My Areas of Interest
I’m in an enjoyable state with my current project. I’m reading early in the mornings, around 6 AM, and I walk to a café down the road that has dog treats and good air conditioning. I like to walk my dog down there first thing before it gets too hot out and then I handwrite for a while, and he sprawls next to me on the cool tile, and we can, for a moment, be out of the house, before the burning hellfire of the New Orleans summer drives us home again.
I haven’t been typing anything up this past week, just doing lots of note-taking, watching a few delicate scenes form before me, just tracings on paper for now. I have three female characters I’ve been thinking about, really getting to know where they came from and where they’re at and eventually I’ll know where they’re going, too. The other day I wrote in my journal: “Why these women, why this book?” Why these women? Why anyone, ever?
I have a list I came up with a few years ago to help me with character development, and I think of it as My Areas of Interest. Some of the things on the list include: family structure, appearance, sexuality. Then I have a list of twenty or so questions after each of these areas which are just supposed to kickstart my brain into thinking about these characters. They could be applied to any character, but also they could totally change for each character. I know a few of you out there are yelling, “They’re writing prompts!” I guess, sure. But that term always makes me feel like I’m forcing my brain to do tricks. So I just like to think of them as questions I would like answers to about the person that I’m writing about and I have no anticipation they will take me anywhere at all except that I’ll have a little more information. I should probably know the answers to the questions, is how I feel. It’s something like: If we’re going to spend all this time together, we should get to know each other first.
Anyway, I haven’t looked at the list in a few years (because I haven’t written fiction in a few years), but I found it this morning, and these were some of my questions under the area of food:
Do they love food or do they hate food? Do they cook or do they order in? Are they meal planners? Is their fridge empty or full? What is their favorite food? What is their favorite restaurant and is it in another city? Do they cut their food into tiny pieces? Do they swallow without chewing? Do they stop to contemplate the flavor? Are they pretentious about eating? Do they glance at a menu and order the first thing they see? Can they tell you the calories of every dish on the menu? Do they send the food back? Do they have food allergies? Do they think they have food allergies but they actually don’t? Vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or do they eat everything? Do they say things like “I eat everything” and it’s a source of pride for them? Do they cut the crusts off their bread? Do they eat the rinds of cheese? Do they use cooking spray or olive oil or butter? Do they eat their children’s cereal absentmindedly at breakfast? Are they cheese snobs? Are they daytime snackers? Are they late night eaters? Did they grow up hungry? Are they hungry now?
Just some questions to start my day. Do you have your own questions? How do you get to know your characters better? How do you get to know people better? Are you hungry now?
In other news: I’ve decided to do a miniature version of #1000wordsofsummer, called the Mini 1000. I decided to do it because it’s so damn hot here in New Orleans, and I’m trapped inside for the next few months, and these kinds of projects are a good way to pass the time. And I need to get more work done on my new book in part because soon enough I won’t have any time to work on it for a while, but also in part to get me further away from the last book—emotionally, I mean, because it’s just time to move on already after working on it for so long.
And I think also, if I am being honest here, when I do the full #1000wordsofsummer it is often about managing the project and supporting other people and less about getting a solid version of my own work done, which is fine, this is what I’ve signed up for, but doing these smaller versions of it tends to make it more manageable, and it becomes closer to a true accountability project for me, rather than a large scale community art project. Which is to say: This time, I get to do it just for me.
So anyway, every morning, there will be the briefest of letters, just a little poke to remind you. Also I will be on twitter at various points throughout the day chatting on the hashtag. It will last six days, from August 8-13, and I have created a separate substack for it so that those of you who are more interested in receiving just the weekly letters will not get inundated for a week with me saying, “Ready, get set, go!” every morning. It is free, but I will figure out a fundraiser if you feel like donating something, or you can pre-order my book if the mood strikes you, or really truly, you can just hang out and write. This is very low pressure, just for the nerds who want to play along at home, and you can sign up for it right here: Mini 1000.
Hope you have a beautiful week.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to support New Orleans Women & Children’s Shelter.