Saturday, March 27, 2010

Epiphanies in the Air: Flying, Fartage, and Phobias

I hate flying.

Well, it's not really the flying I hate so much as the not being able to get off the airplane if--and precisely when--I want to. So it's really more like claustrophobia than...um, plane-ophobia?

Maybe if I could wear a parachute, and be assured the flight attendant would open the door for me if I wanted off, maybe then I'd like it better.

Nah, that wouldn't work. There's that whole being terrified of jumping out of planes from thirty thousand feet up to consider.

*sigh*

So, what I do is...live with it. The rare occasions when I must fly, I suck it up (along with a martini or two) and deal. It's worked for me so far. Sure, I get a few looks on morning flights, but that's a small price to pay for avoiding a major panic attack.

What I can't seem to avoid on planes is the person who is operating under some sort of divine imperative to Tell Me His Life Story. (And by "his" I mean, for the most part, "her," but I try not to impugn my own gender when speaking in generalities.)

It's my own fault. I exude a talk-to-me vibe. I realize this. There's just something about me that says "I am utterly fascinated by every aspect of your being--please share!" Maybe it's the glow from the martinis.

The last time this happened (on a looong flight to Seattle) the woman sitting next to me pounced before I could pull my book of crossword puzzles out of my over-sized, stuffed-to-the-gills handbag (hey, when I travel, I like to be prepared for any eventuality--you never know when you might need a tape measure, three Chinese take-out menus, or an industrial-sized bottle of Tums).

So, my new traveling companion--let's call her, oh, I don't know...does "Gabby" work for you?--caught my eye. I hadn't even scored a freakin' martini yet, so it couldn't have been the glow. Maybe she smelled the fear and, predator-like, struck while the opportunity was ripe.

I tried to look away, but it was too late. She smiled at me. I can't be rude to somebody who smiles at me, especially twinkly little gray-haired ladies who look like everyone's favorite grandma. It is physically impossible for me to cold-shoulder them.

An obvious pro at getting right down to the nitty-gritty before the possibility of being cut off, she started with her recent gall-bladder surgery, apologizing in advance for the emanations she feared might waft over from her general direction. Sadly, the operation had upset her system.

Oh, joy. So not only would my ears be assaulted, but if I was interpreting her delicate references correctly, my nose was in for quite a ride too.

I wanted to jam my hands together in the classic time-out signal and squeal "TMI! TMI!!" (that stands for "Too Much Information," for those of you not up on interwebz lingo), but courtesy forbade. Instead, I beckoned the flight attendant and tried to pre-order a martini using an elaborate system of hand and eyebrow gestures. She wasn't amused, and I'm sure she put me on a List.

From there Gabby segued directly to grandchildren (the visiting of whom was the reason for her own flight). Takes a while to get through every milestone of cuteness in the lives of three children. And then came the pets. Two cockapoos and an ancient pekenese, all with impacted "you-know-where" glands that required regular draining (she could warn me about impending fartage but couldn't bring herself to say "anal"?), and she was terribly worried her pet-sitter would neglect to do that while she was away.

Huh, I thought while smiling blandly (the first martini having been delivered somewhere around her granddaughter's first ballet recital...or was it her youngest grandson's honorable mention in the Junior Golf Championship?), you can bet your sweet bippy I'D be skipping that particular chore if I were pet sitting for you.

But of course, I only nodded sympathetically and chewed my olives.

THAT, dear blog reader, is when I had my Great Backstory Epiphany.

And here it is: Nobody cares.

Simple, huh? Nobody who doesn't know you gives a flip about the minutia of your life.

(Unless you're a celebrity, and really that's only because they feel like they know you. Or sometimes if you're really pretty, because they think listening attentively will get them laid.)

Here's the writing connection: it goes for your characters, too.

Early in your book, before the readers have learned who your characters currently are--right now, in the characters' "present"--they aren't interested in what happened to them before. It has no relevance until the reader knows enough about what's happening "now" to care about what happened "then." (Unless the "then" is a terribly sensational scandal of some sort, fascinating in its own right, in which case it should probably be part of your main story, not your backstory.)

[I KNOW. It's been said thousands of times before, highlighted in every book on writing you've ever read. But sometimes it takes a real life connection to make it sink in. It did for me, anyway. Maybe you're better about learning vicariously.]

So, when adding in your backstory (which is not entirely avoidable--your main story must have context), try to use a light hand. Reveal the past on a need-to-know basis. Retain a little mystery. Trust me, your traveling companion--*cough* I mean, your reader--will appreciate it.

6 comments:

Tawna Fenske said...

LOL, fartage? I love your ability to invent words!

Your lesson on backstory is a timely one, as I'm working on the first pages of a new manuscript.

Thanks also for sparking an idea to do a blog post on awkward conversations. Mind if I link back to you if I do decide to write it?

Tawna

Linda G. said...

You mean fartage isn't a word? Huh. *blink* Well, it is now.

And sure, link away! I'll be happy for any traffic you can send me. :)

Larissa said...

This is my favorite part of that: you can bet your sweet bippy I'D be skipping that particular chore if I were pet sitting for you.

LOL. What possesses people? Why on Earth would someone think you'd care about her dogs' ANAL GLANDS?!? Seriously! Wow.

Linda G. said...

Hi Larissa! Welcome to my reality. :)

And it is truly amazing what people will think you are interested in. I once had an extended conversation (not by choice) with an 80-year-old man about how too much Pepto Bismal will turn your "stool" black, and how you shouldn't worry over-much if it happens.

(I've been madly trying to think of a way to work it into my WIP ever since.)

beth said...

Oh, I'm so the opposite of you--I *love* flying! Of course, I usually just stick my iPod in and ignore everyone... :)

But I love your connection to backstory with this! :)

Linda G. said...

Hi Beth! I'd probably be fine if I could fly without the plane. No claustrophobia that way. But I just can't seem to flap my arms fast enough.