Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Make your characters clean!

Cleaning is on my mind lately (to see why, read the end of this blog post) and, like most activities, it's gotten me to thinking about my characters and their plots.

If you read most romance novels, the heroines rarely clean. Personal hygiene, yes. We see them taking showers, washing their hair, their hands, their faces. But clean up the house? Maybe load a dishwasher once in a while, but run a vacuum? Clean out a closet? Heaven forbid...dust??? Never.

Mostly that happens because these stories are, at their heart, fantasies. We both clean up and clean out in real life, who wants to clean in a fantasy? Either make a servant do it or have a house that magically cleans itself. Or, if you're Hermione Granger, give her a wand and her own magical powers to make clean-up as simple as a wave of the wand.

Even in realistic fiction, cleaning an apartment or house rarely happens. As readers, we know it must, but that action isn't shown because most writers deem the activity as mundane. Normal. Boring. When it is mentioned, it's often only in passing. In Secret Submission, Sarah makes reference to washing dishes several times. "Again she helped him with the dishes, folding the towel and hanging it when they were done." But it isn't an action we see until later in the story.

Of course, there are entire plays that become movies that become television shows where the main point of conflict circles around one person who leaves things where they land and another prefers the apartment to be neat and tidy. I'm talking, of course, about Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. Roseanne also used cleaning (or the lack thereof) as a way to portray character.

Notice, however, the clutter in both those shows is played for comedy. We laugh because we see ourselves in these characters. Some of us don't mind dust in the corners and the shoes in the middle of the floor. Some of us prefer neat, clean lines and no clutter of any sort. The subject is mundane enough for the audience to feel comfortable enough to watch and laugh at the juxtapositions of the two extremes.


So here's your challenge this week. Write a scene in which your protagonist - not a side character, not someone minor, but your main character, the most important person in the story - cleans. You define "clean" (my children and I have very different definitions!) and decide what's getting cleaned: a closet, a living room, the dishes. Make it interesting. Make us care about what he/she is doing. Make cleaning important.

Or sexy.

I don't usually use these workshops as promotion for my own books, but I'm making an exception today since I have a scene that fits the assignment that I can use as an example. WARNING: the scene is erotic romance. Read only if you want to see one way of turning a normal, every day task into something sensuous and arousing. Take a look at a Secret Submission excerpt.

Alternately, write a scene in which your protagonist and another character have a disagreement about cleaning up or cleaning out. The trope of the woman wanting to toss out something of the man's is as well-known as the conflict between Felix and Oscar, but both can be given new twists.

Go on! Have some fun letting your characters do the clean-up chores while you watch them work. Beats getting out the dustcloth any day!

If you're finding these workshops useful, please make a donation. If the link below doesn't work, let me know at diana @ dianahunter.net (without the spaces).


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