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A Writer's Life


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pee on the seat




I just got back from a trip to New York City with my daughter. We saw four Broadway shows in three days, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to do much else. We did, however, find time to swing by Saks Fifth Avenue.

Two important takeaways from that adventure.

First, expensive shoes aren’t always pretty. Second, expensively-dressed people aren’t always sophisticated.

If you’ve ever wondered where writers get their ideas, read on.



I’d love to tell you that we went to Saks for the latest Alexander McQueen designs, but the truth is that we were there for the public washrooms. Oh sure, we were curious to see what the famous Saks Fifth Avenue is all about, but most of the stuff there is out of my price range. ($5,000 for a purse?!) We did visit the cafe and the cosmetics counter, but really, we were there for the bathrooms.

Let me pause here to explain a little bit about the craft of storytelling. As an editor, I often talk to struggling writers whose characters have fallen flat. They’ve given a lot of thought to what their character looks like, how she dresses, what she eats for breakfast and so on, because that’s what they’ve been taught to do.

However, the way to develop a character is to reveal who she is through her actions. For example, we know Ebenezer Scrooge is mean and cold-hearted because of the way he treats those around him.

This principle is true in stories because it’s true in life. As a result, writers are always observing the people around them, looking for those small behaviours that reveal character.

Back to Saks…



There we were, in the 8th floor loo—just me, my daughter and several extremely well-dressed women. They dripped money and gave the appearance of women who had household staff. One in particular, was done up like the Queen of Sheba; hair coiffed, manicure to die for, makeup applied just so, and diamonds everywhere.

It was her stall I went into.

Imagine my surprise to discover that she’d peed all over the toilet seat and hadn’t bothered to wipe it up.

This is the kind of behaviour that reveals character.

This is the stuff writers live for.



Valerie Francis

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