I wrote this post following a big ol’ gathering of extended family at my house this weekend. I have an aunt visiting from out of state who is always good at getting us all together even when our busy lives seem to keep us from doing otherwise. We had brothers, sisters, parents, kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins (plus my little over-stimulated dog) filling up our house for a very pleasant summer afternoon. Since this is Texas and it was a large family gathering, there was a big buffet of food, a whole lot of sweet iced tea, a mess of noisy kids running and playing everywhere, quite a few loud bursts of laughter and then, of course, lots and lots of stories.
You know the stories I am talking about, the ones that start with “Remember when…” and end with smiles and nods and laughs, then inevitably lead to another story which adds on to the previous one. Even the normally quiet ones in the group can’t resist chiming in with a “Remember that old place in such and such a town”, which some will remember with an “Oh yeah, I do” and others might not remember as clearly. Some stories are new, tales of recent adventures or something never shared, but for the most part there’s a lot of shared memories brought back up amid laughter and occasionally some tears.
As a writer, I love listening to all the little details, not just to learn more about a history within my family I might not know about, but also because I can always tuck it away for a potential story idea later.
One story this weekend talked about an old ice house in the town they grew up in where some family members would go to get blocks of ice. Blocks of ice? Not nice bags of crushed ice from the local convenience store? Well, I’ll tell ya, that that’s about as foreign to me as having to get up off the couch to go change the TV station without a remote control would seem to my young kids. Whose to say that doesn’t somehow work its way into a story of mine someday?
Quite a lot of those “Remember when” stories are just chock full of potential details for a scene or interesting character development possibilities. The grandmother who sold war bonds could work her way into a story or the great grandfather who was such an imposing figure could be the basis for supporting character in my novel.
But even beyond the possible story ideas, the idea of exploring a character’s own possible collection of stories as a way to develop some depth to the definition of a character seems intriguing to me also. What would my lead character talk about at a family gathering? Would her stories be ones she would share and laugh over, or would her family be one that never spoke of their stories for being too painful. Does my character have core stories that help establish who she is and where she comes from? Probably very little of those stories would make it into the novel but knowing that about her might help make a weaker character a little stronger.
Do you have a lot of ‘Remember when’ stories in your family, too? Do you use them for your writing? Or do you find yourself rolling your eyes or dozing off as you hear the one about that time in the place with the people for the zillionth time? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Thanks for stopping in and have a great week! 🙂