Authors, Grab This Low-hanging Fruit

Thought you’d want to know that a zoo in London is holding a Valentine’s Day fundraiser, charging the equivalent of two dollars to “name a cockroach after your ex.” Seems the day for lovers means different things to different people.

If you decide to brave a restaurant on that hallowed day, look around. Some couples seem to delight in celebrating new or enduring love. One woman’s eyes hold the expectation of a proposal. A man looks off in the distance, as though he wishes he were with someone else.

As writers of fiction, we strive to create characters who resonate with readers. To that end, we struggle with characters’ emotions, and we struggle to differentiate characters. If it all seems like a lot of hard work, it is.

But there’s something I call “one of these days is not like the other” or “low-hanging fruit.” We can reveal so much if we’ll tap the power of certain days to evoke meanings and emotions for our characters, reveal something about relationships, and sneak in back story. I’m talking about showing characters on holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries.

Here are a few examples:

Holidays can mean so many different things. Over Memorial Day, Morris goes on a three-day fishing trip with his buddies while his wife decorates the graves of forgotten veterans. Nathaniel Begay declines an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner and goes to a movie alone. Laurie joins a protest against wage inequity on Labor Day. Working on Christmas Eve means that Donna, who is Catholic, is missing important family time, and her mother has been nagging her to get a different job. Meanwhile Jacob, who is Jewish, thoughtfully trades shifts with a Christian co-worker every year. (And I haven’t even touched on being in prison on Mother’s Day.)

Birthdays aren’t just about celebrating or growing older. Glenn remembers his mother collapsing and dying on his seventh birthday. Claudia abandons her good-girl persona and gets wasted with her friends at a male strip show. Melody bakes her own birthday cake and eats it and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked. For the second year in a row, Grady’s family has spent part of his birthday in their tornado shelter. Julie threw a lavish dinner party for her fortieth birthday during which her husband announced he was leaving her for her best friend. (That really happened.)

Anniversaries can be about the usual things or the very personal.  Married seven years, Anna has given up expecting Bill to remember their wedding anniversary. Alex grieves on the anniversary of his brother’s death. Shelly takes a mini-vacation every year to observe the day she quit the job that gave her migraine headaches. (See the opportunity for some backstory here?)

You have rich examples of your own. I suggest that you look at your work-in-progress for scenes in which meanings, emotions, or tension could be heightened if you’d set them on a day that holds some significance for your character(s).

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.

Quotable

If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything, is ready, we shall never begin.

–Ivan Turgenev

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