What I'm reading: Rain Fall, by Barry Eisler
Thanks to Marie Nicole for sharing her story. There's still time to leave a comment on her post to enter the contest for a copy of her book. Scroll down. I'll still be here.
What's been going on in Florida started me thinking about disruptions, and how we deal with them. We spend a lot of time getting to know our characters so we'll know how they'll respond in any situation we subject them to. Or will we?
It's just as important to know how your character will behave when confronted with the unexpected. And, as authors, we need to keep the unexpected happening. After all, "Only Trouble is Interesting."
For example, here in Florida, we've had the longest cold snap on record. And it's been cold. Ice on the cars and rooftops in the morning. Some days, the temperatures never hit 40. True, if you're from Minnesota, you're probably laughing, but I've lived in Orlando for 22 years, and we've never had the heat running 12 days straight. Heck, most years, we don't have the heat running twelve HOURS, period. Now, it's been chugging along, eating up more kilowatt hours than our a/c does.
Some of the local power companies have been overburdened, and have had to cut power here and there. We have a nifty (usually) gizmo on our electrical system that allows the power company to shut down power to our heat or a/c units for brief periods of time when demands are too great. For this, we get a small rebate on our electric bill each month. In 22 years, it's been turned on exactly three times. Two of them this week.
Now, back to you Minnesota type folks. You deal with cold weather because it's part of the package. Your electric companies are ready for winter. We poor Floridians, even if we like the cold (me, me, me!) don't necessarily have what we need. Until we decided to move to Colorado, I didn't own a parka. I bought it for our trip to Quebec, but had we not been planning to move, I'd probably have borrowed something from hubby. Fashion statement? Not. But I'd have been protected from the cold and wind.
I don't own a winter coat. I did buy a dorky hat once when I had to go to Syracuse in January. I don't own snow boots. I do have a pair of "dress" boots, but they're not warm. I have two warmish sweaters. You get the picture. Since a normal winter cold snap is rarely more than 3 days, the clothes I have are enough to get by.
So, what happens when you put someone in a situation that comes as a surprise? What is your character's routine? If he finds himself in a different environment, how will he cope? Does he grumble and complain? Does he make the best of it? Go into hiding until it passes.
Of course, I'm referring to a lot more than the weather, or other external influences. Showing a character shivering with cold isn't the point. It's what he's thinking, and what he's doing. Has your character ever been in a similar situation? Does he have past experiences to draw on?
Is your character someone who likes routine? If he walks into a favorite bar, does the bartender know what he's going to order? At our Sunday hangout, the staff likes to get to know its customers and what they order. We throw a monkey wrench into our bartender's evening because we rarely order the same drink two weeks running—but when we do, that throws him.
The best characters are the ones who have to cope with NOT having their creature comforts, or their professional tools. In last night's read, the hero was a chef renowned for his veal and lamb, and he prepared an exquisite meal to impress the heroine. Who, he discovered too late, was a strict vegetarian.
Or the hero who's a whiz with technology: What happens when he doesn't have any of his fancy equipment? Does he give up? Go into MacGyver mode and create a high-tech gizmo? Or utilize a totally new way to solve his problem, not relying on technology at all?
Maybe it's simple frustration. Trust me, having a house on the market leads to plenty of that. Enough for a whole new post. Or computers? Or thermostats? Definitely plenty of blog fodder for another time. How does your character deal the little frustrations? What about the big ones? What does he do when he gets a flat? On a winding, muddy, mountain road? In the rain? With no cell phone coverage?
What about changing thinking patterns. Can he (to beat a dead cliché) get 'out of the box'? Will he give up an alpha position if circumstances warrant it?
Odds are you don't know this until you get well into the book. At least I don't. Or do you plot that tightly and develop your characters to that degree before you put fingers to keyboard?