Characters lurk in your high school yearbook
Sometimes, inspiration sneaks up on you.
Yesterday, I was feeling creatively drained and was avoiding editing the manuscript that is sitting on my desk. Naturally, I wound up on Facebook. This summer, my high school class will hold its 10-year reunion, and someone has created a Facebook page to brainstorm event ideas and keep alums informed.
I went to college halfway across the country from my high school, and I moved to Idaho immediately after that. With very few exceptions, I haven’t seen or talked to my high school classmates since then. I’m not particularly interested in attending the reunion. But, curious, I did start clicking on some of their profiles to see what they’re up to these days.
I was flooded with inspiration.
People who dispense writing advice often suggest that coming up with great ideas is all about asking “what if?” What if a bored little girl followed a well-dressed rabbit into his hole? What if there was a place where children never had to grow up? What if a whole society of wizards lived among us, unnoticed? It’s a useful device. And, as it turns out, it’s great fun to play this game with your former high school classmates.
Flip through the pages of your yearbook (figuratively or, if you happen to have it close by, literally). What if that girl you were always in competition with turned out to be a corrupt CEO? What kind of corporate mind games could you imagine her playing? What if that cute but sort of spacy basketball player who sat in front of you in AP English had turned out to be a famous poet? What if you ran into that girl you were best friends with before you broke her brother’s heart? What if you found out that the guy who wrote “I hope we stay in touch” in your yearbook was now your stalker? What if the awkward math whiz became a millionaire inventor and whisked you off on his private helicopter at the reunion? (OK, that last one was from Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, but still.)
The great thing about the people you went to high school with is that they are like half-formed character sketches, just ripe for your imagined enhancements. You’ve got a part of their back story — now it’s just up to you to fill in the details and imagine where they will go next. I’m not suggesting you populate your writing with thinly veiled references to your former classmates. But your imagined futures for them can be great spring boards to your own complex characters.
I’m already dreaming up a plot about a shy but kind teenager who morphs into a cutthroat politician. How about you?