When a Writer is Silent . . .

I am not shy around people, though I am more of a listener than a talker, particularly when they are discussing subjects of which I have no interest or knowledge, such as celebrities, TV shows, high profile court cases. Even when people are talking about things I can speak of, I generally don’t fight for the floor except when the conversation sparks a new idea and I want to give it voice.

My propensity for being the “designated listener” has never been a problem because most people seem to prefer to talk, but things are different now when people discover that I am a writer. My silence makes them wonder if I am studying them to use as characters in a book.

Strangely, this never occurred to me. I spend so much time alone that simply being with people is a treat. I bask in their words and the camaraderie no matter what the topic of conversation. I know this is not the case with other writers. They do study people to learn more about how their characters should/could act. They also use people they know as characters in their boFriendsoks. As Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

My characters rise out of the needs of the story. If the character needs to be shy, I make him shy. If she needs to be interested in the minutiae of everyone’s life, I make her so. Occasionally, I base a character on an actor in a movie, especially if I need to describe the character to someone. For example, Greg Pullman in A Spark of Heavenly Fire was loosely based on Jack, Bill Pullman’s character from While You Were Sleeping. I wanted Greg to be movie-star handsome as well as nice, and I named him Pullman to remind me of these two characteristics every time I wrote about him. But for the most part, the character of Greg evolved to fit the needs of the story. The same thing happened with Mary Stuart, the hero of Daughter Am I. I based her loosely on Lisa Walker, the character of Mary Stuart Masterson played in Bed of Roses, and I used the name Mary Stuart for my character to remind me that my Mary, like Lisa, was both strong and vulnerable. The name was supposed to be a working name — I planned to change it when I found a better name, but the character and the name evolved together, and could not be separated.

So, if you are ever in a conversation with me, and I am silent, you never have to worry about appearing in one of my books.

Well, hardly ever.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

11 Responses to “When a Writer is Silent . . .”

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Good! The world needs more listeners and fewer talkers.

      • Patty Parfait Says:

        I’ve been listening to you since a year out with nephew’s murder I am trying to live with and my physician agrees I need to seek a grief support group. I’ve been told I need professional help yet, I don’t feel civil enough to be around other people. I’ve isolated myself for nearly 3yrs

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Oh, I am so sorry. Murder is so hard to deal with — there is a lot of anger that exacerbates the grief. Anger and grief both cause a horrible amount of stress. If you’re not ready to be around people, have you tried doing physical things to help deal with the stress? Beating up pillows, air boxing, walking, exercise classes, going where no one can hear you and screaming, all helped me. You didn’t ask for advice, so please forgive me if I am out of line. Wishing you peace.

          • Patty Parfait Says:

            I have spent nearly three years in bed. I don’t clean house, I pick up after myself. I don’t answer the phone or the door. I tried to make a grief meeting Thursday but it rained no I don’t melt but the power chair I use won’t work in rain. So here I sit reading the kindle or watching tv. I’ve trained my chi to fetch, settle, paper, and ah-ah. I’m worthless and hopeless.

          • Pat Bertram Says:

            Patty, You’ve written to me. That signifies at least a desire for hope. Maybe you can try to get to a grief meeting another day. The grief groups I went to were a great help to me. If nothing else, it helped to know that others were hurting, too.

            If you aren’t comfortable in a group, maybe you could find a grief counselor to talk to. Local hospices should know some trained counselors in your area.

            If neither of those ideas don’t appeal to you, some friends of mine found great comfort and help with an online grief group, http://www.griefhealing.com . You can sign up under another name and you don’t have to post pictures, so you will be anonymous. If you’re not ready to sign up and participate in the discussions, you can still read what others have to say. The discussions are here: http://www.griefhealingdiscussiongroups.com/ However, by signing up and participating, you maybe can get support for your various issues. The site is run by a couple of trained grief counselors, and is free.

            I do hope you try at least one of these possibilities. Grief is complicated, and physical problems make it worse. (And vice versa — grief makes physical problems unbearable.)

            Best of luck. Wishing you peace and healing in the New Year.

          • Patty Parfait Says:

            Thank you for suggestions. I will make myself do it.

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I’d never worry about that, Pat. Besides, even if you did include me in one of your books, the resulting book would be so scary Stephen king would hide under the covers in fear.

  2. michaelulinedwards Says:

    There may be another reason. When asked, Shelby Foote explained why he didn’t attention many social events. The quote may have been criticism of him in his obituary, but he said, “Those people aren’t that interesting.”

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I used to have the luxury of staying away from people I found uninteresting since I lived with someone I found very interesting, but now I need to put up with a lot more boring talk to keep from becoming a hermit. It’s okay, though. I focus on the camaraderie.

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