Gizmo to Gremlins: When Character's Best Intentions Go Awry
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your story is toss in a few Gremlins.
“So if your air conditioner goes on the fritz, or your washing machine blows up, or your video recorder conks out, before you call the repairman, turn on all the lights, check all the closets and cupboards, look under all the beds, ’cause you never can tell. There just might be a gremlin in your house.” ~ Gremlins & Me, metaphorically.
If you had to describe your character as a Christmas movie, which would you pick? I’d be Gremlins. Just like with most people and characters, I think, the Christmas season--or any project, season, holiday, whatever--begins with a positive, hopeful attitude, like I’d have toward Gizmo. “Ah, he's so cute, so much fun! He’s so warm, and cuddly, and sweet. Awww. I love him! Taking care of him is no big deal at all!”
But, then something happens.
The cute lures of Christmas multiply and soon turn into monsters.
How am I going to get all this done? There’s too much to do, too much money to spend! DC for Christmas? The traffic! The lines! The madness!
“Tell me something, Billy. How come a cute little guy like this can turn into a thousand ugly monsters?” ~ Gremlins. “I know, right?” ~ Me about Gremlins & Christmas Spirit.
The clock is ticking. Christmas Spirit has vanished. And instead of a cute and cuddly Christmas, I’m just hoping to survive. I’m the mom in Gremlins, Mrs. Peltzer. Just trying to bake my damn gingerbreads but stopping every few minutes to battle little demon-interruptions. And now, I’ll have to clean out the microwave, too! Argh!
The same thing could and probably should happen to your MC as your story builds and the pressures mount. There should be gremlins, monsters hiding in the woodwork. Whatever good intentions she started with should blow up in the microwave. Think about other Christmas favs where characters enter the story with the best intentions only for expectations to fly out the window:
Home Alone begins with a family intending to have an amazing Christmas vacation that gets sidetracked when Kevin gets left behind.
Elf starts with Buddy expecting a happy reunion with his father, but nothing goes as planned.
Clark dreams of a perfect family Christmas in Christmas Vacation but it's ruined mostly by, well, family.
The Grinch intends to steal Christmas from the Whos by raiding their presents and decorations, but discovers those things don't matter after all.
John McClane expects to "fly out to the coast, have a few laughs" but ends up in a battle with terrorists. (Yes, Die Hard's still technically a Christmas movie)
Bringing in Gremlins for your character to battle provides an opportunity to show your readers what she's really made of. Besides, it's fun. I mean, seriously, have you ever seen a better Mom-battle scene than Mrs. Peltzer fighting Gremlins in her kitchen? She gets one in the blender, stabs another to death, and zaps another in the microwave, turning it to liquified chunks! That’s what they get for eating her gingerbreads! Damn Gremlins. It's probably the best scene in the movie and she's not even the MC!
Consider your character's Gizmos--that is, cute expectations--and give her Gremlins--troubling, challenging, dirty reality. These don't have to be monsters, of course, though why not? Here are a few other reality checks:
A flat tire on the way to the prom, court date, wedding, funeral, big presentation, Oscars, Post Malone concert
An old flame reaching out days before the perfectly planned, long-awaited wedding
A car accident, a diagnosis, a robbery, a fire
Wrong place, wrong time, too much wine
An upsetting phone call, letter, telegram, text, special delivery
A Ms. Ruby Deagle (the mean lady from Gremlins), an unreasonable boss, a dishonest co-worker, a nosy neighbor, a creepy professor, a villain
Start with characters. Throw in Gremlins. Let characters battle Gremlins. Now, you have a story.
Your turn. What Gremlins could you throw at your MC to raise the stakes in your story?