GRIST FOR THE MILL

Did you know that a land tortoise’s speed is one mile per four days?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. “So what?” you say. This the kind of trivia you will find in the mind of a writer. Lots of people will ask a writer where do you get your ideas, but few wonder about how writers create the worlds they write. That’s because authors are all pack rats when it comes to information.

When we build characters, we do more than just height and weight and eye color. Is the hero a Republican? Did the villain love Milk Duds as a kid? Does the plucky sidekick hide a secret fear of balloons? All of this things add to the character.  But more than that, you never know what unusual or unknown fact will contribute to directly to the story.

In one of MADSELIN by Norah Lofts, the heroine uses her beauty to manipulate the men in her life. Not in a bad way, but it’s something she learned as a child and it’s part of her character. But the hero is color-blind; he can’t see the deep color of her eyes or the rich hue of her hair. So the tools she uses to manipulate men are blunted with him and she is on a more even playing field with him.

In my book WARRIOR’S HEART, I had my heroine inherit a broken down ranch. She doesn’t know anything about ranching, but she does know something about the high-end market of gourmet foods. Therefore, she decides to raise ostriches. But she comes in just as the market for ostrich meat is closing. Luckily, the hero talks her into accepting a herd of buffalo, just as the market for that was opening. How did I know that? Just something I read in the paper.

Many’s the time when I’ve been writing along and wham! Some piece of trivia that’s been floating around in my head shows up, surprising me but filling so well where I put it. So the next time you hear or read or see something that amazes you or tickles your fancy or otherwise makes you stick pin it on the corkboard in your head. Be grateful. It’s all grist for the mill.

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