By Lonnie Cruse
“Women observe subconsciously a thousand little details, without knowing that they are doing so. Their subconscious mind adds these little things together—and they call the result intuition. Me, I am very skilled in psychology. I know these things.”
He swelled his chest out importantly, looking so ridiculous that I found it difficult not to burst out laughing. Then he took a small sip of his chocolate and carefully wiped his mustache.
Recognize the above quote from a rather well known mystery? It’s from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and the first paragraph is a quote from the one and only Hercule Poirot, the second quotes the thoughts of Dr. Sheppard, Poirot’s temporary Watson.
I just finished re-reading The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd because it’s one of Dame Agatha Christie’s more controversial mysteries, some readers believing she didn’t play fair with them. But I remember the surprise I felt the first time I read it, at how she told the story. And my awe at her talent.
But, to get to the point of this post, the comments by Poirot which I read again recently, really hauled me up short. Who was Hercule Poirot to put women’s intuition down to nothing more than observation and gathering facts to mull over unconsciously when we’d been famous for our intuition for centuries? Harrumph. Then I remembered, Poirot was only mouthing the words his author had written for him, and a female author at that!
I pondered the possibility. Agatha Christie *might* have been right. We all do observe and file away in our “little grey cells” tons of information from things we hear and see every hour of every day. And we form opinions based on them. See a quick “I’m interested” look pass between two people, we wonder if there is a deeper relationship there, maybe even a hidden affair. See a dark look between lovers and we wonder if there is a break-up looming on the horizon. A guilty look on the face of a child and we go check the cookie jar. But often as not, we don’t realize we are taking in the information and drawing conclusions. So, if days or weeks later, we hear that Jane and John are having an affair and/or getting a divorce, we often chalk it up to "women’s intuition."
Makes me wonder if maybe I need to develop and enhance this “intuition” thing a bit more, no matter where it comes from. Observe others, their words, body language, behavior, and what it all might mean. Then use it in my writing to make my characters more real. Even Dame Agatha was accused of not making her characters real enough. True, she didn’t give a lot of description: color of hair, eyes, what each and every character was wearing, but her body language for them was dead on, if brief. For instance, later in this same mystery, she describes a card game between four players. She doesn’t really describe the new characters who appear at the card table, but through the dialogue we learn that one lady is a lousy card player and doesn’t pay attention to what she’s doing. Christie could have “told” us that. Instead, she shows it through what the characters say to each other. And it was a humorous scene.
I realize I need to stop relying on "intuition" and more consciously gather facts, paying close attention to what I'm seeing around me. See what I can learn about those around me from words and body language. Should be interesting. Of course, I’ll have to be discreet about it. No sense getting a punch in the nose for being nosey. What about you? Are your characters "real enough?"