One of the pieces of advice often given to writers is ‘read a lot’. It’s great advice, but I would imagine any true writer already does this without being told.
Writers have insatiable curiosity. They will question and observe and are rarely bored. Even the dullest bus ride will provide characters and settings, smells to describe and the press of flesh, you can describe that as well. From one visit to my local shops (I live in quite an interesting area!) I’ve taken these notes about people I’ve seen:
An old woman, short. shorter than me. Clothes like blankes draped around her, white on white skin, but a big red nose. Colourful hat worn low. A little kid tugs are her, saying something. His grandmother pulls him away, embarrassed. It must have been something mean. The old woman says, and says again, “How old it is? How old it is?”
Young woman, high heels, clipboard. Flirting with much older, large man, he’s got a sweaty forehead and slippers, she wants him to answer her questions.
Cyclist with bright green socks. They don’t seem to match the rest of him. He looks conservative.
I also get lots of character ideas from reading. I read all sorts of magazines and snippets. A friend just sent me a bunch of the London Review of Books, and in a review of an amazing sounding book “Jews and Shoes” by Edna Nahshon, the reviewer quotes Mayer Kirshenblatt describing a cobbler’s wife:
“Of course she was breastfeeding. With her size she could have suckled a platoon. She wore a dress that reached below the knees in front and just below the buttocks behind.”
Isn’t that fantastic? What an image. I read more about Mayer Kirshenblatt and his art and he seemed like a brilliant man with a sharp observational eye.
I love buy bizarre magazines and trawl them for snippets and ideas. More soon; I’m unpacking a box of magazines from our shed and will post about the contents.