Monday, July 19, 2010

Send your characters on a journey

by Joan

When I woke this morning, I knew we were brunching with the in-laws, but that’s as far as my day was planned. If it had been a predictable Sunday, I’d have read the paper and a book while golf played in the background, maybe hit the gym, then made a predictable dinner of chicken or beef, fruit and salad. A nice relaxing day, but nothing we hadn’t done many times before.

Whether you write your novel with or without an outline, you probably have some idea of where your story is going. But is it predictable? Have you read that same plot before?

On the way home from brunch, my husband suggested we go somewhere. Maybe to the Nasher Sculpture Museum. “Why not?” my son and I said. Then, on the way down the Tollway, someone brought up the zoo. “We’ve never been to the Dallas Zoo.” And just like that our plot for the day changed. We had no sunscreen or water or hats with us, but we showed up anyway and were treated to a day in the sun by giraffes, elephants, gorillas, tigers and a few hundred other animals. Some I’d never seen before, like an okapi, which looks to me like half-giraffe, half-zebra. Others brought back fond memories, like the meerkats, who instantly had us visualizing Timon from The Lion King.

How did we handle the heat? We tried to keep cool in the shade or under mist machines, ate lemon chills and cherry ices, stepped inside the occasional air-conditioned building. We braved the 104 degree temps. Other people gave up and headed home. Some kids whined, others didn’t seem phased by the heat at all.

When writing a novel, sometimes you have to set your many-faceted characters on an excursion. Put them into unique situations, have them bump into strangers. How will they react? Will your protagonist freeze or run from a confrontation with a mugger on the Tube, or will she douse him with pepper spray and take back her purse? Will your secondary character encourage her best friend to take that job in California? Or get a tattoo which lands her in the hospital? If you send them to the zoo, one of your characters might end up nose to nose with a giraffe and another, bumping into someone they didn't want to see. Wherever you send them, make it new and unusual. It’ll make for a more memorable journey.


  1. Really like this post. Good advice and nice scenes. Love that you braved the heat and went on that adventure even though you weren't totally "prepared" for it. Sounds like a great day and love combining real-life stuff with the writing journey.

  2. Thanks Rachel! And thanks for stopping by!


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