Thursday, November 19

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, November 19, 2009 4 comments
"I am a great surmiser, a bellows, blowing life into people and things, though they already have lives of their own."
--John Hazard. "Signage." South Dakota Review 46.4 (Winter 2008): 6.

One of the luscious perks of my job editing a scholarly journal is the freebie lit mags that arrive each season through a journal exchange program. I'm more apt to thumb through the latest issue of Ploughshares or The Southern Review, but the less prestigious journals like SDR have their gems as well (even if their production cycle is an entire year behind schedule).

I had to share the opening quote above, because I think it captures so well the storyteller brain at work. The more I write, the more I imagine stories everywhere: in every gum-chomping co-ed on the train platform, every bored security guard I pass (and now wave to), every clerk who rings up my purchases. The color of their umbrellas, condition of their fingernails, day-dreamy expressions suggest character traits and personal history. Before I know it, my brain has pumped fictional life into random strangers. I'm sure I'm not alone in experiencing this phenomenon.

My question is, what do you do with it? I tend to see it as a harmless diversion most of the time, a way to pass the time waiting for the 8:03 to arrive. Have your people-watching fictions ever become something more? Do you jot them in a notebook? Turn them into whole stories?


  1. It's not something you can turn off once it's started, either. If you're writing, things'll just stick in your brain. I guess you could turn it off, if you simply didn't write anymore, but is that really an option?

    The paragraph that got me into the top 10 in Nate Bransford's 1st Paragraph Contest was inspired by the restaurant El Vez in Philly, and by the waitstaff there. The "effervescent pixie" really was our hostess that night. All I did was add conflict to the setting. Sometimes it works out that way.

  2. a harmless diversion? A way to pass the time? Perhaps more than that, maybe a seed, a root, a limb?

  3. I have a notebook with scattered observations I'm *sure* will become a character some day! And Simon's right: once you start, you never stop, which can be annoying when you're trying to be polite and make conversation but your brain is scribbling notes!