As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an editor and a writer. I self-published one of my novels in 2014 (see the “My Book” tab), and I have another that’s in the revision stages and one that I’m currently writing. I think working on both sides of the editorial fence—writing and editing—enables me to really relate to a writer’s struggles and help them bring their work up to the level they envisioned when they began writing it. I also think it helps me offer tips, which is what I want to do with this post. (Stay with me–the following story sets up the writing tip.)
I’m not the world’s best breakfast-eater. I know it’s important to eat a healthy breakfast, but I don’t always, and when I do, I don’t always eat what I should.
Today, I was hungry after my three cups of coffee (we can talk about coffee later), but I didn’t feel like eggs, which is my usual go-to when I want breakfast. Instead, I snagged a banana from the counter.
Which made me think of my dad.
My dad died in 2012, and although I still think about him almost every day, and I still miss being able to see him and chat with him, enough time has passed that the tears that used to come so easily when I thought about him don’t usually make an appearance. Today, they did.
As I contemplated whether or not to have eggs and decided on only the banana, I thought about Dad. My dad was a farmer, a man who spent a lot of time (read: every waking moment possible) outside. He was a hard worker, a man who liked getting his hands dirty and getting something done. This work ethic required breakfast.
Dad had scrambled eggs just about every morning of his life, usually accompanied by a bowl of cereal and/or some fruit—usually a banana, which he often ate like cereal, covered in milk. So knowing this, it’s likely not hard for you to see why Dad came to my mind this morning.
The difference was, for some reason today, thinking about Dad and breakfast, I got teary-eyed. The hole that he left in my heart when he passed away felt a little more jagged than it has recently, the loss a little more acute. I didn’t cry for long, and I didn’t cry hard, but I did cry. That little moment from my day—my decision about breakfast—brought Dad close to me and made me miss him more than I have in a while.
I’m sharing this story with you because this is the kind of realistic little scene a writer could include in a story that would say so much about the character and that would be so relatable for the reader. (I bet that as you read about my dad’s breakfast habits and my connection to him, some of you connected that to someone in your own life. As a writer, that’s what we want—connections.)
When you go about your daily activities, take a minute to notice the moments like these that happen and make a note of them. Use them to bring life to your writing.
Something else to consider is this: You could use this moment to tell the reader something very different. You could have your character’s memory jogged by something ordinary, like my breakfast decision, but instead of it conjuring a poignant, loving memory, it could trigger something unpleasant or horrible—maybe your character never got breakfast as a child and always went to school hungry. Maybe your character remembers someone from their past they had blocked, and that recall puts a whole chain of events in motion.
My point is, as writers, we have to pay attention to the little things that really aren’t so little, when you take a closer look at them and think about how deeply they (can) affect us.
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