Thursday, February 03, 2011

Tools of the Trade

What I'm reading: Love is Murder, by Allison Brennan

A couple of weeks ago, my printer died. Then, last week, my keyboard decided that hitting a key would produce a random response. No telling what you'd get, if anything.

Both of those tools are critical for my work. I have backups—there's another printer in Hubster's office, although it's not a color printer. I have a laptop, and we have an old keyboard. Although I wasn't dead in the water, working wasn't the same.

My solutions? A refurbished printer just like my old one is on its way (I have almost new cartridges of toner, and this way, I'm not out the mega-bucks they cost.) I found a new keyboard. It's not quite the same. It was a trade-off of getting one that worked immediately, or driving all the way down to the Springs to see if there was a better selection at Office Depot. Or going on line and ordering something that might not be what I wanted, or would take too long to get here. There's a bit of adjusting to the new keyboard, beyond simply the feel of the keys. The function keys aren't all the same, and the mouse doesn't have all the same hot buttons. Some of the extra keys aren't where they were on the old keyboard.

But I can work.

What about your characters? They all have their own tools. What happens when you take some (or all) of them away? How do they cope? Do they give up? Go get new ones? Make do with something else?

Did anyone watch the NCIS episode where there was a massive power outage? All those fancy computers and digital everythings were useless. I loved the scene where Gibbs handed McGee a Polaroid camera. (And it was fun seeing Gibbs being the guy who actually understood the technology for a change.)

Sometimes the actual tools the character uses can create the restrictions. Randy's arsenal, in FINDING SARAH, is his cop's rule book. He's never deviated from what he considers proper cop behavior. In HIDDEN FIRE, I took him out of his small-town cop element, and sent him to help out the county Sheriff's Office. Not only is he working away from his domain, he's in a huge organization, and he's lost his spot in the pecking order.

In WHAT'S IN A NAME? Blake is a corporate executive, but those tools don't help him for most of the book. I shoved his old tool belt back at him—literally—when I made him play the role of handyman. He understood those tools, since he'd been raised that way, but he didn't like having to revisit that part of his life.

For my Blackthorne, Inc. books, I take away all the toys the agents are used to working with, shoving them into civilian circumstances. Without access to all the sophisticated equipment they're used to, they have to find other ways to solve their problems.

In WHEN DANGER CALLS, Ryan's walked away from the job to prove he's not a traitor. He has to deal with solving his puzzle without anyone backing him up, and without the resources to do the investigating.

In WHERE DANGER HIDES, Dalton is stuck investigating a missing persons case—a far cry from tracking down drug lords, which is where he wants to be. He has to adapt to a different approach to solving his problem.

Overall, I'd say that heroes (or heroines) are really relying on their intelligence, wit, personality, and "internal" tools to do their jobs, but they've become dependent on using the toys.

What tools do you need at hand to be comfortable doing your own work? What would bring you to a complete halt?


Megan Johns said...

As I write longhand, I can get by with a pen and paper for the first draft, although a computer is essential thereafter.
I think you're right that we should not underestimate our 'internal' tools

Terry Odell said...

Megan - I can't write longhand to save my life. Good for you.

Elle said...

That's an excellent writing prompt - identify the tools your character relies on and then take them away... I have to go and try that!

I'm also working on my hubby's computer currently; tis the season for laptops to die it seems. It's very uncomfortable trying to settle into something that's temporary, that's not in the place you usually write, and that feels so different. I wish I could write longhand too.

Elsa Neal
HearWriteNow & Blood-Red Pencil

Terry Odell said...

Elle - glad you found the post helpful. Hope you don't frustrate your characters too much!