Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Didn't Expect That to Happen by Morgan Mandel

As I've been doing every morning, I slipped on Rascal's leash today and we set out for a neighborhood walk. I enjoy our morning walks, especially when it's summer and the heat hasn't built up yet. Not too many people are out and about around six o'clock, except joggers, walkers, and occasional cars or bicycles, but the birds are already chirping, and the day is waking up.

I crossed the street and went down half a block. That's when it happened. All of a sudden I felt an itch on the back of my leg, another on my arm, one more on the front of my other leg. I also noticed two black spots on Rascal, which were not part of her normal spotty appearance, so I quickly swiped them off.

We'd been attacked by mosquitos. I hadn't anticipated such a possibility, yet I should have seen it coming. Why hadn't I? For one thing, we'd walked unscathed countless times. For another, my mind was elsewhere, enjoying the faint breeze floating by after a particularly scorching day before.

If I'd stopped to think about it, clues of a mosquito invasion were present. We'd had a heavy rainful the evening before, and the atmosphere was cloudy and muggy. Conditions were ripe for bites. I hadn't gotten them before after it had rained so hard my basement got flooded over a week ago, yet I still should have been vigilant to the possibility.

How does this pertain to writing?

It's a challenge to create a character smart enough to not seem like a dunce, yet at the same time unaware of  lurking dangers. After all, we do want our characters to suffer, but not appear they're too dumb to live. How can we do that?

One way is to get your character so focused on an emotion or thought he or she can't think of anything else until it's too late. I was focused on the breeze.

Another, is to give your character a false sense of security, like I had. The danger for bites had been present, but I'd been lulled into thinking it couldn't happen because it hadn't before.

Can you think of other ways? Or maybe, you'd like to mention something that happened to you after you'd been lullafter into a false sense of security.

Morgan Mandel

Morgan Mandel writes mysteries,
romances, and thrillers. She's a
past president of Chicago-North
RWA, was the Library Liaison
for Midwest MWA, and is an
active blogger and networker.
Her personal blog is at:
and website is http://www/
See her new senior blog at
where a new guest is featured every Thursday.

Her romantic suspense, Killer Career, is 99 cents on Kindle and Smashwords. Her new thriller, Forever Young - Blessing or Curse is targeted for release soon on Kindle and at Smashwords.


Jennifer Wilck said...

Great post--I love the analogy!

Unknown said...

Awesome, Morgan. You have a way of tying life into writing. Love it. And if anyone knows a sure cure to avoid mosquitoes...I want it. They love me. Big target and lots of thin blood, I guess.

Connie Arnold said...

I it when writers apply everyday events to lessons about writing! Thanks for sharing this. Hope you aren't too itchy!

Bob Sanchez said...

I like the whole concept that something can't happen because it's never happened before. There is a book about that called The Black Swan by Nasim Taleb (no connection to the movie)--people used to think swans could only be white because that's all they saw. It was impossible we'd be attacked by fuel-laden passenger planes until it happened.

There should be any number of oddities we can inflict on our characters that they've never experienced before.

Kelly McClymer said...

Well, I can go you one better...even when I have been bitten the day before, I can forget :-) But I try to make my characters slightly more observant.

Helen Ginger said...

You not only have good advice, you make it come alive with your personal stories.

jenny milchman said...

Very good post, and great question. My favorite technique, one I find hard to pull off, is to insert danger that seems completely unexpected, out of left field, but in retrospect couldn't help but be there.

Like mosquitoes.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like the false sense of security idea.
Hate mosquitos though! Bloodsuckers.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Great thought there, Morgan. Sorry about the mosquito bites--sounds ominous.


Anonymous said...

Great way to make a point or two about writing. Send us some of that rain we're turning into a desert here in Arkansas.

Cara said...

What a great way to think about this, Morgan! I'm always trying to figure out how to explain why the protagonist didn't know. But hey, sorry your epiphany left you itchy.

V.R. Leavitt said...

Great analogy!! That can be a fine line to walk sometimes.