Friday, August 26, 2011


When I was a kid, I read a book on how to take care of home aquarium. I know: gripping stuff, right? Probably 'cause the dictionary was already taken or something. But the one thing I do remember from the book was this:

When you're bringing home a fish from the store and introducing it to your tank, the best thing to do is let the new bag o' fish sit in the existing aquarium for a while, THEN dump the new fish in. That way they don't flip over and die of new water shock right then and there.
(Or something like that.)

The last few days in Japan, we've had the opportunity to acclimate via bag, i.e. spending time on a Navy base (little America, pretty much) and venturing out into the city as needed/desired. I'm a new fish in an old tank, but I'm doing really well. No stress, no freak outs, no nothing. And coming from me, the queen of random stressy freak-outs? That's saying a LOT.

So, let's direct this back to writing. A lot of times, our plot may tend towards a classic "fish-out-of-water" story, or at least a "fish-in-a-new-tank" story. How do you ease your character into his new tank? Do you let him sit and acclimate slowly? Or do you dump him in without warning? Does he die of new water shock? (I think I made that up) Or does he adapt and survive?

If you ARE letting him acclimate slowly to the new world (maybe having a helpful guide tell him what everything is, things neatly labeled, I don't know) what other sources of conflict are out there threatening him? Push those stakes a little higher. Does this kid REALLY need an all-knowing guide?

There's a reason Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda die (oops...spoiler alert?). There's a reason Marty can't find Doc Brown during those REALLY important moments. And there's a reason you shouldn't let your main characters sit in a pet store bag for fifteen minutes before dumping him in new water. It may be relaxing and stress free for someone moving overseas, but since when did anyone want to read a book where the main character leads a delightful and stress free life?

Sigh. After writing this, I realize I've got fifteen metaphorical minutes to cut out of my latest WIP. If you'll excuse me...

 How's your little fish out of water doing?

P.S. You have 24 more hours to enter MY CONTEST and your odds are VERY GOOD! Stop by and comment and win  a prize pack from Japan! (THE PEN, DEAR MOTHER, THE PEN!)


Peggy Eddleman said...

Awesome analogy! When I get to know my characters, though, I tend to LIKE THEM. You don't want people you like to die of new water shock! Well, not unless you're cruel and vicious. Wait. Does that mean writers are cruel and vicious?! Darn. I'd hoped to make it through life without being cruel and vicious.

K. Marie Criddle said...

Ha!! Oh, how sad that our business DOES force us to be cruel and vicious at certain points to the (fictional) people we love. Le sigh.

I remember going to one of my first book signings ever (Gail Carson Levine for "Ella Enchanted") and Ms. Levine talked about how in order to really HELP your characters, you have to make them hurt, almost sadistically so. (To a group of young, idealistic girly writers and school aged fans, this was a really jarring realization.) But since then, I've opted to blame all the cruel and vicious things I do to my characters on Ms. Levine. I give you the freedom to do the same. :D

Lydia Kang said...

Great thoughts. And don't worry, anyone who is surprised at the news that Yoda and Ben died deserve to be surprised for not having watched the movies a billion times.

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

Solid advice. I guess that's what they mean when they say "kill your darlings", right? Not actually kill. Just make life really, really hard.

I loved that mailbox pic on your Twitter of R2-D2! Sounds like there's pleny of American stuff when you're feeling homesick :D.