It was hot, and it was bright, and I don’t do well with either of those things. I was striving for mindfulness, for a calm centre in a hot, bright pandemonium.
Half the city seems to be a building site at the moment. Fenced-off rubble, cranes, machines, scaffolding up half the buildings on Queen Street. I can’t imagine what the tourists think. There are always plenty of back-packers running around. It’s cruise-ship season, so there were more than usual, spilling out of all those souvenir shops near the wharf.
So it was hot, and it was bright, and it was crowded, and my senses were flooded. But instead of turning inwards and floating along in my own world – as is my wont – I started looking at everyone I passed, and actually paying attention. Everyone was so different. Size, shape, hair, clothes, all presenting themselves according to their feeling that day, or to their purpose. I often tune out the fact that I’m surrounded by so many people – that they aren’t just extras with no name, no personality or thoughts or background, or NPCs with the same cookie-cutter expressions. When one stops and really looks, one remembers they’re the stars of their own stories.
It’s a hard thing to be constantly aware of every figure as a soul and an individual. Doing so is an interesting exercise, in writing as well as in meatspace. Those background characters – baristas, beggars, people that pass on the street – what are their stories? Does it matter? Do we care? I won’t say “we should”, but it’s a worthwhile exercise, to turn away from the main character and pick out a person at the bar. Watch them. Follow them home. Maybe their path will cross the MC’s again in the future, and their role will grow. Maybe they’ll disappear into the night, only to re-emerge with a story all their own.
Have you ever done that in real life? Sometimes I’ll see someone and they’ll catch my imagination; somehow, there’s something about them that evokes a frisson in me. Often they will be outwardly uninteresting, but there will be a shine in their eye, or a line on their face, and nothing will do but to puzzle over who they are and where they’ve been, and what they’re going home to. There’s a peculiar charm to that… you imbue this person with all this vitality and wonder, and you may be completely wrong. This person will step out of your life and you’ll likely never see them again.
I’m so often in my own little world, following characters around in my head, but sometimes people are too brilliant, too singular, and they stick in your mind, and you write them down – the fall of hair, the quirk of a smile, the tattoo on their arm – so that one day, you can write a story for them. Write it down, do it at once; in a notebook, an app, a scrap of paper, your forearm. That man carrying flowers – who are they for, and why? That person idling outside the door of the bar with a cigarette; their movements, their mannerisms. One evening, out the bus window, I saw a group of Asian men all dressed as Charlie Chaplin. I’m not sure I could put that in a story. It’s too odd.
The rest? I keep these people in my mind and on my pages. Their time will come. I will find their story-homes one day.