What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

10 November 2010

Thank You, Mostly-Forgotten Classmate

Jen at Unedited asked an interesting question a few weeks ago: "How do you label the bully in your middle grade/high school years? Who were you in high school? ... Do you use someone you remember as a guide for your stories?"

A question worth answering, methinks. Or, rather, three questions worth answering. And, I guess this is as good a way as any to find out if anyone I went to high school with is reading my blog. ;)

The first two questions are intertwined. I'm not certain that I was ever bullied, even under the broadest modern-day definitions, but I was definitely one of the picked-on kids in elementary & middle school. As a result, by the time I was in high school, I was a confirmed loner and had developed a tendency to be a preemptive jerk; I would be rude to people before they had a chance to humiliate me. Thus, I had a hard time making friends, since I had never really learned how to do it (truth be told, I'm still not sure). Sooner or later, I couldn't deal with people being nice to me and would be a jerk to them. Not in a bullying way, just in a "I don't really want to do this friendship thing anymore" way-- I ended up doing more harm to myself than to anyone else.

It's not like I left a trail of enemies behind; I was mostly invisible when people weren't picking on me, and I remained so after they lost interest and I couldn't be bothered to be kind to anyone else. Now that I'm thinking about it, though, I feel like I should apologise to a few people at the next class reunion. Being picked on really isn't a good excuse for being rude to people.

By my senior year, I had come round to the idea of having friends, although you might say it was a bit late in the day for that, so I don't really have any of the close high school friends that most people have (I am really grateful for the pals who remember me enough for us to be FB friends; they've blessed my FB experience, certainly). Enough people knew who I was to vote for me as "Shyest" in the senior class poll (I have the yearbook to prove it!), but I don't know that the class of '96 was ever more wrong than they were that day.

Enough about teenaged Su: Does writer Su use any of them in my stories? Well, not exactly. There's a quality of someone I know in all of my characters; they can't all be me, after all. But to base a character that closely on someone I know is uncreative, and would probably be ill-advised by legal consul. Plus, I don't have a good enough memory to create a character based on someone who picked on me in school (fortunately, my memory is good enough for me to know which ones not to friend on FB).

However. There is one high school classmate who I don't even remember meeting before our junior year, but those last two years we had about half of our classes in common. I knew his name, he knew mine, and we usually said hello to each other, which is what caught my attention; people who had known me most of my life usually didn't bother saying hello to me (or me to them). All I remember about him now is his first name (I've forgotten his surname), and that he is pretty darn smart.

And I also remember what he looked like when he was 17, because I lifted his name and his appearance for a character in the book I was writing at the time; he seemed a good surface fit for one of my secondary characters, so I changed the character just a little bit to write in this classmate I barely knew. Someday when I become a bestselling author, I may track him down and send him a signed copy. He may not be flattered, though-- the character based on him isn't my favourite. Unlike his real-life counterpart, the character is a bit of a jerk.

And that habit-- taking a piece of an acquaintance and building a character around that bit-- has stuck with me. Real people, as it turns out, are very good prompts for making a fictional person "real".


Denise Covey said...

How angst-ridden the teenage years can be, and so much worse today than in my time -I see it from both sides being a High School teacher. So many sad stories. I want to write a YA novel with bullying as my theme. I'm collecting ideas now..:)

Thanks for the post..:)

Su said...

Oh, yeah, I would never be a teen again. And I'm not sure that I want to teach teens, either: I'm not good at coping with angst! But I bet you get some great stuff for writing YA books by spending so much time around teens.

Adina West said...

Hindsight is a valuable lens for viewing that whole time and putting it in perspective I find. I think the majority of teenaged kids are fairly insecure, and would remember at least part of their high school experience negatively - even if they were one of the ones the rest of us thought of as popular and well-liked.

I was recently mortified to discover that a guy I went to school with had quite negative memories of the way I treated him, as apparently I teased him etc. I know for a fact that I probably kind of liked this guy at the time, and what he construed (negatively) as teasing and picking on him was actually my gauche way of interacting. I think lots of guys were guilty of this too; liking a girl and not knowing how to express it, so instead making their life a misery with negative attention.

Definitely food for thought!

On the character inspiration front; I can't say I usually base characters on real people, but certainly our creative choices are informed by our life experiences so bits and pieces from here and there are always bound to sneak in.

Su said...

Oh, yeah, I definitely teased the guys I like. But I don't think any of the guys teasing me were doing it from affection. :/

This has sparked an amusing conversation on FB with a couple of friends from high school-- we all agree that we were miserable (at least part of the time)! Too bad we don't get this wisdom until after it could have been useful.