In the Eye of the Beholder

Among the tricks to get inside the mind of your main character are those that focus on ordinary life. You can use a character’s feeling about a daily matter to draw the reader into your fictional world. That’s because, no matter how wide-ranging the story, you still want to mine thoughts that we all share. Here is one you can easily pick up, once you train yourself to think about it.

Try to focus on a particular object that holds a memory for you. A fancy shirt, for instance, might bring to mind a memorable night out when you wore that shirt. A cracked desk might recall the dumbbell day you let a door you were re-hinging fall on it. One good target is using objects to remember when a person praised you. Here is a personal example that sticks out in my mind for obvious reasons, as you’ll see. A friend of my daughter’s came over during the holiday season, and when I found them in the library, she exclaimed: “Mr. Paine, you have an incredible fiction collection.” No matter what basis of knowledge she had to make that claim, it often rings in my mind when I look toward the bookcase where she was standing.

You can apply this idea to your novel. As you go through your day, random statements, many from years ago, pop up as you see different objects around your house or neighborhood. Stop and write them down. If you are thinking of your story, you may realize right away where that idea could be applied. Or, you can alter it to suit the character, but you’ll still be raising the sort of thought that readers will recognize instantly.

The memory becomes even more useful when you expand on it. If you are using the night out with the shirt, you might remember an anecdote that happened to a friend in a bar. You can write a capsule story about how embarrassed you were that he was making such a fool out of himself, even though he didn’t mind one bit. The one memory, in other words, becomes a key that unlocks the door to an entire room of related recollections.

Exercise: Stop writing. Let your mind wander as you roam around your house or apartment. This sort of memory can’t be forced. You have to let it come to you, as A. A. Milne would say. Yet once you form an association, the blazing sentence will stick out in your mind. Then see how you can fit it into your story.

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”
—Tennessee Williams

Copyright @ 2018, John Paine

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Copyright © 2012 John Paine. All rights reserved.