In college, I took an outdoor recreation class, which included a day of snowshoeing in the mountains near Provo, Utah. I had a ball and had been wanting to go snowshoeing again, but snowshoes are pricey--about $120 minimum. Somewhere in the ensuing years, I found a blueprint on the Boys' Life website for building my own snowshoes. (Two Eagle Scouts for brothers = I read a lot of that magazine growing up.) Still, the project would need some elbow grease and a lot of parts that I didn't have. While I was living in North Carolina, where we only get one or two snowpocalypses (i.e., it snows about four inches and everything shuts down for a week) per year, it just wasn't a sensible investment of time or money.
A few weeks ago, when self-quarantining was on the verge of being required, I decided that I needed a project to keep me occupied while I was stuck at home. So snowshoes it was. After a few adventures with trying to figure out how to get two ten-foot pieces of CPVC pipe home in my little Sentra, I got to work.
It took me about two weeks, thanks to a serious lack of instructions about how to do the lacing. But I finally got the snowshoes all put together.
By which time it was regularly above fifty degrees outside.
I figured at this rate, I wouldn't get to try out the snowshoes until next winter. But at least I had them now.
And then this past week happened. It's been snowing off and on since Saturday, and we have at least four inches on the ground now. So guess where I'm going as soon as I finish this post. 😁
Characters in stories often have an element like my snowshoes. It might be a personality quirk, a strange hobby, an ability that seems to have no relevance to the plot, or whatever. But by the end of the story, that weird thing pays off somehow to help the characters reach their goals.
Of course, some quirks can be just quirks. But part of a character's growth is learning to use weaknesses, quirks, or other potentially negative things about themselves in a positive way. That's why it's important to have at least one payoff of this type in your story.
In the old Hardy Boys books, for example, sidekick Chet Morton is constantly taking up new hobbies, much to his friends' amusement. In The Arctic Patrol Mystery, his newest obsession is karate. For someone as rotund and more-enthusiastic-than-skilled as Chet, it's an unlikely choice. But by the end of the book, <spoilers> he's developed enough skill to subdue a bad guy with a karate chop. </spoilers>
Similarly, in the original Star Wars film, Luke Skywalker has a tendency to assume the best of people and situations (the Millennium Falcon being a notable exception). He doesn't get mad at R2-D2 for going missing from the moisture farm, isn't put off by Leia's sarcasm when he first meets her, and is confident that the Rebels can hit a tiny exhaust port on the Death Star. Considering the harshness of the galaxy Luke is stepping into, most viewers probably expect his idealism to be crushed like a soda can. But Luke's faith in people is rewarded when Han Solo, his conscience apparently pricked by Luke's pleading, returns in time to blast Darth Vader out of the battle at a critical moment. This same faith is also what finally enables Luke to save Vader in Return of the Jedi.
What odd or seemingly useless traits do your characters have? How could you turn those into assets by the end of your story?
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