By: Leeann Betts
Originally published in Nuggets of Writing Gold
Before the Pandemic
Before the pandemic, I’d sit in a coffee shop trying to figure out what to write. All around me were people sipping java or tea, munching bagels, meeting friends, talking on phones—and it hit me.
I was looking in at the goldfish bowl.
I really missed that over the past fifteen months or so. My goal is to get back to that coffee shop every Monday morning from ten until noon. Maybe have a friend or three drop in and chat. No masks. No social distancing. Let the ideas flow.
This would be a typical morning from pre-March 2020:
It’s only five past ten. I have my coffee, my asiago cheese bagel, and my laptop fired up. Already I eavesdropped on three friends who meet every two months to discuss a book, like a mini book club. While I couldn’t see the title of the one they are reading, it seemed to be full of witticisms, observations, and helpful insights. For example, one was about Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. He married 1,000 women, which were his downfall. So if a man doesn’t marry 1,000 women, he’ll already be smarter than the wisest man who ever lived.
Later there was a table of older women gathering tables from near and far, even settling for round tables, to get enough seating for their group of about 20 women. Along comes one woman with a little girl, maybe about 4 or so. And I got to wondering if this older woman was the grandmother—or the mother. And plot ideas sprang forth immediately.
A few days ago, at a table nearby, sat a middle eastern man and two women. Sometimes they spoke in English, sometimes in another language that sounded Arabic. Sometimes they mixed their sentences together, using English words in the middle of a sentence with this other language. For example, I heard the word ‘embassy’ and ‘must be careful’ in the midst of other words I couldn’t understand. Got me thinking about a suspense plot.
Every Monday when I am here, there is a woman sitting nearby who is a counselor of some kind. I’ve heard her talking to a client on the phone about an issue the client was going through. Not details, but I saw this counselor’s demeanor change from the way she looked when she was typing on her laptop—doing right-brain work—to the way her face softened and her posture relaxed as she talked to her client—left-brain work. She’d make a good character where I could show both sides of her at work.
Right now, there is a couple sitting next to me who are speaking Chinese, perhaps. I don’t understand a word they are saying, but they’ve been very animated at times, voices raised, hand gestures, smiles. Are they planning a business move? To buy a house? Get a cat? Have another child in contravention of China’s one-child law? What if one of the couple wants to return to China, but the other doesn’t? Will that impact their decision?
Sitting in a coffee shop may sound like a waste of time. Usually, I come here just to get away from the laundry or to meet fellow writers. But perhaps I need this unique stimulation to get the old grey cells, as Hercule Poirot would say, working.
Sometimes changing our surroundings gets us looking at characters differently.
- Go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop on conversations around you. Can you use some of what you hear?
- Hang around a central bus depot or train station. Watch the people; make notes of what they do.
- Go to the airport and hang around the main concourse. Make up stories about the people you see.
Leeann Betts writes contemporary romantic suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical romantic suspense. Together she and Donna have published more than 30 novellas and full-length novels. They ghostwrite, judge writing contests, edit, facilitate a critique group, and are members of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, Christian Authors Network, Pikes Peak Writers, and Sisters in Crime. Leeann travels extensively to research her stories, and is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary LLC. You can follow her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Her books are available everywhere including Amazon and Smashwords.