by Bethany Maines
I just read a blog about a woman who bought her husband a giant 5’ chicken because they got into an argument about the need for more bath towels. It was done with a great deal of love, humor and antagonism – like a good marriage. Or at least like my marriage. I frequently tell my husband he has extra-large fingernails; he finds this statement bizarre and tells me I just have midget hands. I haven’t bought him a giant chicken yet, but we’ve only been married for some amount of years under five (I’ve outsourced this knowledge to my husband and he’s not home), maybe when we get to 15 we’ll have reached the giant chicken stage.
But my point is, (stick with me here – I usually get to a point sooner or later) that relationships, even loving ones, frequently work in opposition, as well as compliment, to each other. And yet, that simple, everyday dynamic is one of the harder motivations to write into a character. Why would anyone in her right mind buy a giant chicken and leave it on their front porch to annoy their husband? That’s not logical, or as my agent sometimes says, “I’m just not seeing it – I don’t think she has significant motivation.” Um… he said the pink beach towels were good enough for regular bath towels? That’s practically an engraved invitation for giant chickens right there.
What I’ve discovered is that there are two kinds of people in this world – the chicken people and the non-chicken people. Unfortunately, I don’t get to pick which ones read my books, which means that I have to write for the non-chicken people. And they are much less willing to take that leap to chicken on the front porch ringing the door-bell with me. Which means that I have to do writerly things like establish a history of chicken type actions in my character. Sometimes I add alcohol to an incident – that seems to help readers believe the unbelievable idea of chickens. But I think the most important technique I use is to make sure the tone of my story matches the tone of my character.
I once wrote a science fiction story – very serious, very edgy etc – and at some point my character ate a pickle. Why? Because she likes pickles. But I was informed, in no uncertain terms by my critique group that pickles weren’t allowed. Apparently, pickles are an inherently funny food choice and not in the least sci-fi. I railed against the anti-pickelites, but they were right. You can’t just throw a pickle in from out of no where and expect readers to roll with it. They have to know they’re in a pickle type book.
And then it occurred to me that I must be living a pickle type life if I think 5’chickens are a good thing. I’m ok with that.