Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Changing Roles

Mother and Child-- by Elizabeth Bourse 1860-1938 So we’re replacing the downstairs carpeting.

And we have a few really massive pieces of furniture.

The carpet company said it would move one of the biggest ones, but the rest were up to us.

My husband and I moved a few piddly things out of the room and closets, then we approached the (very large) sofa. My husband said, “Can you take one end?”

I did. And I couldn’t budge it. Not with my arms, hip, legs—the thing just refused to move.

My husband called out for our 13 year old son. “Honey,” I whispered to him as our son was thumping down the stairs, “there’s no way he can…”

And I watched as he and my husband moved the sofa right into another room. Followed by two other pieces I couldn’t budge.

It was the end of an era. My son is definitely stronger than I am. Much stronger. Yes, I’d noticed he’d gotten taller, yes, he’s beefed up a bit. Yes, his clothing budget is through the roof because he’s growing out of everything. But somehow, in my head, mamas are stronger than their children.

It was a very odd feeling. I felt proud of him. But I felt old and wimpy, too.

One of my protagonists, Myrtle Clover, gets a similar feeling quite a bit. Her son is trying to farm her out to a retirement home and she’s pushing back with plenty of resentment. This adds a little extra conflict to my stories as well as propels the plot—Myrtle’s son is a police chief and she gets involved in his cases to needle him.

What if you’ve got a character who suddenly retires when they’re used to being in charge in an office? Does this mean she’s suddenly redirecting her efforts to another area of her life (one where people maybe aren’t appreciative of it?)

These changing roles don’t have to be age-related.

Stress also comes when a character is suddenly thrust into a leadership role when they’re not used to taking one on.

Or a character who is very active could be forced to take more of a backseat role—like Jimmy Stewart’s character (laid up with a broken leg) in the Hitchcock movie Rear Window. His frustration and boredom drove the plot early in the film.

Maybe you’ve got a really outgoing character who is used to speaking his mind. He decides to run for office…and wins. Now he’s got to watch what he says.

I think these type of scenarios—where our characters change roles in life—can serve a couple of different purposes. For one they serve as additional conflict for the character to deal with. For another, they can help to propel the plot—particularly if the character is frustrated in some way.

Are any of your characters playing new and unfamiliar roles in your book?


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

In book 3 of my Odelia Grey series, I married Odelia off. In book 4 she had to deal with not flying solo any longer, something she was used to doing. Her emotional struggle to remember she was part of a "we" and not a "me" became an underlying current in the book and added a new depth to her character.

You're right, change brings new developments and can freshen a comfortable character and keep them and the readers on their toes.

G.M. Malliet said...

I just have to say, this was a touching post, re your son.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Does your son hire out?

Alan Orloff said...

My 17-year-old son wanted to arm-wrestle me the other day. I told him I didn't want to hurt him. He just smiled.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Sue Ann--I LOVE that example. I think that's an incredibly difficult thing to think of yourself as a unit when you've been such an independent person before. I bet Odelia met the challenge though. :)

GM--Thanks! It does make me a little sad...I guess I knew the day would come, but in my head it's always so far away.

Sue Ann--He was talking about having a summer job. :) I may act as his agent and take 15%...

Alan--You're smart to get out of that one! Otherwise you might hurt your signing and hand-shaking arm and that wouldn't be good for Malice. :)

Lisa Bork said...

Great post, Elizabeth! My son is thirteen, too. He's much taller than me, but I still outweigh him...considerably (mutter, mutter)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Lisa--I'm kinda liking 13 so far. He's stronger and can be my muscle and still hasn't really gotten the attitude yet. :) I guess things could change later--sigh!

Darrell James said...

I see these as closely related to "fish-out-of water", and I love writing characters who suddenly find themseleves in unfamiliar circumstances. Nice post, Elizabeth.

Alice Loweecey said...

Both my sons are taller and stronger than I am. It's probably the only time in my life I've felt petite and delicate. (I'm 5'4" but have never been a girly-girl.)

And they are good for heavy lifting!

Keith Raffel said...

My son is 11. I can still take him. OTOH, I was always a pretty fast runner. Am now #4 out of 6 family member and will soon sink to #5. Comes from marrying champion sprinter.

Cricket McRae said...

Great post, Elizabeth. Your son sounds like a sweetie.

It can be quite a balancing act to keep a series character fresh and constantly developing, yet familiar and comfortable for the reader. The way you've handled tension between Myrtle and her son is great, giving her motivation and putting us squarely on her side.
Hearth Cricket