Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Horsefly bites

Two days ago I got bit by a horsefly. It wasn’t the first time (that was last summer), but this bite is on my left ankle by the Achilles tendon and is making it difficult to walk. When you’re about to embark on a vacation, this is a complication neither looked for nor wanted.

But it has gotten me thinking about my stories.

In writing we tend to make life easy for our characters. They never have to go to the bathroom (or if they do, there’s always one close by). Their worlds are filled with easy-to-get to places, what they want is always on the shelf – or already in the pantry or cellar.

And they never, ever, get bit by horseflies.

Or deer ticks. Or mosquitoes, for that matter.

Why? Because it would complicate the story. It would pull us away from the main plot – we would digress. And that leads us to three options: either digress,  make it part of the plot, or don’t let the bug bite happen in the first place.

Let’s take them one at a time.


I love Ray Bradbury’s comment about digressions in Fahrenheit 451. Guy Montag (the protagonist) is discussing the purpose of books with Faber (a momentary sidekick). Faber says, “Digressions is the soul of wit. Take the philosophic asides away from Dante, Milton or Hamlet’s father’s ghost and what stays is dry bones.”

While this is a direct play on words with Shakespeare, and Hamlet, no less (Brevity, thy soul is wit!), Bradbury’s words are well-spoken. When well-done, digressions can be the meat on the bones of the plot. They keep us interested – and keep us reading. 

Part of the Plot

Remember, as the writer, you are a god. And gods giveth, and they taketh away. How would a bite affect the character bitten? Peter Parker’s radioactive spider turns his life around. But your character’s bite might make him or her late for a very important date, might cripple her at an important juncture in her life, or might make him seem less attractive (who wants to date a guy who keeps itching his ass?).

Ignore it

You could, of course, write a scene where your pro- or an-tagonist gets bitten by something nasty (reptiles work as well as insects) and then choose not to include it into your story. You could also just not write it to begin with. But where’s the fun in that?


Choose either a current work in progress or start something new. Give one of your characters a particularly nasty bite (trust me, horsefly bites HURT!). Decide where the bite is and what kind of bite it is. Then ask yourself the following questions: How does he/she react to it? How do the people around them? Does it get infected? Is it a minor nuisance or a major event? What does that do to all the character's carefully laid plans?

Play with this and have some fun. And remember, inspiration can come from anywhere – even horrible bug bites.


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