Thursday’s Children April 4, 2013

Inspired by Handwriting…

A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!

A weekly blog hop where writers share their inspirations. Please join us!

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…

sybiljpg

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.

mumjpg

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.

oldfamjpg

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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48 thoughts on “Thursday’s Children April 4, 2013

  1. “God damn flimsy table.” = total belly laugh. 😛

    I love the art of penmanship and miss handwritten letters, but I’m a guilty contributor to that extinction. My “artistic” bent has become an efficient scrawl of necessity– though, for whatever reason, I indulge when addressing a b-day card–but only the envelope, mind you. Tick-tick-tick.
    Love your posts, Rhiann. You’re a beautiful writer and I like how your mind works.

  2. What a cool topic…and one we never think about too much in this day and age. I always hated writing by hand. My parents drilled hours of practice into me, but my writing still looked like chicken-scrawl. It got better as I got older and developed my own weird combination of print/cursive. But nowadays I rarely have reason to write anything. I always type. Even when I’m out and making a list, I make it on my phone. It’s a sad thing to lose I suppose but, since I never much enjoyed it, I don’t really miss it.

    I LOVED the really old letter you put up here Such fancy penmanship. I guess it was something people really took pride in back then. And you’re right. You can definitely tell a lot about someone from their handwriting.

    Sorry for not participating in Thursdays Children this week. I am doing the A-Z challenge and me and my blogging partner, Karen,decided to run the challenge as a series of fun polls, which doesn’t really fit in with Thursday’s Children. Plus, it’s Karen’s turn to put the blog up tomorrow. But, I promise I’ll be back on board with TC next month!! :):

    • We’ll be happy to have you back 🙂 I make grocery lists on my iPhone too. There are definitely “good” things about not writing by hand, especially for those who struggle with fine motor skills, like my younger daughter.

  3. I love the idea of using “subtle, mundane nuggets” to flesh out a character. I’ve noticed I tend to lean pretty heavily on the way my characters speak as a way of characterizing them. It’s my pet trick. Definitely going to start throwing some more mundane details in there!

    BTW, I have total Catholic school handwriting. I’m hugely vain about it.

    • I didn’t know there was such a thing as Catholic school handwriting. It sounds like something that could be produced only by children whose knuckles were threatened by ruler-wielding nuns. Nifty!

  4. It really is sad how this is a dying art – they may even stop teaching script in schools. Luckily my girls are super excited to learn, so I guess I’ll be showing them how to write that weird ass Q!

    And…your wonderful suggestions spurred the topic for my post, which is eerily similar to yours! O_o (posting in a few…)

  5. Oooooh, love the letters! Handwriting really does show personality that typed words can’t, doesn’t it? Twice a week, we teach our five-year-old twins cursive handwriting at home because we’re not sure how much they’ll learn once they’re in Kindergarten this fall. They complain about it a little, but they’re getting pretty good at it, and you can definitely see their personalities through their script already.

    • Wow, five year olds learning script? Amazing! And twins fascinate me. A set of triplets appears in my WIP (identical twin girls and the fraternal triplet brother – had to google it, but it “can” happen).

  6. I love writing by hand and will find any excuse to do so even if it just means writing ‘to do lists’ or leaving a note for my husband when he gets back from work and I’m not in. I also like to take a notebook to a cafe to continue writing by hand whatever I’m working on at the time. I also find it helps with the editing process to then type it up when I get home. I still have lots of old letters too, from my Grandma, my mum, even an ex-boyfriend.

    As for giving characters mundane nuggets like their handwriting to bring them to life – great idea!

    • So glad you’re joining us this week, hope you make it a habit! I know a lot of writers write first drafts longhand. That’s not for me, but I do understand it uses a different part of the brain and therefore might lead to different ideas. I’ve saved pretty much all the cards hubs and I have given each other over the years. Not the old boyfriend letters though, lol.

  7. Great post. Enjoyed seeing the letters from your people. I agree, it’s the little details that add richness to writing. It can be a perfume or a habit, too. Anything that fits the character and is “visceral.”

  8. Since my characters were real people (also my ancestors) I had their handwriting professionally analyzed. I was delighted to find out that the handwriting spoke of characteristics I had already given to them in my work-in-progress.

