Although I may not remember which daughter said which cute thing, I remember the cute thing. I remember so many little things that I have run across in my life. Small things, like the girl in the drug store who bought “A bottle of Yoo-hoo and a pregnancy test,” which became the final line in one of my stories. The woman with a missing tooth who became Loretta Squirrels.
Details make the fiction. They enrich the plot, bring characters to life, and create vivid images for readers. As I sit at my keyboard to work on my latest novel, details swim into my story–little life events that I didn’t even realize that I remembered. I am not sure if it is that writers just notice things that may not be obvious to other people, or that we have a certain sort of memory that brings these details to the forefront as we write. Whatever it is, it is both a blessing and a curse. But these remembrances of things past (see what I did, there?) make their way into my books.
Let me explain: I, like many other writers, don’t sleep well or deeply. As I lay in bed at night, trying to simmer down and get to sleep, I remember stuff. Stuff that just floats into my consciousness, uninvited. I note them, try to forget them, but sometimes one is so vivid that I simply have to jump out of bed, grab my phone, and note it for future reference.
Here are some of the things I have written down just this week:
- A woman counting out pills into her hand while waiting at the hair salon. Good grief, is she very sick, or contemplating suicide?
- The three-legged dog being walked by a man in a #MAGA hat.
- Overheard in a restaurant, “Jill always buys shoes that are one size too small.”
- A gravestone at the cemetery with only dates on it–no name.
- A woman took off her shoe and rubbed her bunion before the movie started.
- A Canada goose sitting in the middle of a busy parking lot.
- The dust on the floor only shows when the sun hits it at four in the afternoon.
- There has been a jar of capers on the top shelf of the fridge for two years.
- Napkins at many restaurants are way too small.
- My mother’s hands.
- Our 90 year old neighbors’ lights are always on when I get up after midnight. Are they talking? Kissing? Playing cribbage?
- One cupcake is never enough, and everyone knows it, but won’t say so out loud.
- A man in the grocery who for some reason has four flashlights in his cart.
Sooner or later, I do nod off. But these things show up in my writing. They just jump in, and I don’t even invite them to.
If only they occurred to me during the day.