Schemes Gang Aft Agley
In his poem “To A Mouse”, Robert Burns said, “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men, gang aft agley”. Murphy’s Law, named after Captain Edward A. Murphy in 1949, basically reiterates this: something will always go wrong. Take, for example, my last actual post. When it was posted on January 2nd, I was expecting to get back to something close to a schedule. Obviously, my schemes went awry. Between caring for the generation before me and the two generation after me, the me generation ran out of steam. But that’s okay (or so my wife had to convince me); life happens.
If you want believable, sympathetic characters your readers will care about, let life happen. In addition to making things stressful and interesting, life happening continually generates the subplots of our existence. If it happens to us, why shouldn’t our characters deal with it as well. Let’s look at a few examples.
Example 1: The detective investigating a murder finds out his father on his way to the hospital. Even if he tries to focus on the case, his mind could wander and he could miss an important clue. His oversight could deny an innocent man freedom or a guilty man punishment.
Example 2: The sheriff of Dry Gulch is standing in the street facing Kid Gunslick. Seconds before both men draw their pistols, the sheriff doubles over and falls to the ground. A kidney stone has decided now is the best time to make its presence known. Will he manage to get off a lucky shot, or will the Kid finish him off? Perhaps the citizens will interfere and prevent the showdown from continuing. Maybe the Kid will back off, waiting until the sheriff recovers so he can prove he’s better than the lawman.
As you can see, when life happens to your characters a world of possibilities opens up. In addition to shaking things up for your character, it also can provide a detour around that dreaded writer’s block. At times, I have found myself against a wall with no way around, so, rather than backtrack and lose the crucial scene, I have let life happen. Not only does it change the character’s focus, but it helps me refocus, as well. Now, it is obvious you can’t use this in every situation your character finds him or herself in. If your detective receives a call from his mother just as he is about to reveal, your readers won’t be happy with you.
In his novel, Under The Sweetwater Rim, Louis L’Amour gave us this line. “Man rides the ocean of history and does what he can to weather its storms.” This applies to us as well as the characters we create. Sometimes you have to just let life happen and try to enjoy the ride.
Just thought I would jot this down.