Inspiration – it’s as close as home

21 Sep

I’m stuck. I’ve got a character in my book that I love, yet she seems two dimensional. I need more character traits and flaws for her. What am I going to do? My mind begins to wander, searching for something to add to my story. Develop the layers. Create a realistic character.

My mom calls. She tries the home line. I don’t answer – I’M WRITING. The answering machine kicks on. She doesn’t leave a message. Two seconds later my cell rings. (A brief aside – my family is known for their stalker-calling ways. If I don’t answer, they will KEEP trying).

I pick up my cell phone. My mother proceeds to tell me a story about a friend of hers that I have never met. And more than likely never will. She shouts most of the conversation into my ear. Her Southern accent ebbs and flows like the tide throughout the ten minute conversation. My mother was born and raised in the South, but moved to the North when I was four. It’s as if her accent is STILL trying to make up its mind where to call home.

I don’t mind the shouting. I shout too. Part of it is that we had a large family, and everyone wanted to make certain they were heard. Part of it is the idea that it is a cell phone. It is not connected by a landline. It makes its way through air and space and who knows what else. If we don’t shout, it might get lost somewhere. It’s not logical. It’s just a family thing.

And there it is.

All the inspiration, and then some. I never have to look very far. I don’t name names, and I don’t describe my relatives – or friends – right down to the nitty gritty details. I’d never hear the end of it if I did. However a few of the better quirks might just sneak into my story. Somehow.

Maybe my character is in a public place. Discussing her sex life. Sometimes with a Southern accent, sometimes without. There are children around. Maybe the mother of a small four year old child, who has an unfortunate tendency to repeat EVERYTHING, takes issue with my character. Maybe they get into a fight. A knock down, hair pulling fight. Maybe the police are called. They’re both arrested. Maybe while they’re sharing a cell, waiting for someone to bail them out they realize the ridiculousness of the entire situation. And they become best friends.

It’s fiction. It can happen.

Now, I not only have added some extra dimension to my character, I have created an entire scene that I can expand on. Sweet.

Yesterday, Liz blogged about finding inspiration at a baseball game. It’s all around us. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call.

What snippets of reality have you brought into your stories and your characters?


Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Idaho


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21 responses to “Inspiration – it’s as close as home

  1. Carley Ash

    September 21, 2011 at 6:55 AM

    This is great, Meredith. Love the description of your mom. Why are mom’s always hilarious? My mom won’t pay for Caller ID or the small fee for *69, but she doesn’t always want to answer the phone either. So, when it rings and the person doesn’t leave a message, she’ll call all the kids back and ask, “Did you just call here?”

    • johannaharness

      September 21, 2011 at 7:46 AM

      I love this, Carley.

    • Meredith Conner

      September 21, 2011 at 7:53 AM

      Moms! You just gotta love them or dodge their calls every once in a while. My husband can’t stand to be in the car with me when I talk to my Mom on the cell phone. He claims people in Nova Scotia can hear our conversation.
      So what I want to know is – does your Mom call EVERYONE back? How many kids? And is it in a certain order? (My Mom calls me, then my younger sister, my sister-in-law and then the very youngest)

  2. Janis McCurry

    September 21, 2011 at 7:11 AM

    My mom would call and ask how things were and I’d start to tell her. Suddenly, she wraps it up like all the books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen that have driven you crazy. It’s like the time is up on an invisible clock. Mom would say, “Okay, good. I’d better let you go.” And I wasn’t even finished. What’s up with that?

    Very funny article, Mere. Thanks for the tip on finding your inspiration.

    • Meredith Conner

      September 21, 2011 at 7:57 AM

      I usually get to finish my stories with my mom, but then half the time she immediately starts up a conversation that is in no way what-so-ever related to what I was just talking about. I’m left wondering if she even listened.

  3. johannaharness

    September 21, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    I love this continued theme of inspiration!

    My family is the opposite of yours. When I was a kid, the phone would ring and we’d all look at each other, begging someone else to answer it. Today I rarely give out my phone number, mostly so I don’t have to explain the not-answering part.

    • Meredith Conner

      September 21, 2011 at 8:00 AM

      I don’t often answer the phone these days – probably some leftover issue from when I was younger. My family was – hah, IS – very loud. When we get together these days it isn’t unusual for a large group of us to wind up huddled together on a bed, chatting. There are five children in my family. Eventually someone falls onto the floor.

