As I listened to the conversation, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. A young woman was talking to an older woman. "I just can't do it," the younger woman said. "No matter how much you explain, I will never understand."

Her frustration was obvious, but I had trouble hearing them over the noise of the buses that would stop along the river. The stream of people getting off the buses walked by and blocked the sound of their conversation. Only when the lights turned red would it be quiet enough for me to hear what they were saying.

"--and love them and know them and see things through their eyes."

"But how exactly?"

I began to imagine that perhaps she was teaching the young girl how to tell fortunes or read people's minds. Perhaps they were from Salem. The thought made me chuckle.

"You have to observe and empathize with them. There are tricks you can use to help your imagination along."

"Yes, I have heard you say that, but what does it mean?"

"You have to remember what your characters want and how they feel, but also remember how they speak to each other."

"But what does all that have to do with plot and making scenes that matter?"

"Well, you want to be able to people-watch. For example, that man over there--"

I saw them turn in my direction and I quickly propped up my news paper to hide my face.

"Look at him and what he is doing and try to imagine a fictional life that goes with him."

"But readers don't want to read fluff about a person's ticks and mannerisms, they want action and plot."

"Yes, those things are important too, but you want the reader to be able to see the characters in their mind as they are reading."

"But I can't force the reader's imagination. At some point, the read has to make the picture in their heads and figure it out for themselves, right? I can write about my characters walking down the street, but they don't want to read about every crack in the side walk. That's just boring."

I peeked around my newspaper to see if it was safe. They seemed to be talking about writing. Such an odd thing to be talking about at the bus stop. But I suppose when it is this cold outside, there really isn't much else to do.

"You want to be able to see your characters everywhere and any time--"

Another bus pulled up to let people off. The noise of the engine and the people bustling about cut off my morning entertainment. I watched the people getting off the bus and noticed how all the people looked different. I began to wonder where they all came from and, what kinds of lives they lived.

"– and their voice is unique to them. It colors the way they look at the world."

"But what is the trick? Is there a standard form I can fill out that helps me build these characters?"

It seemed a straightforward enough question. I found myself wanting to know the answer as much as she did.

"It all depends on what you are writing about."

The frustration she exhibited at that moment was priceless. I couldn't help but chuckle a little. I saw them stand up and walk to the edge of the street. The 225 bus pulled up and they got on. It was the bus to the University. Of course! It all made sense now. After their bus pulled away, I tried reading the newspaper, but it was no use. I put my paper down and watched the people walk by. It was as if, all of a sudden, their secret lives were revealed to me. Each person had their own story to tell. Two new people came and sat on the bench where the two women had sat. They began talking and I listened. I listened and watched.

Copyright © 2016 James Barrett. All rights reserved.


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