Now, What?

My life has been a novel for the past ten days. I roll out of bed in the mornings and wonder, “What fresh hell is going to be served up today?” So far, all of the stuff that affects me, personally, has been fixable; and the costs of fixing it are, for the most part, not coming out of my pocket. But it’s been an interesting education in what we put our characters through- dropping a new catastrophe on them every chapter- and how a real person would handle it.

Passably well, as it turns out. Bringing a friend is advised; most disasters are easier to deal with when you have company. And it’s useful to have lots of money. I don’t, but given how much some of this stuff costs, I imagine money would be useful.

But the catastrophes afflicting me aren’t the sort that usually make it into novels, and if they do, they’re a background detail or used for comic effect. Not so amusing when you’re living through it, which might explain why I cringe at most sit-coms.

There’s a line between ‘real’ and ‘realistic’, and I think most of us tend toward the ‘realistic’ side. It makes for a faster-moving story, not bogged down by mundane details, and is more suited to epic genres like fantasy and science fiction. The story still needs quiet moments; we tend to say those moments are for the reader’s sake, but I think the quiet scenes of a book add realism. Realistic characters need to rest, too. Superheroes might not, but that’s another matter.

The point of this little ramble is that you, the writer, probably don’t need to show the mundane problems in your character’s life. You don’t need to show them getting sick because of a period of prolonged stress, sighing over a broken dishwasher, or worrying about how they’re going to pay the HVAC guys. But you should ponder those types of problems, even if they have nothing to do with the plot, and think about how your character would react to them. It’ll help you pin down their personality and their reactions to plot-related disasters, and in the end, you’ll have a more realistic character.

I just looked out my window; it looks like hurricane weather out there. Not tornado weather, which is what I’d expect for this part of the country. But a hurricane would be in keeping with the events of the past couple of weeks. I’m off to rescue some of my plants; talk among yourselves. How normal are your characters, when it comes to handling day-to-day business? Do you ever inflict mundane disasters on them, like non-working plumbing? How do they cope with these problems, or, how well do you think they would handle it if they existed in our world?

18 comments

  1. At some point I realized that if we do not learn to laugh at life we would spend all too much time crying.

    There have been in my life a number of incidents which now form the basis of rather humorous set-piece stories which I tell, but all of them are really only funny after the fact.

      1. She always seemed to me to walk the fine line between “It’s funny because its true” and “It’s not funny because it is so very true.”

  2. James Thurber is said to have described humor as “emotional chaos remembered in tranquility”. I think there are other things as well that make me laugh but … There’s a lot in that definition and I even it makes writing some humor possible.

  3. In the current WIP, the characters have a 6.75 year old, an almost five year old, and a six month old. I think that’s more than enough mundane chaos for one household. 🙂

    1. *laughs* Any one of those would be!

      Need a definition of child– something like “a wellspring of chaos which expands to fill all available resources, including the ones you don’t know you have.”

    2. Think of a big family of eight children, or eleven or twelve. Multiply by the number of pieces of furniture, appliances, clothes, and toys. Rather like Bel Thorne in Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Diplomatic Immunity”, who was praised by the Quaddies for his levelheadedness in a crisis. He comments to Miles that after years of trailing around in his wake, he had an entirely different definition of “crisis.”

      1. Remember that on average, you had your children two years apart. Consequently, if you had twelve, it would be perfectly normal to have married off two or three of them before the twelfth was born.

        1. Didn’t always happen that way. In a family that size, delegation is a wonderful thing and, ideally, the biggers are helping manage the chaos created by the littlers, instead of causing it. Ideally. One recalls “Keep it down to a dull roar back there” or similar phraseology being uttered by Male Parent. Parental Tools such as The Look may be liberally employed, and in ancient history, were occasionally reinforced by …emm…sterner methods.

  4. I think it depends on the way it is handled. Done right (and lightly) it adds to the reader’s picture of one or more characters.

    Case in point that I fortuitously have handy: Having just purchased “Shaman,” I am rereading the first three Karres books. There is one scene in the original novel – a single paragraph (or maybe two, I am up into the circus arc in the second book and am not going back to look now) – where Pausert is attempting to convince the autocook to deliver four breakfasts instead of just one. With the assistance of The Leewit. This tiny little tidbit of domestic travail that is completely irrelevant to the main action solidifies the characterization of The Leewit as a child with far too much intelligence and confidence in always being right.

  5. “How normal are your characters, when it comes to handling day-to-day business? Do you ever inflict mundane disasters on them, like non-working plumbing?”

    How normal are they? Not very. ~:D However day-to-day disasters are included in the first book to let you know who these people are.

    In one scene we find the main character waking up sore and tender after a battle the previous evening, finding his #1 super fashionable assistant fixing the sewage lines. We get to see MC not at his best, limping and whinging just a little. We get to see the -fabulous- Miss Smith handling an odious chore with efficiency, aplomb and humor, after having been up all night patching the MC’s perforated and busted self. And we get to see her ordering him out of the room like a schoolboy so she can get her work done.

    In another scene we get to see the MC tentatively reveal to his rather bad-tempered girlfriend that he’s been altered by nanotechnology into a monster. With a head that looks like a pony. Potential for disaster is large!

    I do try to avoid things like money problems. That a little too real for fiction, IMHO.

  6. When I first saw “billionaire romance” books, my first reaction was to roll my eyes and go “You want a late fifties to mid eighties workaholic type A OCD stress-addicted man with no time for a life, and no patience for drama?”

    When a friend challenged me to read some, because I shouldn’t hate on a genre without any familiarity with the genre, I quickly realized that “billionaire” is just a convenient tag for “Fulfill all your fantasies about never being short on money again.”

    They start with the relateable indignities of dead end jobs, overdue bills, dead car, lost job, broken appliances, etc. And from there, they become the fantasy of never worrying about such again, by… I dunno, the power of the glittery hoohah and instant love tropes? Usually with obligatory designer-name-dress-and-accoutrements shopping scenes, and eating fancy places, and a mansion made of a mishmash of movie scenes.

    Yeah, “billionaire” romances have as much in common with actual high-dollar men as a stretched civilian Hummer limo has in common with an actual HMMMWV. (My first reaction when I heard they were on the civvie market was “You’re paying how much for something that has a hole in the floorboards for the mud to wash back out?”)

    But, in that case, yes, plumbing adventures and broken appliances and worries are entirely within trope in at least one genre.

    1. If my life is a novel, may it turn into one of those books! I’ve already got a hard-working husband; maybe, between the two of us, we’ll get to the ‘financially secure’ part.

    2. I hear that and wonder what kind of character traits the heroine of a rich man romance would need not to make the story a bit of a tragedy. He has a lot of drive for doing something, to result in very much money.

      Some years of work, then financial security, then the romance, and what happens ten or thirty years later?

      I’m probably not the intended audience, and it isn’t clear what the market is for the sort of romance plots that would interest me.

      1. Most romance novels have a ‘happily ever after’ ending, and the reader’s not supposed to think too hard about what happens after the characters walk off screen. Because you’re right; some romances only make sense on the page, and the characters would be insufferable in real life. Since they’re supposed to be characters that readers can relate to, and put themselves in the characters’ shoes, one wonders if that says something about the readers.

        1. “Characters that readers can relate to”, although entertaining usually suffices. Lots of things are entertaining from a safe distance, that you would never want to be in the middle of.

        2. One romance writer/lawyer told of how her husband said that if he ever acted like one of her heroes, she’d divorce him, and she agreed.

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