Part One: Manholes, tow trucks, and lonely silverware…

I love the title of this post because it highlights the true strangeness of my irrational quirks and it also makes me want to go read a Rick Riordan book.  Mr. Riordan’s books make me happy even if I only get a chance to read one of the tables of contents, but I digress.  It is my strangeness that is on the menu for today.

Everyone has quirks.  It doesn’t matter who you are.  Maybe you line your shoes up alphabetically by type, refuse to eat food that is touching what is next to it on the plate even though you like both things, or have to have the toilet paper facing the right way on the roll.  (Honestly, I think not eating foods that touch shouldn’t be a quirk, but more of a sense of good manners, but…tomato, tomato.)  I happen to have three such quirks that have plagued me for most of my life.  Here, I tell them in reverse order, but they will align by the title in my next post.

First, I have a thing about loading the silverware in the dishwasher.  I think the silverware should be loaded in pairs in the same compartment, until each compartment has a pair and then you may add more silverware however you wish, trying not to obviously overload any one section.  It’s insane.  I am aware of this fact.  Especially at age, 42, when my mother comes to stay at my house and refuses to follow this simple request, and when I gently remind her of how lonely they look and could she please, please, please skootch one over…I get this look like maybe she wishes I was adopted instead of the possibility of me having a direct link to some of her own strange quirks.  (Trust me, they are doozies.)

Anyway, that quirk, unlike the other two, doesn’t contain the life or death threat.  The next one is easy.  Tow trucks.  I have seen tons of cars loaded and attached to tow trucks and have never seen a job that wasn’t thorough.  That being said, a secure and complete job (not unlike a good story) is only as strong as its weakest link.  Can a car be held in place on top of a bouncy vehicle, in traffic, with turns and hills, stoplights and highway entrance ramps, and rush hour traffic by a super strength set of chains that is only fastened to said tow truck by a couple of bolts?  Really?  Well, I prefer not take my chances and have only driven directly behind a tow truck once…in my entire life.

The last of my quirks is equally frightening (and don’t laugh, because someday your best friend might decide to tell your quirks at a gathering of friends and I doubt they are any less strange) yet scientifically (supposedly) safe.  But still.

Here goes.  Manholes.  Or really any kind of lid or screen that covers a street or walkway and leads to an unknown, potentially dangerous and disgusting underground world that would have me make a surprise entrance through a faulty door (manhole) followed by a seemingly bottomless dark hole.  I know, you want to laugh, but in part two of this post I will tell you why you should never completely ignore a fear.  It could come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

I have to admit though, that while this fear is consistent, and I NEVER consciously walk on top of a manhole, I am still able to guffaw at the scene in Mr. Peabody and Sherman where the manhole in France is popped into the air and then falls directly back through the hole to rescue them.  Manholes are circular because it is the only shape that cannot be turned in any direction to go through the same size/shape opening, thus making it safe.  But quirks are irrational, and even sound science only has the power to make me see the issue with this phenomenon elsewhere, not walk on the dreaded, secret door to the underworld.

Anyway, as a writer, you are developing your character and you want to make him/her feel like a real person.  So instead of just telling what they look like and who their friends are, you give them quirks, habits, fears, secrets…the things that make us deeper individuals than just the basics.  It will not only make your character feel real but it plays a major role in how he/she responds and interacts with the world and ultimately is what drives your story.  When you do this, you must also consider how predictable (and unexciting) your book will be if you give them characteristics and then ONLY give them problems that challenge those things.  Some things you show about your character must be part of their journey as a person, not just to set the reader up for the plot.  (You don’t want to go crazy, though, and bore the reader with details, so what you are looking for is a balance.)

A very good example of this is Caitlin in the book Mockingbird.  There is so much insight into her struggle to connect with and understand the world around her, and most of it comes into play as characterization and the reader understanding her connection to the issues she faces as a person, not as setups for the plot.  In one specific scene, Caitlin is on the playground and is trying to block out the overwhelming amount of colors she sees.  The scene is showing you (this is not a spoiler alert!) her ability to cope with and adapt to the things in her world that cause her stress.  Because the scene is complete, and actually revolves around another event that happens, I would not have been surprised to see a larger obstacle come up that involved her having to deal with overwhelming colors to overcome that because it felt like subtle characterization in the first scene.  (Seriously, if you haven’t read this book yet, what are you waiting for?!)  It doesn’t end up coming up again, but this is just an example about small tidbits of knowledge that are planted so that it isn’t so glaring when you choose to use it as a bigger issue later in your story.

If I were to write a story about my self, I would want to tell you much more about myself than just the three quirks in this post.  Especially if I intended to use them for major events. If I only tell you about these three things and then I end up having to overcome obstacles that all happen to revolve around just these three things, any reader will be able to tell you that it was a setup.

When I read books, I love to predict.  I love to make guesses at what will happen next or later in the story based on bits of information, and I don’t really care if it pans out or not.  I just love the guessing, and it’s even more so when the ending happens and not only was I wrong, but looking back over the story I can’t believe I missed it because the clues were so cleverly hidden within an amazing story and detailed characterization.

Here is something you might try to help you see what I am talking about.  Get a book that you love – and own – and read it again.  As you are reading, mark all the sentences or passages that contain characterization.  When you finish the book, go back with a different color or notation and mark only the ones that were detrimental to the plot.  It will give you a good idea of balance, subtlety, and a well rounded character.

Happy reading!

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