“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things that you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut

The above quote is written on a blindingly neon pink sticky note, stuck against my desk’s overhead cabinet doors. It shares space with a slapdash conglomeration of other brightly colored sticky notes. These little slips of paper, all embellished with phrases, quotes, interesting words, ideas, sudden light bulb moments concerning my WIP, addresses, phone numbers, appointment reminders, and books to read, are referred to as “the homeless sticky notes”. Indeed, some of them wish so heartily for a permanent place to call home, they rip themselves off the cabinet in a last ditch effort to gain my attention. Or maybe they’ve just been up there too long and the sticky is wearing thin.

In moments of deep frantic thought, after I’ve finished counting the dots of ceiling texture above my head while trying to find words, I like to scoot my chair back and stare at the mosaic of color they create. Sometimes it’s just another excuse to stare off into space but, when I’m lucky, it’s enough to get me writing again. Today, I couldn’t get away from Mr. Vonnegut’s quote. And since I’m a card carrying fan of, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”… I thought I’d let that singular focus run the show.

I always thought of myself as a center person – the center of attention, the center of discussion, the main cog in the great turning wheel of my family. Egotistical, I know. I have no excuse. But I’ve come to realize that while I might be a center person, it’s really only in a physical sense. While I might stand within a group of people, my mind is always on the fringes. It started out subconsciously, I think, this fringe thing. Now, though, I am consciously aware that I systematically absorb details about everyone around me and file them away for future use. Most of the details are, admittedly, quite useless – to any outsider who might be peering into the dark recesses of my brain. To me, they are a goldmine.

I have a friend who unconsciously flicks the tiny edge of his thumbnail against that of his middle finger, making a faint clicking sound, when he’s nervous or uncomfortable. From across a room, I could tell you in a second flat whether or not he’s enjoying a conversation. Of course, when my main male character finds himself in an uncomfortable situation and I’m trying to communicate that to a reader, my mind hones in on that little so-called useless detail I’ve filed away.

I know someone else who, whenever he tries to lie – even if it’s just a tiny exaggeration, does an almost imperceptible rapid blinking of his eyes. You wouldn’t notice it at all, unless you were already aware of it. It’s a great nuance. Is my main character flirting with someone or is she lying her hind parts off?

There’s a co-worker who checks out my rack every time he feels intimidated by what I’m saying. Interesting quirk. I have no use for this one just yet but I’m sure when I find one, it’ll be funny.

Another friend, whenever she’s uncomfortable, gives off the undeniable impression of being an ice queen – the stiff way she’ll stand, the suddenly clipped tone to her voice, the slight cold-like tremor of her hands. Unfortunately, this tends to hinder her in certain situations where it’s misread as her being an uppity snot. This annoys me to no end as she is one of the warmest most caring people I know. Still, that little nugget is bound to come in handy one day.

Here’s an interesting one. My boss, when met with a statement or situation he doesn’t like, doesn’t want to hear, or really isn’t happy about --- he giggles. It took me a long time to figure out what was up with that! Another one I haven’t found a use for but I imagine it’ll be rip-roaring hilarious when I do.

All of these examples are indicative of one constant - standing at the edge and watching all the details around you is like playing a giant game of poker. Everyone has little quirks, telling little things they do which give you an inside look at their hand of cards. Most people have no clue they’re doing these things. And most others don’t notice them because they’re, as Vonnegut puts it, in the center. If you take a small step back to the edge, though, and look beyond the obvious you’ll open a treasure trove of details that enable you to bring any character to life. And as an added bonus, you’ll play a damn good game of poker.
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