Every superhero has a nemesis, right? Apparently mine is the dreaded beast known as the shower-curtain rod. 

See, my new living space is the in-law suite on a house, and it's turned out to have a few quirks. My landlord ("N") and landlady ("D") and their five-year-old twins are finding out some of those quirks along with me, because they've only lived in this house for a few months and haven't spent much time over here.

When I arrived, my shower had a curtain rod, but it was on the floor. The rod was too long for me to put up by myself, so "D" stepped in to help.

The thing is, neither of us had ever seen a rod like this one before. There were no instructions, and I couldn't find anything like it on the internet. (I should've taken a picture, but I'm not even trying to move that thing again!) Essentially, instead of being a standard tension rod, it was a tension rod with a strange-shaped wedge inside the head at each end. Depending on how you twisted the rod, the wedge would rotate out or in, leaving the rod either flush or not flush with the wall. The trick seemed to be to get both wedges rotated out at the same time so both ends would be flush with the wall, but that turned out to be a ridiculously tall order.

"D" and I finally figured it out and got the rod put up. She headed back to the main part of the house.

Two minutes later, CRASH!

It was late, so after a few more minutes of futilely trying to put the rod back up, "D" and I decided to wait until "N," who was already asleep, could help us.

The next evening, when "N" got home from work, we went at it again. 

It probably took us half an hour to finally get the rod to stay up at the right height. That involved lots of reaching up as high as we could, trying different configurations, and thinking we'd secured the rod only to have it (literally, in several cases) fall on "N's" head as soon as we let go.

This kind of situation is actually a useful trick for character development. When a supposedly simple task goes frustratingly wrong, it can reveal a lot about a person. For example, I found out a few things about myself and about my new "family" during our battle with the curtain rod:

  • It turns out that since my Lisfranc injury, standing on tiptoe is really difficult for me. Not that it's easy even for people with undamaged feet, but for me, it's particularly painful. It's probably because (a) those muscles are still weak and (b) my first surgery fused one of the joints in that foot, so it doesn't bend the way it used to. 

  • The weirder a piece of technology is and the more it confounds him, the more determined "N" becomes to figure out how it works and make it do so. 

  • Even rambunctious five-year-olds can be amazingly quiet and engrossed while watching adults struggle with something.

Essentially, a low-stakes challenge like this frees up readers to temporarily worry less about the plot and concentrate on the characters' development. This works well for several reasons. First, a small hassle exposes characters' styles under pressure. Some people get increasingly frustrated, while others thrive on the struggle. Second, these situations frequently reveal both hidden strengths and hidden weaknesses in the characters. They might discover a knack for skills such as leadership or problem-solving, or they might encounter old wounds (physical or emotional) or limitations that they either haven't yet recognized or have been in denial about. 

For example, in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke and R2-D2 experience what seems like a minor hassle when they first encounter Yoda. He demands attention, messes up their campsite, gets into a tug-of-war with Artoo over a lamp, prattles on about unimportant matters, and generally makes a nuisance of himself. Luke's reactions to these annoyances reveal his lack of patience—a flaw that will make his personal journey harder.

So bug your characters. Let them show you what they're made of.

Write on,


P.S. I'm getting ready to offer some new service packages on my website. Comment below and let me know what you'd like to see!

(Thanks to Icons8 Team for sharing their work on Unsplash.)