Inspired by Handwriting…
This weekend I was sorting through “stuff”, trying to decide what deserves to travel to North Carolina with us, and what does not. I came across some papers.
One was genealogical information from my Aunt Sybil, who died quite a few years ago. Just seeing her distinctive handwriting – bold, somewhat dramatic – brought all kinds of memories back. Like the time in Mexico when she put her hand on the restaurant table to heave herself out of her chair (she was a “big” woman). The whole table listed and the plates, water goblets, silverware slid off, causing all the waiters to rush at us exclaiming “Ay, dios mio!” Sybil surveyed the chaos, and with an air of haughty disdain, announced, “God damn flimsy table,” and exited the restaurant like a ship in full sail. Sybil always wrote with Flair felt-tip pens and I frequently gave them to her as Christmas presents. Here’s what her script looked like…
Another was from my mother, who died only a couple of years ago. She always hated her handwriting. She compared it to her sister’s and although she thought Sybil’s was “showy”, she felt her own was not distinctive. They were like that in real life too, my mother always overshadowed by her flamboyant sister. When I look at my mom’s writing, I see an even, legible script, written before arthritis crippled her hands. It reminds me of her as a healthy, vibrant person. Her last few years were miserable and her handwriting was almost illegible.
For a very long time I kept a letter from my grandmother, Pearl. Her handwriting was strong, closely spaced, and often served to communicate judgmental observations and moral admonitions. The letter I saved was written in red ballpoint. I can “see” it, though I threw it away a long time ago. Now I wish I hadn’t, because I don’t remember what it said.
I also found a copy of a very old family letter (1861). I’m not really sure who this person was, other than an ancestor on my mother’s side. They spent considerable time and effort on penmanship back then. Just mastering pen and ink took lots of practice.
Anyway, all this made me think about how seldom I receive or send a handwritten letter. Yes, we fiddle around with fancy fonts to try to personalize things. But our fonts have gone missing. Even without making a study of handwriting, like a criminologist (and by the way, they must miss the handwriting days too), you can learn a lot about personality, as well as physical and emotional health, from studying a person’s writing.
One of my books features a husband and wife. His script is like my Aunt Sybil’s, but on steroids — commanding, showboat-y. He’s a respected lawyer and active member of the community, but underneath he’s a “bad hat”, as Madeline would say. His wife’s script is faint and practically microscopic. She’s so downtrodden and frightened, she barely dares to make an impact on paper. Hardly surprising that she cannot protect herself from her husband. She can’t protect my MC either.
I like using subtle, mundane nuggets like this to help bring characters to life. What kind of details do you use?
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