People ask where I get the ideas I write about. My stock answer is, out of thin air, like all the other writers. Which isn’t quite true—ideas come from everywhere, things people say, newspaper and magazine articles, dreams (both night and day dreams). They say the writer should write what he knows and I agree with that, but then, with a computer at hand, there isn’t much you can’t find out about. So, if you’re willing to spend the time required to research a subject thoroughly, you can write about anything.
However; I’ve found the most important part of crafting a good story is how well you know the characters—what makes them tic. I’m a people person. My hobby is people watching. I’ve got to be careful who and how I announce that—some one could get the impression I’m a peeping tom or a voyeur. I guess I am a voyeur in a sense, in that I enjoy watching people—I always have. For that matter, I think most, or a great many writers are voyeurs. But it’s not just about watching, it’s about doing to—experiencing, meeting, living, feeling. And that causes me to wonder about the kids coming up today, the future writers—the ones born into the age of computerization, 24 hour a day entertainment, instant news, the world and everyone in it at their fingertips.
I was born into an age without Television—a time when there wasn’t 24 hour a day entertainment a click away. There weren’t any computers, I pods, cell phones nor smart phones—we passed notes when I was in school, there was no such thing as texting. It was a simpler world then. There weren’t any computer games. We read comic books, went to the Saturday matinee, my heroes were the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. I swung through the jungle with Tarzan the ape man, soared through space with Flash Gordon, battling the evil Ming and his minions and hung out with the Little Rascals and the Bowery Boys.
We did have radios back then—I’m not that old. But it was in no way like now days with TV 24-7, not to mention computer games, face book, and instant messaging around the world—all without leaving the confines of your abode. Some people bank from home, shop from home, work from home, the groceries are delivered in, they visit their friends via Face Book or face to face via Skype… I’m surprised they ever make human contact with anyone except the immediate family! It’s like they live life vicariously!
But back when I was starting out things were different. We weren’t entertainment starved. Everyone in the family had their favorite radio shows, there was Gabriel Heater, “And there’s good news tonight”, The Great Gildersleeve, Fibber McGee and Molly and the Life of Riley. I liked Henry Aldrich, Edger Bergen and Charlie McCarthy—I would sneak out of bed to listen to The Creaking Door. And we had a telephone, although you couldn’t take it with you and you had to ask the operator to dial for you. And as for not leaving the house, my mother, like all the other mothers I was acquainted with, kicked my butt out the door after breakfast and wanted to know why I came back into the house before lunch, if I did. You only stayed indoors if you were sick, the rest of the time we were out doing things with the rest of the kids who were sent out to play. Most of the time we made up our own games, cowboys and Indians was a favorite, or war. Sometimes we were pirates, other times we were spacemen fighting aliens—I’ve transformed many a stick into a six shooter or a ray gun, a bow and arrow, sometimes a sword. The point I’m making is, I actually lived the make believe adventure—acted out the parts. I didn’t just punch the buttons that controlled pictures on a computer monitor. For a few moments in time I was a pirate, I was Tarzan swinging through the jungle, even if the vine was a rope tied to a limb of a tree in our yard. I was inventing characters way back then.
As a writer, I cherish every experience I’ve ever had—the good and the bad, the great times and the hurtful moments. They taught me what life is about, how it feels to be ecstatic, how it feels to have your heart broken, the joy of succeeding, winning, and the agony of defeat. All the tools a writer needs to craft the believable characters needed to weave a good yarn—a story worth writing down, to be told again and again.
I guess the most important part of what I’ve said, the part every young writer needs to know, is, “Get out there and live. Experience the life all around you. You can’t do it from your easy chair in front of the T.V. or on your computer. You’ve got to get your nose bloodied and your knees and elbows skinned, to really say you’ve been there.