Helga’s Post #116: The gauntlet, ah, that gauntlet… It wakes me up at 3 in the morning and keeps me thinking about my plot for the 5/5/5 novel writing challenge. Snippets of brilliant scenes for my new book take shape in total darkness. I commit them to memory so I can write them out at the crack of dawn.
Back to sleep for a bit. Morning arrives. I sit down at my Mac with my first Nespresso and open a new page on Word. I am ready to start writing, recalling those clever 3 AM images and ideas.
But wait, nothing emerges. How can it be? All these ideas made so much sense during the night and I visualized them clearly. Where are they now? Why do they hide from me?
I am sure this is not only my debacle. What’s more, I am finding that it happens during the day too, when I witness some sort of event or observe an interesting person or scene. What helps is to just point and click with my iPhone, or at least write a note to myself if it’s too obvious to take a snapshot. That way my memory can’t play tricks on me later.
We writers are always on the lookout for unusual images. With our senses constantly on alert, not much escapes us that could be worth including in our stories. Often it’s a small detail that triggers an idea for a scene. Take this for instance:
I was walking out of Walmart (one of my least favorite stores, though it’s convenient), behind a couple of forty-somethings. He, wearing Bermuda shorts, caught my attention. His hefty calves sported prominent tattoos, in heavy, black ink. The left calf showed two large numerals, ‘14’, the left one the number ‘88’. I had never seen this before. Curious, I googled it once I got home.
I had no idea that these numerals are hate symbols.
One website, ‘Hate on Display’, shed light on the mystery. They have an extensive hate symbols database and define ‘14’ and ‘88’ as follows:
“14 is numerical shorthand for the white supremacist slogan known as the “14 Words”: ‘We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.’ The numeric symbol 14 is used even in those countries where the translated version of the slogan comes to fewer or greater than 14 actual words. Because of its symbolic significance, white supremacist groups use the number widely, either by itself or in conjunction with other numeric symbols, especially 88 (which stands for “Heil Hitler”. ‘H is the 8th letter in the alphabet. A variation is the number 18 for Adolf Hitler, with A being the first letter in the alphabet). Thus white supremacists may incorporate the number 14 into the names of groups or publications, into screen names or e-mail addresses, or virtually anywhere else.”
Bingo. I just discovered what might become an interesting character in my novel. An insignificant one to be sure, but he could show up at the right time and add a useful detail to a scene. It would be perfect to ‘show’ that character rather than telling my readers what an abomination this guy is. As well, the fact that supremacist groups use the number 14 as code to identify themselves to likeminded haters virtually anywhere, could make for a timely and fascinating plot about that most repulsive underbelly of human nature and society.
So fear not, fellow writers, if your brilliant 3 AM ideas evaporate at dawn. There’s plenty to observe during your day that can be mined for your novel. All you need to do is keep your eyes wide open and senses on high alert. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll find.
I for one will have my eyes even wider open in about a week from now. That’s when I am leaving for Vienna, my hometown, for three weeks. It’s no coincidence that Sigmund Freud opened shop in that city. Beautiful, neurotic and with more contradictions than any other city I have visited. So stay tuned for progress reports, though I can’t promise blog posts while I am there. You see, Vienna has sort of not quite kept pace with many other places. They do have some of the best musical performances in the world, yet the Internet still spooks them in many circles. It means I have to take the metro and bus to get to a Starbucks in the city center if I want Wi-Fi.
But I am sure to notice some eclectic, novel-worthy characters on the way.
5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:
New pages written: 0 (that’s all?)
Characters created: 5
Outline written: A partial (doesn’t count. See quote below)
Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. ~E. L. Doctorow