What Traditions Sneak into Your Writing?

Through the rituals of behavior, the rites of celebration, and the continuation of practices handed down from one generation to the next, we collectively transmit what most matters. This occurs on both an individual and collective level.

Tradition is powerful.

Each new generation interprets those experiences; twisting, pulling, and tweaking until they shift and morph into something new. Often wonderful. Sometimes not.

The world is filled with a lovely diversity of thought, action and belief – respecting one another’s traditions becomes complex, complicated by politics and emotion. These are potent elements with which to infuse our writing.

The use of a particular color can predicate a scene, and depending on the meaning associated by the reader, be completely altered. Sometimes with unintentional results. Remember that movie, The Sixth Sense, by M. Night Shyamalan? The color red was used as a visual cue to draw attention to objects (the balloon, the tent, the doorknob) when a ghost was present. 

As readers, we draw on what is familiar. We tote along parcels of knowledge and experience that when we open a book, become a lens reflecting our life as we read. The casual reference to an object, historical person, or event that is unknown to the reader might be missed altogether (think adult references in Disney films), or worse…pull the reader out of the story. I don’t mind pausing to look up an unfamiliar word, or googling a person or place, but some people hate that idea.

Some authors sneak literary cleverness into their work, perhaps not even intentionally. Naming secondary characters after famous people, using red herrings borrowed from notorious novels and authors. One even used variants of the same name for all the bartenders in a series (brilliant nonsense!).

I’ve caught myself weaving singular threads into my novels. Usually unconcsciously. As my volume of material has increased, I’ve discerned certain celebratory traditions. These themes, memes, threads, bread crumbs…call them what you will, are nifty. I enjoy little ritualistic behaviors, repetitive motions, ideas and idiosyncracies that emerge as if I had some grand cosmic plan.

Imagine a little shiver of music right here. If this was a horror story, it’d be something thrilling and if it was a drama, well…it’d be depressing because dramas are all d.o.w.n.h.i.l.l. on the fun factor.

I wish I had a universal plan. Anyway…dub in whatever music works for you.

Certain things appear in my writing, unconcscious but consistent. There’s always a character that smokes Gauloises cigarettes. I don’t remember where I got a pack. Somebody, a boyfriend probably, brought them from France or Belgium. Hands down, they are the worst-tasting cigarettes on the planet (no offense, France), and that includes those pepper-flavored cancer sticks from Germany (thanks Hagar).

I could write about the emergence of the first droopy-eyed turtle, crawling from the primordial ooze to stand and spark up a Gauloises. He’d suck in a lungful of smoke, cough, and ask for directions to the metro. Of course he’d have an accent. C’mon people! It’s magical realism!

Tap a nerve? No worries, it’ll be jello tomorrow. Here, have a smoke.

Another penchant I’ve developed is having characters climb in and out of windows. I don’t know why. It just works in some settings. It has nothing to do with that guy my friend dated who came and went through the living room window instead of the front door.

Shut up, it was the 80s. People did that stuff back then. Oh, and don’t smoke. It’s bad for you.

What tidbits have you discovered roaming through your manuscripts? Which favorite sneaky bits do your preferred authors slip into the narrative? Find any surprises when you went looking?

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  1. #1 by Matthew Wright on December 29, 2011 - 11:41 am

    Great post – it’s amazing what lurks around in our subconscious and emerges into the written page. I wonder sometimes whether it happens accidentally for some authors – and they go with it, exploiting the moment. To me all this adds to the richness of the creativity involved in being a writer, and that’s true of non fiction as well as fiction.

    One confession: I usually sneak a Frank Zappa reference into my deadly serious non-fiction, somewhere along the line…

    Matthew Wright
    http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com
    http://www.matthewwright.net

    • #2 by Leslie on December 29, 2011 - 12:52 pm

      Thanks for visiting, Matthew!

      I think some authors are really good at weaving in tiny details that alert readers discover and note, but sometimes I think there are unconscious tidbits that worm their way inside a story. At times it’s alarming what shows up on the page…which is why it’s a good idea to have editors, internal and otherwise.

      I snickered at your confession because I recall reading something about a grass farm in Montana in one of your posts. I vaguely recalled Zappa in that moment. That’s hilarious that you include them in your non-fiction work. I’ll have to look!

  2. #3 by Alica on December 29, 2011 - 12:29 pm

    My characters are always twisting the hem of their clothes. My editor has turned it into a drinking game and write chug next tto every time I put it in. LOL!

    • #4 by Leslie on December 29, 2011 - 12:55 pm

      That is too funny, Alica! I love that…chug. lol

      Isn’t it weird, the things that reoccur in our writing? I meet with a writing group on a regular basis and there are certain motifs that reappear only there. It must be the company or the ambience.

  3. #5 by Jennifer Tanner on December 30, 2011 - 2:58 pm

    My characters pick up my quirks…food addictions, hobbies and interests I have yet to pursue. They drive old Saabs. Eat lots of takeout. Like old movies and listen to the standards. They can dance. And as you stated, the unconscious tidbits always surprise me.

    Love the new look of you website!

    • #6 by Leslie on December 30, 2011 - 3:07 pm

      Thanks for visiting!

      I’m always skeptical when I hear writers claim they share none of their character’s quirks…something of me always dribbles onto the page. Of course my characters are all smarter, braver, faster and more interesting than I am – but surely something connects them to me. *sniffle* They ALWAYS dance better too. Marmots dance better than me.

      I’m pretty jazzed about the new website. Now if I can just figure out all this stuff behind the scenes at WordPress, even better!

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