In Jessica Strawser’s debut Almost Missed You, two characters have a life-changing date at Cincinnati’s Lumenocity, an orchestra-curated light-show. Anyone remember the scene when Harrison Ford’s Richard Kimble slips into Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade to evade pursuers? How much more exciting does Pride and Prejudice become once the Bennett sisters have a ball to look forward to? Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper wouldn’t have been quite so tension-filled without the London Blitz as backdrop.
Some of these events are more integral to plot than others, but all of them make the stories they’re included in more interesting as a result. In the case of Almost Missed You, the couple could have had their life-changing date in a park sans event, but the story wouldn’t have remained as fresh in my mind these two years after I read it. In The Fugitive, Richard Kimble could have slipped into any old crowd, but I doubt the scene would have become so iconic. When Austen tells us the girls are waiting for a ball, we wait with as much anticipation as they do for its arrival. And if The Secret Keeper had been set in post-war London, I wouldn’t have been on the edge of my reading seat, waiting for Morton’s foreshadowing to play out and threaten the life of one of the characters I was becoming attached to.
Whether it’s plot-integral or not, here are some event ideas to run by your muse:
You could think big: festivals, parades, outdoor concerts, flash mobs, movies-in-the-park, marathons, conventions, fundraisers, protests, or political rallies.
Or you could think smaller: a game of pickup-tag, ultimate Frisbee, tee-ball, or any other type of activity suitable for a local park. A birthday or retirement party, a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a wine tasting, an office potluck, a funeral procession, a pub crawl, or a school field trip.
You could also think a little farther outside the box: a lot of cities have evening ghost tours. I don’t know if Comic-Con has after-parties, but that would be fun. Mermaid costume day at the beach, anyone? Maybe a big movie is being shot in your novel’s town, and there’s an extras’ casting call, line winding around the local community center.
Or, if you’re writing historical fiction, you could think period specific: In the nineties’ heyday of MTV and Much Music (Canada’s MTV), I went to my share of school dances where they set up a big screen so we could watch the videos while we danced (video dance parties.) There were a lot of impromptu games of marbles around me in the eighties. Further back still, a quick search tells me I was born the year of Three Mile Island’s nuclear accident, China’s one-child policy establishment, and Margaret Thatcher’s electoral victory, so a crappy year all around.
A few additional considerations:
- Your characters could be participating in the event, but they don’t have to be: for instance, a couple is in their backyard waiting for the kidnappers to call with the time for the ransom drop. Meanwhile, there’s a pool party next door, sounds of children laughing, and balls flying over the fence.
- The event doesn’t have to be happening during the scene: perhaps your character is walking to a job interview the morning after a big Mardi Gras night, and NOLA streets are filled with plastic cups, garbage cans are overflowing, and gutters are clogged with strings of beads.
- The event doesn’t have to take up a lot of the scene’s word count to make an impact: maybe your character is driving over a bridge, and you make a quick reference to the dragon boat race making its way underneath at the same moment.
Have you ever weaved an event into plot? Have you ever weaved in an event that was less integral to plot or not at all integral?
I wrote this post for the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To continue hopping or to join the hop, click here. (There are more than 200 of us, and it’s fun!)