Last week I went to interview a couple of women who work for the locksmith shop around the corner from work. These are tough girls with scars on their fingers and who are strong enough to pull ignitions out of steering columns. Here are some of my notes from that experience:
"The shop - keys are hanging on the wall everywhere, Coke machine in the front, file cabinets in the back. Litter box on top of one file cabinet. I guess there's a cat here somehwere. Smells a little like oil, but not bad. The floor is red and it reminds me of a red bowling ball for some reason. Car steering wheel on the counter out front. Nancy (the locksmith) is wearing jeans, a long sleeved denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up and her dark hair is slicked back. She's wearing brown shoes that remind me of Popeye...Popeye? Why do things remind me of the things they remind me of?"
This is what my research notes always look like. Observations and free-association comparisons, which lead to introspection. Which makes the research more about me than my subject. This is what all writers are like, just accept it.
Nancy and her coworker Linda were great to talk to. They let me ask them all the questions I wanted and showed me around the shop. They didn't even bat an eye when I asked them, "So if you could have any super power you wanted, that would help you with your job, what would it be?"
Nancy smiled as if she'd been waiting for someone to ask her that. "Invisibility."
"No," I told her. "It's got to be a job-related super power."
The smile vanish, as smiles usually do when you tell someone that they can only pick a job-related super power.
"The ability to move safes without lifting them," she replied.
"Would that power only apply to safes?" I asked.
"No, I guess I could lift other stuff too. And I would be able to shape any key into any lock without having to file it down or figure it out."
"Hmm," I said, writing that down.
"I would have super human strength," said Linda.
"Why's that?" I asked.
"'Cause then I could lift safes and pull ignitions out of steering wheels."
"So this safe lifting...this is a big deal in the life of a locksmith?"
The women nodded, Nancy rubbing her lower back.
So my main character (Parker) not only has the ability to hear the insides of a lock, so that she can pick a lock within seconds, but she's also superhumanly strong.
"So Gen," you say, "You're main cahracter is a strong thief? What makes her so special?"
"I'm glad you ask!" I say. "She's also...um...rad!"
No, there's much more to the plot now. And if Parker is anything like the chicks at the locksmith shop, she'll be safe-liftingly awesome.