Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Rear Window

Alfred Hitchcock’s film, “The Rear Window” was about a photographer who was stranded in his house with a broken leg. He begins to watch his neighbors’ comings and goings through his telephoto lens. Then he witnesses a murder, but no one believes him. He enlists his friends’ help—and his beautiful girlfriend played by Grace Kelly—to prove his neighbor murdered his wife.

In Sinclair Lewis’ novel, Main Street, Mrs. Dr. Kennicott is a newbie in a small closeknit town. She feels she is an outsider under scrutiny as well as the town’s current curiosity. In one scene she overhears a group of boys and their observations of her from outside her living room window. One boy imitates her mannerisms and ridicules the way she tried to straighten a painting on her living room wall. In another scene while strolling through town, she observes her neighbors watching her from behind their curtains and shrubs. But were they watching her as much as she imagined? Her paranoia might have been a product of her sensitivity to being an outsider.

Many of my characters in my novel, Living in the City, were inspired by real-life neighbors (or compilations of them). A man who drove around the neighborhood in an ice cream truck and sold carnival toys and cotton candy up and down the alley was the inspiration for my character Junior, who called himself an entrepreneur. As the novel went on, this scrungy man who at first I didn’t like became a lovable, eccentric man I enjoyed spending time with.

What’s outside your window? Who’s coming and going? Who has lived in your neighbors’ houses? What conflicts do your neighbors have with themselves, their families, or each other? What are the neighbors are saying about each other? We can approach writing about our neighbors from various angles.

First write about what is going on outside your window from an objective point of view. Report what you see without editorializing. For instance, Mrs. Adams and her chubby daughters are planting marigolds around the mailbox. Chris, the 17-year-old boy bolts through the door and hops into the back of a waiting pick up truck with four other boys. One boy tosses out a beer can. The boys whoop and holler, the truck tires squeal, and Mrs. Adams runs after them, shouting and shaking a trowel. After you’ve written a page or so, ask questions regarding the scene you just reported. What is going on between the mother and her children? What will happen next? What are their individual conflicts? Freewrite from each of their points of view. Try exaggerating one of more character traits. Try this exercise at different times of the day and from different vantage points. If you can’t answer the questions to your original reportage, tuck the piece away for later. Another variation is to string the individual scenes together to form a longer story. Also, try this from the angle of the Sinclair Lewis scenes. Write what your character thinks her neighbors think of her. Or combine the variations. The variations are as limitless as your imagination.