05 December 2011

Do You See What I See?

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

'Tis getting closer and closer to the holiday season and when I heard the words of the old carol, "Do you hear what I hear?" and "Do you see what I see?" I thought about this magical thing that happens when we write.

We see or hear in our heads what's going on between two or three characters in our story, and...

Then before I can finish that thought I wondered how does a story start for most writers? And I found out it's different for different writers. And even different for different stories or books.

Most of the time, for me, I hear two or three characters talking, maybe even arguing. Maybe one is trying to make a point or explain their reasons for doing something. I try to listen in and figure out if what they're saying is important or if they're just blathering. Usually the best thing is when I can write the dialogue down. On a computer or even by long-hand if I'm not near a keyboard. Other times I may be sitting at my keyboard and the characters start talking and I even "see" what's going on. Almost like a movie or TV show playing in my head. Other times only the words come through and I try to capture them as they play out.

If possible I know who's talking, but there are times when I have no idea who it is or what's going on and I just have to type or write and hope it makes sense before long. That happens when a new character appears in the story. Maybe my detective is working a case and the criminal starts talking. Even if I write it down and even if it's important it may not make the final draft. Because it could just be information I, the writer, need to know and it's not for the detective or the reader to know as yet.

Sometimes I may even act out a scene to prove to myself that it rings true. Years ago in one of my early unpublished novels, I had a scene where a policeman came to the door to tell my character that her police officer husband had been killed.

Well, I've never personally received news like that. I wrote how I thought it might go, but it didn't feel right. Eventually, I walked to my front door, opened it and pretended that two police officers were standing there to tell me the bad news. I could see that it was a man and a woman. I felt my hand rise up to cover my chest, as if something had delivered a hard blow there. I could hear their words but it was not exactly clear in my brain. As I went back to my keyboard, I could only remember a shiny name tag on the male officer's chest and tears glistening on the policewoman's cheeks. Those were the words I wrote and that scene was a good as I could make it at that stage in my writing development.

Another time my female detective character had her hands taped with adhesive tape behind her back. I managed to tape my hands by myself and lie on the floor and try to get my hands free. I couldn't, but what I could do was sit up and to bring my hands in front by twisting my arms and legs and then bit the tape off. I was younger and more limber then.

After I've written dialogue, it generally helps me to read it out loud. Even then it may not sound quite right. Often I send a scene to my daughter via e-mail and she will suggest how the dialogue should go, especially if the characters are a lot younger. Now that I have an alien in my house I can always go to him and have him suggest dialogue to me. He's eighteen and easily knows how today's teens or even younger folks talk.

Anyway you get the idea. Now back to the magic...it honestly is amazing to me that I can sit at my computer in Texas, think of a story, write my manuscript, it then gets turned into a book in NYC or Maine or Southern California and it goes into a bookstore. A Chicago or Miami or Helena, Montana reader goes into the bookstore, buys my book, goes home and begins to read. Lo and behold, he or she hears or sees what I heard and saw and wrote and it all makes sense. If that's not magic then I don't know what else to call it.

I love to read books set in places where I've never been and learn about that place. I love to read books set in places where I have been and recognize the scenery or a location. I love to read books where the main character is like Aleut Detective, Kate Shugak, in a book set in Alaska where I've never been and probably will never be able to visit. To learn that almost everyone travels by airplane or snowmobile was fascinating. To feel the depth of cold and snow. To experience the isolation and loneliness and yet to enjoy the vast beauty of our last frontier state is awesome. I also loved reading about Sweden in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Love that book or hate it, I enjoyed all the little towns and areas that I have visited. To realize that I knew the places mentioned was definitely fun.

To spend time in my imagination that somehow winds up in your imagination when you read my book is definitely magical. Do you hear what I hear...do you see what I see? I surely hope so.


  1. Jan
    I do the same thing. I remember the line from Ira Levin's 'Deathtrap':
    "If in doubt, act it out."
    It works every time, doesn't it?

  2. Great post, Jan! I may have to try this acting thing for myself.

    I love to travel through reading; the beautiful thing about literature is that you can time-travel, as well. As you said, it's magic!

  3. Jan, yes, I love it when an author can transport me to the world they wrote. Sometimes I become a close observer to the action and other times I find myself involved right in the middle of it, emotions and all, yet physically I've never left my chair.

  4. Great post! I've also personally learned, what little I've dabbled in writing, that it definitely IS magical. It's also like that with my songwriting. To create something tangible that comes out of your imagination, that didn't before exist is an incredibly rewarding experience. Being able to send that thing out into the world to live a life of it's own is something I haven't yet experienced but hope to. I can imagine that this would be extremely satisfying (as well as terrifying!). I've heard it said that writing pulls things out of your head that just talking would never uncover. So true.

  5. I've done a little experimenting & acting out myself! And we read fiction to walk around in someone else's shoes---safely!


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>