  4. ramblingsfromtheleft

    September 21, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    We were a loud bunch of Italians raised in Brooklyn, but the adults were born in the old country and they carried it with them like a worn leather suitcase that made it around the globe and back to tell me about the voyage. I keep that worn suitcase in a corner of my mind and when I need inspiration, I open it and hear them shouting and laughing, hand language (Italians can’t talk without hands) and foreign inflections. Thanks for the memories and a great post 🙂

    • Meredith Conner

      September 21, 2011 at 8:07 AM

      What a beautiful imagery! I love hearing about different family traditions. My family has been born and bred in the US for several generations – all of them in the South. The South is its own culture. We used to have family get-to-gethers on the front lawn of my great-grandmother’s one bedroom house. There had to be at least 40 of us for the small gatherings. The memories are as sweet as the stories they inspire.

  5. Liz Fredericks

    September 21, 2011 at 8:08 AM

    Excellent post, Meredith! You have such a lovely way with words – ‘accent trying to make up its mind where to call home’. I laughed at the cell phone example. My husband shouts on the cell phone. He’s not angry, but I suspect he’s also worried his Dad in California won’t hear him otherwise.

    • Meredith Conner

      September 21, 2011 at 8:47 AM

      It’s a legitimate worry Liz. I have it all the time when I am using my cell phone!

  6. Peggy Staggs

    September 21, 2011 at 8:32 AM

    What a great resource. It’s so helpful when you have people around you who are sane enough to live in the real world, and interesting enough to populate your books. Your mom sounds like a hoot.

  7. Meredith Conner

    September 21, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    I often wonder about the “sane” part 🙂 Families are great, aren’t they? I love the quote about “I love to have my family come to visit. I love them even more when they leave.”

  8. Marsha R. West

    September 21, 2011 at 8:52 AM

    My mom’s been gone for quite a few years, Meredith, but your southern comments resonated with me. She was born in South Carolina, and despite 35 years of moving around the country with my Air Force father, she mainted a slight softness to the r’s in her speech. Whenever she talked with family back home, she’d get off the phone sounding like she’d never left. The r’s no longer soffened, but entirly missing. To this day, I can hear eactly how she’d say my name after one of those family calls. Thanks for jaring loose that memory.

    I almost always have older women (mothers of the lead characters) in my books and Mom’s a big influence on how those ladies act.

    • Meredith Conner

      September 21, 2011 at 10:35 AM

      Thanks for commenting Marsha. It always surprises me when something will spark a memory that I haven’t thought about in a while. I found myself quoting my grandmother the other day in response to something said. It was something she always used to say, but I hadn’t thought of it in a while. I loved it.

  9. Clarissa Southwick

    September 21, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    Usually when I’m struggling with a character, I will try to find a real person I want them to be like and that helps. Sometimes, it’s as simple as copying a telling gesture. I never base characters on my husband, but I do steal a lot of his one-liners. Most of the humor in my books comes from things that have actually happened to me. Great blog, Meredith.

    • Meredith Conner

      September 21, 2011 at 10:37 AM

      My husband comes up with stuff that make me stop and think and then laugh all the time. His one the other day: “”It’s like a blind pig finding an acorn.” I’m still snickering over that one.

      • Sharla Lovelace

        September 22, 2011 at 12:13 PM

        My hubby comes up with some doozies too. My favorite… “screaming like a scalded-assed ape” …actually had to make it into a manuscript. It was too good not to.

  10. Steph

    September 21, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    My mom does the “call everyone” thing. Now that she’s getting older, she will call several times. My sister and I have taken to not telling her if we have something coming up, like a job promotion because she’ll call several times a day to see if we’ve gotten it yet, even though we tell her the deadline is months away. I love her to death and she’s great fodder for my writing.
    Great blog subject.

  11. Meredith Conner

    September 21, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    Thanks for commenting Steph. My mother lives right in town. We live 7 miles out. She calls me on average 3 times a day. Just to chat. Or tell me she saw a moose. Or even that there is a traffic jam in town. Once she called to tell me it was pouring at her house – surprise, surprise it was at mine too.

  12. lynn mapp

    September 21, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    You are so right. We need to pay attention to what is happening around us. Inspriation is all around us. Thanks for the reminder.


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