I just give it a little time and keep my eyes open, a nifty human response-based example will usually fall into my lap. The next question is did I see the interaction on the street today because it was meant to happen like serendipity? Or did I only notice it because I was looking for it? And have you seen any drop dead sexy moves lately?