by Ann H. Gabhart
Not long ago I got to thinking about the odd moments that can rise from the murky depths of my memory, nudged out to my consciousness by a chance word, an image or even a sniff of some aroma.
Of course, we all have those moments of tragedy or world changing events so intense we remember exactly what we were doing when we got the news. The bombing of Pearl Harbor was such an event. While that was before my time, I was able to research the day and show how my characters in Small Town Girl were forever changed by that moment in their lives. I could imagine how they might have felt because I have been stunned by news of other tragic events. Kennedy’s assassination. The space shuttle explosion. 9/11. Times seared in my memory.
But I also remember other less dramatic moments in time that seem to have little reason to linger so vividly in my mind. Little snippets of ordinary moments such as how a mockingbird used to perch in the topmost branch of a tree at my old house and sing while I hung diapers on the line. That bird not only sang but would flutter up in the air in a dance of joy. Another remembered moment is the sweet weight of my baby daughter’s warm body against my chest and how she giggled when I rocked her. I know how my father-in-law’s whiskers felt when I lathered up his cheeks to shave him after he was no longer able to do it himself. Back when I was a kid, I remember the sound of the lid on the big red metal cooler full of cold water at the country store opening and the clank of the glass bottles as I pulled out a soft drink. I can still hear how the screen door slammed when I came in from school. Then there was the deliciously cool feel of the linoleum floor after I peeled off my bobby socks and how those socks left a pattern of little indentations on the top of my feet. Moments in time that stick in my mind for no other reason than they happened.
As a writer, I have to invent all those moments in time for my characters. There must be the big moments when a character is faced with challenges and life changing events, but to make my characters spring to life for me as well as for readers, I also have to imagine some of those ordinary moments in time for them. Those moments might or might not make it into my story, but they are so very necessary.
Moments in time. That’s what makes a story. Those moments in time strung together in a forward march to find out what happens next or in flashback moments to see what happened before. Picking the right moments in time to bring a character vividly to life-that’s a writer’s challenge.
What moments in time find a spot on the top shelf of your memory? Do you use them when creating your characters?
Ann H. Gabhart is the author of several bestselling novels, including The Outsider, Angel Sister, and her new release, Small Town Girl. Ann lives on a farm in Kentucky where she enjoys walking with her dog, reading Dr. Seuss to her grandkids and hearing from readers.