Friday, August 24, 2012

Wind Chimes and Other Important Possessions


 I still remember when I got my wind chimes. It had to be about fourteen years ago, since we hadn't moved to New England yet. Instead, we were in Utah, in our own little starter home, the home that I'm certain was not nearly as idyllic as my memory has painted it, but that I'm happy to remember so fondly. It was my birthday, and the box they came in was white. The silver tubes were covered in plastic, which was covered in tape. It took a long time to unwrap, but when I finally lifted the chimes into the air, the resulting clang was one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard. The music they made was mellow and rich.

I don't remember if we ever hung the wind chimes up before we moved across the country, but after we moved, it hung over our back deck, which was a sturdily constructed, but decrepit-looking thing, with a set of stairs leading down to the swing set, and another that led to our swimming pool. Behind our house, there was nothing but woods, and the sound of the wind chimes blended beautifully with the rustle of birch leaves, until I barely noticed it anymore.

My daughter noticed it though. Whether it was because she heard us talking during a particularly strong gale, or whether it was her own active imagination, I'm not certain. What I know is that when she was young, she was terrified of the wind; certain that it would blow trees down onto our roof and kill us all. Since in her mind, the wind chimes obviously created the wind, she was terrified of them too, and begged me to take them down. Reasoning with her didn't work.

Perhaps it seems hard-hearted of me, but I never did take them down to prove to her that I was right. In retrospect, it seems like it would have been a simple thing to do, but for some reason I didn't. What I know is that when a small breeze catches the wind chimes, it transports me to somewhere magical, a place where cool breezes riffle through my hair as I lie in a hammock looking up at leaves and crisscrossing bars of sunlight and sky. Perhaps somewhere in my subconscious, I thought that taking the wind chimes down wouldn't just destroy her magic, it would destroy mine too.

She got over it. And one day, my husband took the wind chimes down because someone was coming to put new gutters up. Instead of putting the chimes back up, we packed them away, because we were thinking about putting our house up for sell, and it was the reasonable thing to do. The economy tanked, and selling our house took a lot longer than we thought it would, and the wind chimes were gone for over a year--perhaps closer to two.

I forgot about the magic until we moved to the house we live in now. As soon as we got here, I hung them up near the front door, on the only hook that was already there. It's probably not the most convenient place for them, because they aren't quite far enough from the walkway. They are no longer the sparkling, shiny things they used to be. The wood is weathered now, and the silver tubes are dull, but I don't know how I lived without them for so long. Their sound hasn't changed, and it still transports me to that magical place. I need it even more now that I live on this treeless plot of lawn where my neighbors are people instead of woodpeckers and squirrels. Sometimes, when I'm walking in my front door, I veer to the side just enough to brush past the wooden clapper with my head. I've got it perfected so that the clapper hits just one or two of the chimes lightly, and the music follows me wherever I go. Magic.

That's an absolutely beautiful story, Melanie, but what does it have to do with writing?
 I ruminated about my wind chimes while I was walking this morning. I thought about the teacher at my kid's school who uses wind chimes as a relaxing signal that it is time for the kids to stop what they are doing and gather in a circle at the front of the classroom. I thought about my grandma, who collects wind chimes. I once thought I'd follow in her footsteps, but I've never heard another set of wind chimes that I like so well as the one I've got. I don't want another set. The jangle would ruin the music of mine.

I'm amazed at all the glimpses into my personality you can get from this one possession.

The possessions a person chooses to surround themselves with tell a great deal about who they are and the way they live their lives. If you were inclined to delve deeply into my wind chime soliloquy, you could make some pretty fun guesses about my socio-economic status, my family background, my parenting style, my interests, my age, and a bunch of other things.

The way your character interacts with their possessions says as much about them as their interactions with other characters. The things they value tell a story. A story about a woman whose home is full of the musical chiming of hundreds of wind chimes would be different than a story about a woman who loves her wind chime and hers alone, which would be different from a story about a person who tosses her wind chimes in the garbage as she's packing up to move to a new home, which would be different from the millions of stories that already exist about people who never spent a moment of their lives thinking about wind chimes.***
***Burn Notice fans: Can you just imagine this paragraph being read in Michael Weston's voice? 

Michael gives Fiona a "Welcome To Miami" snow globe
As you know, Burn Notice is one of my favorite TV shows. In that show, Fiona loves her weapons. If that was all she had, she'd be a pretty one dimensional character. But she also loves her snow globes--a scene from every country she's ever visited. A room full of snow globes can be a pretty heavy burden when your line of work requires you to get up and go at a moment's notice. How about Michael? He's got nothing. (No cash, no credit, no job history... J) But he does have some sunglasses, and without those glasses, things are not right in Michael's world. I'm not quite caught up with all the episodes, but I've been a little disappointed that there isn't more about his car in season 5. His Dodge Charger is a symbol--though he was a person who couldn't afford to have roots, he didn't want to lose his, even the bad parts.

It's more intuitive to do this with your main characters, but its one mark of a well thought out story when a writer takes the time to think about the possessions of minor characters as well. That's my challenge for you this week. Take the time to think about the possessions of your minor characters. You might be surprised to find a story hidden there.

9 comments:

  1. I had to go back and read that post in Michael's voice. Too funny! I am way behind on this season (and last season, too.) I'll play catch up when it all hits Netflix, so don't tell me what happens! But that is a fantastic show, and you made a great point with it. Great post Melanie!

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    1. Good news! Season 5 just got added to Netflix. :) That's how I watch it too. Enjoy!

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  2. You are so astute. This is really excellent advice for adding dimension to a character without overtly telling. Fabulous post!

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    1. I loooove being called astute. Thanks Susan!

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  3. I loved your wind chime story. It was beautiful. :)

    Excellent point! I've never thought much about my characters possessions. But I can see how that would be a great characterization tool.

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  4. I love how it's those little things in writing and characters that can make all the difference.

    I have a set of wooden windchimes that I absolutely love, but I'm not at all interested in silver or metal windchimes. I guess we each have our own kind of magic.

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  5. Hi Melanie, I really enjoyed reading your story. There's really something the sound of wind chimes that gives a soothing effect. It just calms my mind. That's the reason why I keep a couple at home.

    - TheBestofChimes.com

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