This is not the happiest way to wake up in the morning, but sometimes it happens. My daughter was just about to walk out the door, and for undisclosed reasons I was still in bed (I am confident enough with my parenting that I don't feel the need to explain why I was still in bed, but trust me, it was all part of a super-awesome parenting plan. )
My first thought was "That didn't sound like someone falling down the stairs. Whew." But it was immediately followed by, "Oh my gosh! Her laptop. I heard glass shattering. Do laptops shatter? This is going to cost me a fortune."
And then, "Or maybe it was her Ipod. You know, people say that those screens break if you drop them in just the right way. Somehow I never imagined it would be that noisy though."
And finally, "Perhaps I should get out of bed and find out what happened."
|The infamous snowglobe|
It was her Barbie Rapunzel snowglobe that I got on clearance from Wal-mart when she was eight years old.
What a relief. Her dad was already in the car, and she was late. I'd clean it up and everything would be just fine again.
Except she was crying. She loved that snowglobe. It was beautiful and girlie, and something precious from an easier, more care free time. I'd like to think she loved it because it was a present from her super-awesome mom with the super-awesome parenting plan. And it was 5:50 in the morning, and she should have been driving down the driveway at 5:45, and her journal and other random papers were now a glittery, wet mess. I guess I'm not sure what all was going on in that poor girl's head, because she had to stay after school for drama, so we haven't had a chance to debrief yet.
Accidents happen all the time when you are a parent, and cause our worry-o-meter to skyrocket. Thank heavens that almost every single time it's not as bad as we think it is. (My child! After that, everything is relative.)
Writers don't have that luxury. The situation had better be as bad as the reader's first reaction, or even worse. That doesn't mean that the crash can't be a snow-globe sometimes. But it had better be a snow-globe that symbolizes something bigger--your heroine's innocent childhood, gone forever. His only clue to his kidnapped brother's whereabouts. The one thing worth any money in their empty, freezing home. The magic potion that was going to cure his mother's sickness. The deadly e-bola virus, released in a crowded marketplace. The proof that the Curse of Clumsiness was real.
"Oh! For a second I thought that was going to be important." ßYou don't EVER want your reader to think this.
You want them to think this à Holy cats! I know I said I would start dinner after this page, but I can't put it down. What happens next???
This week, as I've been editing my novel, I've been ashamed at some of my namby-pambiness. I have a tendency to think parent-like thoughts about my characters: "I know it's supposed to be dangerous, but I don't want her to actually get hurt. I'd better make sure the water only goes up to her ankles." Occasionally I can get away with that the first time through, but by the second draft, I've got to think of every possible thing that could go wrong--riptides and deep currents she can't see, water that soaks through her clothes and knocks her over, no way to get back to shore, alligators and freak thunderstorms.
At any given moment, I can name every single possible disaster that could be happening to any of my children. I can use that terrible curse to my advantage as an author. Not all my frightening ideas make it into the story, but a few of them must.
If, as is the case in the scene I described above, she was left alone near a dangerous river because it was getting cold, and her date ran into the house to grab some jackets, then I am morally obligated to use that change in weather to make the story more exciting--a sudden gale rips the boat from its mooring and it runs her down, an unexpected rainstorm wrecks her visibility and starts a flash flood which knocks her into the whitewater, or she gets a life threatening illness and spends the next two weeks in bed (perhaps you can't see how this last one makes the story more exciting. I guess you'll just have to read my book to find out).
Here's my writing advice for this week:
You aren't your character's loving parents. You are their worst nightmare. Start acting like it.
And have a great day.