The ladies’ locker room might not be the first place you think of when looking for inspiration for your writing. In fact, it might be the last place. But it is important to keep your eyes and ears open wherever you go, because you just don’t know where you’ll find that magic combination of character and plot that will fill out your story and make it great.
Yesterday, after I ran on the treadmill at the local YMCA, I walked into the locker room to change. Right away I noticed a girl there who didn’t quite fit in with the usual crowd. She had on a long sleeved blouse and skirt. Her hair was braided and wrapped around her head in a complicated halo that reminded me of the way old Europeans used to wear their hair. I had an elderly neighbor growing up, Mrs. Demeduk, who had flowing white hair that she always braided in the same style. I was thinking about Mrs. Demeduk, and admiring the girl’s crown of braids, when she slipped out of her clothes. I could not have been more surprised. Underneath her conservative blouse and skirt she wore a black string bikini and had a tattoo of a dragon climbing up her back. The tail of that dragon was located somewhere under her bikini, and its fire breathing snout hit just above her waist.
I am fairly certain Mrs. Demeduk never wore a string bikini or had a dragon tattoo, but can we ever be completely sure of anything? It is when our characters surprise us with their inconsistencies that things really get interesting. Look around you. Be nosy. Ask questions. When you are in line at the post office, try to imagine what the other people are sending and why. If you are sitting at the airport waiting for a flight, use that time to people watch. Is the man sitting next to you really a salesman, or is he an international spy?
This kind of activity can get you into trouble sometimes. I once almost had my husband convinced we were living next door to a ring of tobacco smugglers in rural Kentucky. I was wrong. But when I suspected the rice cracker company I worked for was a front for the Japanese mob, it turned out I was right. That experience is definitely a topic for another day, but the point is, pay attention. You might be wrong, or you might be right, but either way you need to do it.
Writers are observers of human nature. Good writers can take these observations and use them to create great characters. Find your girl with the dragon tattoo. Notice the humor in the most ordinary, mundane things. Look around you and really see what is going on. Discover the secrets of your characters and know what is hidden under their clothing. There is magic in everyday things, and it is up to you to find it.