Friday, November 13, 2009
Posted by Liane Gentry Skye
I've been thinking a lot about rituals lately. No, not the religious kind. But rather the kind we rely on, almost subconsciously, to give form to our days.
My favorite part of the day is actually the end of the day. One, because that means reading time. And two, because that's when the kids are all down and I treat myself to a long shower, put on my cushiest pj's and curl up in bed with a nice cup of tea--chamomile, of course--and my Kindle. I didn't realize how important this ritual had become to me until my husband left for Afghanistan and my oldest son went into a severe autism crisis at the same time.
That's when I found out we have those rituals for a reason. They comfort us. They provide the boundaries in this strange chaos we call life. My boundaries, my family's boundaries were missing during those long weeks of my son's meltdown.
And we missed them. Ached for them some days.
That time of missing my own personal rituals along with the family ones, got me to thinking about characters. Specifically, characters and their rituals.
I remember a movie, Mercury Rising. Not so much for the plot, but for a ritual that was important to Simon, the young autistic hero in the movie. Every day when Simon, who was nonverbal, came home from school, he and his mother would go through the ritual of making hot chocolate.
Later, when Simon's parents are murdered, Bruce Willis's character, who has been assigned to protect Simon (at least that's how I remember it) takes Simon back to his home in search of clues. The first thing Simon does is go to the kitchen and begin the ritual of making hot chocolate.
In that moment, we learned so much about Simon--and how necessary familiarity and boundaries were to him. In one gesture, we realized just how broken this child's world really was. To say this was a hand-me-the-tissue moment is the most pathetic form of understatement.
Rituals humanize us. And they can humanize the characters in the books we love, too.
Have you ever written a character with a personal ritual? Read about one that you simply can't forget? What about your own personal rituals. What function do they play in your life? What do they say about you as a person?
If you're an author, think about how you'd feel if your most cherished ritual was torn away from you. Then do it to your character.
I'd love to know how it goes for you.
Two more days until the finalists are announced in Dorchester Publishing's America's Next Best Celler contest at Textnovel. Wish me luck, because I'm up against--no, with--some fantastic stories, and I'd hate to be the editor in the position of picking the top ten. Gulp. :)