Monday, January 20, 2014

People watching ... or is it snatching? (Lauren Bjorkman)

“People watching” sounds more innocent than the thing that I do—noticing people, eavesdropping on their conversations, cataloging their mannerisms, and speculating on who they really are.

The inspiration for the main character of my first novel was a young woman I’d observed over several years—first as my son’s pre-school teacher, then as an actress, and finally whenever I happened to bumped into her in our small town. I’ll call her G.

G’s exuberance drew me in. She seemed not to care what anyone thought of her, and yet had a magnetic presence. I found the flip side of these traits—a degree of obliviousness—fascinating too.

So I thought about G when inventing Roz with her boundless energy, creativity, with a dollop of self-centeredness. Not long into my process, Roz became her own character separate from G, very funny and a bit crazy.

A few years passed. My Invented Life got published by Holt. G still lived in town. So did I. A year after that, I had an idea. Shouldn’t I tell G about her unwitting participation in my novel? Around then, she worked as a barista at a lively café I visited on occasion. So one day, while hopped up on caffeine, I confessed. She didn’t seem too freaked out, so I gave her a copy of the book to read.

After that, I panicked. Hadn’t some reviewers found Roz a little too crazy? Too intense? Too unreliable?

I hurried back to the café to explain it all to G. I don’t really know you. Roz isn’t you and you aren’t Roz. You just gave me the idea of her. You’re probably not like her at all.

You don’t have to read the book.

But she still wanted to read it. For the next several weeks, I went elsewhere for coffee. When I finally dared show my face again, though, it was awesome

Not only had G liked the book, she felt I'd hit on some truths about her, particularly regarding her relationship with her sister.


So now I’m less anxious about my evil snatching ways. When someone says, “Be careful what you say around Lauren, it might end up in a novel,” I smile enigmatically and give a slight nod of my authorial head. So true.

6 comments:

  1. It's true that inspiration and outcome are not the same. But it's nice if the inspiration feels there is something true even in fiction!

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  2. I always think it's interesting when characters are based on real people, because then I want to meet those people and find out what their stories are. I eavesdrop too, though sometimes it's not even on purpose; a lot of people talk loudly on their cell phones and it's pretty much impossible not to eavesdrop.

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  3. What a great post! I like to eavesdrop (for purely professional reasons, of course), and I've based characters on people I know really well, but what you did with G is fascinating and new to me. Thank you for the inspiration!

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  4. I use people around me for characters too. And even though they live unique lives on the page, I still sometimes get flustered seeing my initial inspirations walking around town!

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