This is from a hike near our new house. You can see why we moved. Photo by Kate Ota 2020
Wow what a hiatus! I’m back, folks! And to pay homage to the move I just made, here’s a post talking about a common theme in novels: moving! What do books get wrong? What can we learn from those mistakes? Let’s take a look!
Classically I think of YA or MG when I think of a novel with moving at the opening. (Twilight for example!) Teenager moves to new place, usually a small town, and starts school the next day. Except no. You do not move one day before school or work starts, that’s insanity. Not only is it not enough time for you to unpack and breathe, but you need time to register for school. Work can’t be the next day, you need time to go to the DMV and also go the Bed Bath and Beyond 8,000 times because you keep forgetting you need something. Please, don’t follow the advice of a thousand YA and MG novels. Give yourself—and your characters—a week, minimum! (But feel free to not write about that week if it’s not plot relevant, it could get boring watching the MC sit at the DMV.)
Usually a character moves to town and meets tons of people the first few days, including their eventual BFFs and rivals. This might happen in school, but as an adult? It really depends on the place. I’ve lived in tons of apartments where I couldn’t name a single neighbor. But with our house, I met a few the first day we came to the house as owners. Friends in the Southern US said neighbors dropped by their new house and greeted them as they moved in, even helped lift furniture. (I will credit my current neighbors that they didn’t do this because we’re in the coronavirus pandemic and they’re responsibly social distancing.) This may be more of a Thing in small towns, and certainly is a small town trope in novels. In a big city, I don’t think this trope is as believable. Work to come up with more creative meet-cutes for your characters than someone greeting the new neighbor. It’ll make your work stand out in the crowd.
Characters never mention the last box. Yes, the box that remains sort of packed because everything else got unpacked first and you have been able to avoid needing anything in that last box. It sits for months. Maybe a year. Until one day you have to break down and unpack it. The Incredibles mentioned this box, when Helen called Bob and let him know the last box was unpacked after two years in the house. I feel that scene in my bones. When we moved, we hadn’t yet unpacked that box from the last move. Oops. It’s that kind of little detail that stands out with the audience and makes the move believable and part of the story instead of a tropey plot opener. Plus, unpacking or organizing gives characters something to do while discussing more interesting, plot-relevant things. And nothing ups the drama of a fight like also being frustrated over not yet finding something important they swear they packed.
A short post today, but hopefully you got some good tips. Maybe this opened your eyes to something that needs to change in your project. Or maybe I just reminded you about that box you still need to unpack. Let’s discuss in the comments!