Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cat In the Window

Morgan Mandel
When you live in a neighborhood for a while, you learn the habits of your neighbors, also of their pets. At the house kitty-corner from us, the woman's dog would always sit on the couch by the window and bark ferociously when I and my dog, Rascal, walked pass.

Bookmark and Share

For the past few days, something strange has occurred. Instead of the dog going crazy and barking, a cat sits on the edge of the couch and stares quietly at us. The dog is nowhere in sight.

This leads me to wonder. Where's the dog? All sorts of possibilities present themselves. Perhaps the woman isn't living there any more and someone else is staying at her house. Maybe she is there, but someone with a cat is staying with her. This cat could be so dominant the dog doesn't want to be near it. Or, maybe something happened to the dog and the woman replaced it with a cat. Or, maybe she always had a cat and I never noticed it before. Or, the dog could be sick.

When you write a novel, be sure to include everyday habits of characters, pets, even area weather. Then, to show something's not right, make them behave differently. If you lay your groundwork right, your readers will pick up on the nuances. They'll wonder what's going on and keep reading to find out.

What are some of the everyday habits of your neighbors? Maybe some are diligent about mowing their lawns or shoveling snow. Would you wonder if all of a sudden they turned sloppy? Or, perhaps a neighbor's lights turn on at certain times, then suddenly don't.

Or, have you already incorporated a neighbor's habits in one of your books? Please share with us.
Morgan Mandel


  1. Good Morning Morgan,

    I have not yet incorporated my neighbors habits into my books, but I plan to. The man who used to live across the street would sit outside in his wheelechair most of the day. When I returned from work, we'd wave to each other. Every now and then, he'd wave me over and give me a report on the happenings in my front yard during the day (squirrels, cats, birds, dogs, armadillos, and once, a possum).

    I haven't seen the man for over a year now. I think about him and the many various possibilities.

  2. You bring up a good point, one that if thought about with observation can lend some extra reality to a book.

  3. I really like your post. At first, I couldn't imagine where you were going with it, but it made so much sense at the end. I never included my neighbor’s habits into my writings, but I will now. One of my neighbors had an old car parked out front and the children would gather and use it as a park bench, then one day I didn't see any children around and wonder why; after a few days I realized that my neighbor had moved. I missed waving to the chattering children and didn’t realize how much until they were gone.

  4. Excellent point! Seeing as I write fantasy and science fiction, making entire cultures and worlds out of whole cloth, it's amazing to me how it's the little bitty details that make the world feel real. You don't have to have a lot of them, but there's a need to anchor the reader in the world, and like in real life the little details are the things that affect people, and thus will help draw in the reader.

  5. I agree that one needs to put the reader into the picture and that does include the surrounding neighborhood. Good post and kitties are nice, ask Amanda.

  6. Goodness--I usually ignore my neighbors, but you make a great point here! Thanks!

  7. Excellent post Morgan. While I haven't incorporated any of my neighbors' habits into my work so far, I am fairly observant about things.

    The doctors who live next door to me never take their trash cans off the curb until late in the afternoon the day after pickup. They actually seem to come and go more like ghosts and I'm usually surprised when I catch one of them leaving or coming home.

    A neighbor who lives up the street walks his dog and brings him into the same corner of our yard, where it meets the woods, to do his duty.

    Every morning between the hours of 8 and 9 you can find three of our female neighbors taking their daily walk together. I wave on the my way to bring my youngest to preschool.

    My mind seems to catalog these things and never use them, but now you've got me thinking about how they can make my writing stronger.



  8. Great point and observation. Perhaps the cat took over and the dog is, well.... in the dog house. I often see myself different behaviors of my neighbors, and know who is walking and when. After a while I can tell who gets home from work when, and who is more dominant, the owner or the dog.
    Interesting what we see just by paying attention.

  9. I think someone needs to check on the dog - the cat probably has him tied up in a closet!

    L. Diane Wolfe

  10. Hi, Morgan!
    You always have the best ideas! It proves that your mind is always working.

    Thanks for the great tips! (I have some pretty interesting neighbors, too, by the way.)


  11. Nice post, Morgan. Just shows how important details can be. I have not used anything from my neighbors, but sure have picked up odd character quirks by people watching.

  12. Using the animals is a superb idea.

    We live in an area where we don't see neighbors often. But I have noticed that my closest neighbor doesn't use curtains on his front windows. Which always seems odd to me at night when they have all the lights on and you can see right in.

    That says something about them. And about me for considering it odd.

  13. Don't think noticing neighbors only extends across the street, next door, or down the block. When the DH and I go shopping, we like to drive past a certain house where the owners usually display holiday decorations. We were disappointed because they had nothing up for St. Patrick's Day or Easter. The house still seems occupied, but we're wondering if the one who puts up the decorations is sick or hurt, or tired of doing it. There's no end to what you can notice about people without even trying hard.
    Morgan Mandel

  14. I don't have very close neighbors, as we live out in the middle of farm country. The neat thing is, there are all kinds of farm cats wandering around the neighborhood, some almost as habitual as house pets. :)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.