Friday, November 6, 2009

When Our Characters Drink

Night Club--1933--Guy Pène du Bois

I’ve recently been to a couple of parties where things got lively with alcohol.

This was unusual for me.

First of all, I’m rarely invited to grown-up parties. My good friends know I don’t really enjoy them and they thoughtfully spare me.

Secondly, the parties I do attend are usually child-centered and the drinking is either non-existent or very light (since everyone is driving their children back home again.)

But these parties were different. One was a house party where everyone was staying put. The other was a party that primarily consisted of neighbors, who could walk to their houses. So, there was no driving.

I do definitely enjoy my wine and beer, but I was happier to be the slow sipper at these events. It’s nice to be the most sober person at a party. And then observe the antics.

I thought that alcohol has a very interesting effect on different people and I wondered how to apply these effects to my characters, if I chose to put them in a situation where people needed to misbehave (and, naturally, a murder needed to happen.)

Quiet people can become loud. And rather obnoxious. A good opportunity for someone to get insulted or silly rivalries to start.

Loud people can become quiet and sleepy. And be successfully taken out of the action of the scene so that other plot devices can be put into motion.

Although I knew no one but the hostess for a Halloween party, it didn’t matter as the evening went on. The reserve that had been present at the beginning of the party quickly disappeared and people came right up to chat with me about the most unusual things.

Occasionally people get belligerent. Excellent for adding conflict to a scene.

People get flirty. For a mystery writer, this kind of a situation, taken a bit further, could result in murder.

People get sloppy. I saw several spills and someone who missed his chair. Nice distraction if you’re a mystery writer and need to have everyone’s attention focused somewhere else.

People talk too much. And they’re indiscrete. Secret spilling time.

If you disapprove of alcohol in general or as a matter of principle, you could use a drunken scene as a statement or a warning (without, naturally, getting very preachy about it.)

If you need your character to act out of character or make a huge mistake, alcohol might provide you with the opportunity.

If you need a scene with a good deal of conflict or unveiled secrets, consider a well-oiled party.

As for me? I got lots of material. :)