Ever have one of those moments when you come up with something really original, figure you better check up on a few facts, and then learn that your originality isn’t so original after all?
Yeah. Who hasn’t been there, right? My mom has occasionally said something like, “They ought to invent such-and-such a thing . . .” and my dad points to a shelf and says, “Like that?”
We writers run into this fairly often. But I had an interesting example when I started my latest work-in-progress. I found an actual, real life analogue. One famous enough that I had to wonder if I already knew it, though I didn’t think I did.
See, I thought it would be fun to write about a mother/daughter team who writes an advice column. I figured that first I ought to, you know, actually read an advice column, lol. So I logged onto “Dear Abby.” Read the bio. And what did I learn?
Abigail Van Buren was for many years a mother/daughter advice team.
Not that I let this stop me, of course. I just let my characters observe that it worked for the “Dear Abby” folk. =) I read through a mountain of these lauded columns to get a feel for the advice industry, tweaked my premise slightly to better reflect how it works and what I wanted them to do with, and got down to business.
One of the biggies in my WIP is that my main character’s kinda young to be giving advice. Writing something with an issue like that forces me to really look around. To think about whose advice I take, whose I don’t. Does it have to do with age? Experience?
Not necessarily. I think some people are just born knowing how to advise. Seriously. I have friends whose advice I take above others, even when those others should know what they’re talking about. And as I wrote out a scene dealing with this yesterday, something struck me about the “why” of that.
Good advice, I think, isn’t a matter of telling someone what you would do. They’re not you. It’s a matter of taking you out of the equation and actually looking at their circumstances, their life. I mean, let’s face it. When someone quickly replies to my question with, “Well, I would do this,” I often think, Good for you. I wouldn’t. I don’t generally want an “I would.” I want a “You should.”
But it’s interesting–most of us simply can’t empathize that fully. Which is good for my characters, because it sets her apart;-)
This is on my mind today because I’m this close to finishing this manuscript. Always an exciting time. I should hammer it home this week (yay!), and then I’ll be concentrating on polishing up everything I want to take to the ACFW conference in September. Time’s a tickin’!
(And speaking of advice, I just got some this weekend. After cutting my finger on a really wicked blender blade, my mother said, “Why don’t you clean it out by pouring soap and hot water in and then turning it on? Then you never have to touch the blade.” To which I replied, “And why didn’t you teach me this a decade ago??” Advice I will definitely take from now on!)