Congrats to Lil, the winner of Karin Harlow’s L.O.S.T mug.
We’re always talking about taking our characters out of their comfort zones, making them do things they don’t want to do, making them face things they don’t want to face. These are usually things that mark critical turning points in a book. The claustrophobic hero has to rescue someone from a cave. The guy with the snake phobia has to drop into the pit filled with the slithering beasties.
But what about the little things? The simple, physical discomforts? I’ve been working on editing WHERE DANGER HIDES. I’ve done edits for five other books, so it’s not something new or different. But this time, it’s not “comfortable”. I don’t have my desk. I have a computer stand that’s only a little wider than my monitor. It does have a pullout keyboard drawer, but that’s about the extent of it. No drawers. No handy places to put things, or much room for taking notes. I do have my ‘real’ desk chair, but working doesn’t feel the same.
Until we get the new window treatments, I’m almost unable to work at the computer for several late-afternoon into evening hours because of the sun’s glare. I shifted the “desk” 90 degrees, but although I’m no longer looking into the sun, there’s still quite a glare. So, why not rearrange my schedule so that I’m not working during that time. I could be fixing dinner, or doing laundry, or reading, or any of a myriad other tasks.
Sure, there’s the laptop, which can go anywhere in the house. But that’s another set of discomforts—smaller keyboard, smaller monitor, so harder to look at. Different mouse. And not everything on the PC is on the laptop, so there are those shortcomings as well.
But late afternoon through evening has been when I’ve been most productive. How do I rearrange my normal writing rhythms? Can I? I think there’s something about familiar (and comfortable) surroundings that help working on any task. Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen, or using a different washing machine can slow down the process.
So, what about characters? Sure, the biggies make the story compelling. But, just as Donald Maass talked about micro-tension, I think you can have “micro-comfort.” How does your character deal with the little things? I have a small cut on the pad of my thumb, and while it’s not serious, among other things, it’s made pressing buttons on the tv remote painful.
What does your character do about a pair of too-tight shoes? Whine about it? Try to ignore it? Go barefoot? What if they’re out to dinner and the waiter spills their ice cold water into their lap? Or at a cocktail party, the hero drops a cocktail sauce-covered shrimp and ruins the heroine’s brand new dress. The one she melted out her credit card to buy? Or borrowed from her friend—not her best friend, but the one who was reluctant to lend the dress in the first place.
And as the author, you can parlay those little discomforts into more major plot points.
What if your character’s cut was on his trigger finger, and inhibited his ability to fire his weapon?
What if the heroine in the too-tight stilettos had to run for her life? Across treacherous terrain? Those little mishaps that cause discomfort can show the reader how your character will act when those biggies show up.
As for my uncomfortable office: Yesterday, we ordered the flooring for the upstairs level. It has to be delivered to the store, then to us, then sit for at least a week to acclimate to the altitude before the contractor can start laying it. Eventually, the floors will be installed in the offices, and I’ll buy a real desk. We’ve ordered closet systems, so I’ll have a filing cabinet and shelving built into the closet. I’ll be able to put stuff on my walls, and have furniture instead of boxes holding up my printer, scanner, and the like. I’ll have room for my story board, and I can hang my white board. But it’ll take a while—probably a month or more—before it’s done, and I certainly can’t put my writing responsibilities on hold because it’s not “comfortable.”
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society