Friday, March 19, 2010

GUEST POST: My Study of Characters

Harley May is a YA author who's hard at work on an urban dystopian fantasy. She is the writer of several short stories, a member of SCBWI, and the purveyor of all things sarcasm. Visit her blog at

First I’d like to thank the Alliterati for having me on their blog. They’re too kind to host me on their maiden Friday Guest Spot. My name is Harley May and I’m a wife, mother, and writer. These three roles keep me rather busy, but when I find a moment for myself, there’s nothing I enjoy more than stealing away and people watching. I love people. I love expressions. Expressions of joy, heartbreak, angst, fear, anger, and peace.

As a child, I wanted to know characters. Where did they come from? What made them laugh? What did they want? When the unsuspecting character studies interacted with one another, I soaked up every tender word, tense glance, unspoken look, quiet laugh, and I wondered what their lives were like.

For me, nothing is more revealing than dialogue. Writing dialogue is difficult. I’ve talked to myself in the mirror, pulled my husband in to play (I’ve stopped that method. He ends up doing/saying something inappropriate and distracts me from the task at hand), but find that simply listening to dialogue is the best way to write it.

One of my favorite places to people watch is Target. On one people-watching excursion, the tables were turned on me. I was pregnant with my third child, in my fourth trimester, and ridiculously uncomfortable. 

I heard a loud voice behind me. “GEEZE! You’re huge. I don’t think you should be walking around.” (He really said that)

“Yup, I’m big.” I turned my back to him and hoped that would be the end of the conversation.

“Do you know what you’re having?”

“A boy,” I answered as politely as I could manage.

 “How many do you have in there?” (He really asked that)

“Just one.” Hopefully, with minimal eye contact, he’d get the idea and leave me alone. I began to walk away. Some might call it waddling.

“Can I touch your belly?”

At this point, I turned to look at him. The middle-aged man with crinkly eyes, shaggy salt and pepper hair, and faded jean jacket just insulted my size. He now asked to fondle my unborn child? This made no sense.

“I’d prefer not. Thanks, though.” I smiled and “ran” to the check out line. When I got there, guess who sidled up behind me? Yes, it was our friend. I handed the cashier my things.

“This lady here is about to pop.” (Yes, he said that to the cashier) I wanted him to die a slow and horrible death.

She smiled sympathetically. “When are you due?”

“Any day now.” This was probably the thousandth time I answered that question.

Our friend interrupted again. “We’re going to see this lady on Oprah.”

I kept my eyes on the total but the cashier bit. “Why is that?”

“She’ll go into the hospital for one baby and come out with three.” (I know)

My eyes welled with tears as I punched in my pin number. My already fragile feelings were wounded. I was hot, fat, and wanted this baby out. I saw the man’s smile in my peripheral and felt the cashier’s stare. I could sense her imploring him with her eyes. I took my receipt and left.

This was not a happy trip to Target, but an educational one in the area of character study. Who was this man? What kind of society taught him it was acceptable to berate a very pregnant woman? Did he think himself funny? Did he think I enjoyed being teased? While I didn’t enjoy the experience, it made me think. I went home and cried. I couldn’t shake him. His persistence. His gall. His comfort to make fun of a complete stranger. Why was he like that? I didn’t know. I never would, but I could create a reason. His past slowly formed in my mind and I wrote it down. I imagined the first time he fell in love. Their first kiss and his heart break when she left. His eccentricities drove her away, of course. He smoked too much and laughed at inappropriate times. Like when her mother died.

We’re all fiercely different characters with varying upbringings, regrets, and hopes. I love this about humanity. I love how we fight, make up, and keep going. Those that can’t play nicely break my heart. Their stories are the most interesting and oddly endearing. So if you offend me, make me cry, or hurt my feelings, I’ll get over it. We all go dark places and I’m forgiving. But I’d be careful; you might end up on somebody’s blog.   


Jemi Fraser said...

He deserves worse than ending up on a blog!! Evil, evil man.

There must be something about pregnant women that makes people feel comfortable. I had so many strangers speak to me and just reach out and touch me (without asking) when I was pregnant. Bizarre.

Harley May said...

Thank you, Jemi. I've made peace with the experience and killed him off him my story.

Penelope said...

I cannot believe he treated you like that!! And in the fourth trimester?! I think you're a better woman than I am. I would've gotten ticked and made a scene, probably.

Glad you got to kill him off.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Ugh. That man was just awful. Society should know that it's never OK to say anything about the size of a pregnant woman's belly. That's just wrong!

Thanks for being our first guest poster!

L. T. Host said...

My goodness! I wanted to reach through your entry and punch that dude for you!

Ugh. People can be so ridiculous sometimes!

I totally agree, you are a better woman than I. I would have probably lost it and flipped out on him.

Thanks for being our first guest Harley!

Joshua McCune said...

Harley, that's an awful story, but he's definitely one of those character-types (ultra-tool) that ends up in books (and hopefully get his comeuppance, though I guess perhaps he already has, being alone and headed toward an iron lung)... Great post about learning from the crazies... thanks for sharing.

Harley May said...

Penelope, thanks for reading!

Stephanie, yes, societal norms allude many. I'm sure he'll figure it out. :)

LT, thank you for having me!

Mr. Bane, also, thanks for having me. I had a lot of fun writing about it. Again.

And for the record, people, I was HUGE.

Elisabeth Black said...

I confess I love this story. So much to work with. I think you're right about bad guys having more interesting stories.

Elisabeth Black said...

Which is of course not to say I'm glad he treated you that way. But you knew that.

Sean Ferrell said...

This is brilliant. Well done.

Harley May said...

Thank you, Elisabeth and Sean.

Elisabeth, I am completely with you. Give me the jilted, jaded jerks anyday. Their stories are beautiful and riveting. I want to know why they're like that. Thanks again.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

I really enjoyed reading this, thank you. Although it upset me to read about that man! UGH! I so would have punched him in the mouth and gotten dragged out by security. What a jerk. Dialogue can mean everything in our work. Good thing you're on top of it!