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?