  9. You’re own handwriting is lovely too, btw! (And I am a proud owner of one of your letters, which I cherish.) I still handwrite whenever I can. It’s almost becoming a lost art as they no longer teach cursive in some schools.

  10. Gosh, this was such a beautiful post Rhiann. You’re right about the simple act of writing a letter by hand becoming a sort of lost art. And I love the way you’ve incorporated hand-writing as a detail that helps us picture your characters.
    To be honest, I’m not descriptive enough when it comes to giving the readers an idea of who my characters are but this post has reminded me how important that is. Sometimes, I think we newbie writers are in such a rush to tell our story that we forget to put the reader in the story & let them get to know the characters. At least, that’s something I need to work on. This was a lovely post as always, thanks for sharing! : )

    • Thanks, Paula. Sometimes it’s the littlest details I remember about characters in other peoples’ books. But I often don’t put these things in my own until 2nd draft.

  11. Very cool to think about. The tiny handwriting reminds me of my sister who’s passed. It was almost unreadable small and you’re reasoning in your story matches her life.

    I haven’t used handwriting, but I try to get the same idea across with sentence length and wording when I have texts in my stories.

    thanks for sharing the letters.

  12. Oh. My. God. Your aunt Sybil’s handwriting looks EXACTLY like my grandmother’s. It’s uncanny. I’d worry that they were the same person except 1) age difference, and 2) my Nana wouldn’t have been caught dead using profanity in public. (More’s the pity, IMO.)

    Seriously, she sounds like a really fun broad.

    • Haha. Yes, she was very “colorful” and although there were certain words she’d never have used, there were plenty she did. She also had a very bawdy sense of humor.

  13. Handwriting is one of my favorite things to look at. I think it tells a story all on its own, without even reading the words on the page. It’s funny, but my sisters and I have completely different handwriting. I hand write all my stories, so all of my letters are small to fit as much as I can on the page and I always write in cursive. My middle sister always writes in print and it big, blocky letters that take up a lot of space, and my youngest sister hardly ever hand writes anything in school anymore, so hers is shaky and almost kiddish looking even though she is a senior in high school. My other favorite thing is to look at bathrooms with a lot of writing around it. I think it is so interesting. Thanks for the post!!

    • I can’t imagine handwriting my stories, I do SO much deleting and rewriting as I go. But I’ve heard a few writers say they believe it taps into a different part of the brain than typing. As for bathroom walls, I’ve never looked beyond “the message”, but next time I’m in a public restroom I’ll try to notice the script 🙂

  14. I love how you can tell when a letter was written by the look of the handwriting: every generation has its calligraphy and I don’t think we are actually losing this art, especially in Europe (not sure about the US). Great post!

    • There is a lot less emphasis on it here than there used to be and I’ve heard talk that script-writing may soon be extinct. Kids do start learning typing skills way earlier…

  15. Hmmm… I stopped handwriting years ago (perhaps when they stopped making us practise it in elementary school). I prefer printing, so my writing is very simple, clean, without a lot of flair. Often, I’ll use all caps.

    Wonder what that says about me?

    In fiction, I generally treat dialogue like a character’s handwriting. I like bringing their personality to life through the way they speak. Is it loud and boisterous? Meek, with some stuttering, and maybe an unfinished sentence or two? Like handwriting, it can say a lot.

  16. Very interesting way to display character traits and put emphasis on their personalities. I like it. Also, I think it’s sad that handwriting is dying out. Kids don’t even use it in school anymore. It’s all computers now. Even when I was in school, they preferred us to print so it was easier to read rather than just making us learn how to handwrite properly. Its something I would like to re-learn. One of these days 🙂 wow that made me sound old! Lol

    • I don’t think it makes you sound old. The way I see it, writing in script is becoming a “craft” kind of thing vs. an everyday task. Kind of like sewing – in earlier times EVERY female had to learn to sew clothes etc. Now, at least for first world women it’s something they do only if they actually enjoy it.

  17. Although their handwriting was lovely, yours is even more beautiful, and were it a font it would be one of my favorites (along with P22 Dearest Swash).

    I do love old script handwriting, and surround myself with it by way of framed 18th & 19th century ancestors’ letters and ships’ passenger lists that I index on FamilySearch. Between my walls & laptop screen i’m surrounded by letters.

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