A few weeks ago, I promised a sneak peek of my recently published short story.
Since I don’t want to be to totally self-promoting (I prefer being helpful and interesting), this blog post isn’t only going to be that.
Instead, I’m going to use the title of my published short story, Finding Home, to talk about how every main character in a story has to find their new home.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a character must be in search of a home. Not a physical home to live in, they probably already have that. No, it’s not that simple. Instead, every protagonist in a story is embarking upon an adventure.
Joseph Campbell coined the term “The Hero’s Journey,” and that’s what our hero (or heroine) goes on in every story. But they’re searching for more than fame and glory. They are searching for a better world to live in. At the beginning of a story in your character’s life, there must be something wrong with their world. That is why every story has to start with conflict, and why most characters change over the course of their story.
Think about your favorite story. This can be a classic or a modern day yarn. Now think about what happens to your character over their story. How does the story start? What happens to that character in the middle? And what happens at the end? Is that character the same?
While many series have static characters, it is also the reason that a series cannot go on forever. There must be some sort of character arc in order to keep the reader invested. If these arcs only occur in the minor characters, which pass in and out of the plot, then the reader will probably lose interest in a series long before the author will.
But what does this mean in terms of your character’s home search? First, your character must accept that their world is flawed. And they don’t like that flaw. In fact, they will risk almost everything to change that flaw, and some characters do risk everything. (This risk can be something like a physical death or simply an emotional death.) But unless they recognize the flaw in their world, they have no desire to change their world. And thus, there is no plot.
Once your character recognizes this flaw, they have two choices. One, they can try to change their world. Or two, they can go back from whence they came and live in their tiny hovel, unhappy with the world and all it offers. But if they choose option #2, there isn’t much of a story for the reader to read, is there?
This is where the home metaphor comes into play. The protagonist is unhappy with their current home. They want a new home, one that is roomer, perhaps, or move-in ready, or doesn’t have that unfortunate basement where their clinically insane brother buried the bodies… So with their unhappiness in mind, they decide to search for a new home. They may enlist a realtor’s help. They may decide to go it alone. But whatever they choose, there is no going back. Once they make that decision to find a new home, then they’re in it for keeps. The world will never, ever be the same. For some, it will be better. For some, it will be worse. For some, it will just be different. But never the same.
Emma Chesworth was never happier than when she stood in the kitchen cooking her husband’s breakfast and planning out her day with their four-year-old daughter.
Footsteps announced her husband’s presence long before he arrived in the lavish kitchen to their equally lavish six-bedroom home. Lizzy, their blue-eyed, redheaded daughter, watched the arched doorway as she munched on her apple slice.
At the stove, Emma turned the bacon and poked at the sausage, smiling as she waited for her professional footballer player husband to stomp into the kitchen with his characteristic heavy steps and expect his two plates of meaty breakfast.
His footsteps hesitated at the doorway, and Emma cast her smile over a shoulder at him. He’d yet to dress for the day, wearing a red hoodie and orange flannel pajama pants.
“Morning, Daddy.” Lizzy waved half an apple slice at him.
“Mornin’, sweetheart.” He didn’t move, and Emma gazed at him curiously.
“Sleep okay?” Emma asked.
He shrugged and seemed to inspect the floor. “Yeah.”
Frowning, Emma flipped the sausages and transferred them to a warmed plate. A moment later, she followed suit with the bacon and placed it in the oven to warm. Sliced potatoes steamed on the stove while she poured whisked eggs into the now empty and hot pan.
“So when do you leave again? Two?” Emma stirred the potatoes and glanced at Josh for an answer.
He stood near her now, a solemn expression on his face, which Emma later hoped was regret. “Yeah.” His voice broke and he cleared his throat. He shifted his weight, and a manila envelope appeared in his hand. His eyes caught hers. He slid it onto the counter beside the stove.
“What’s this?” She reached for it. “Your ticket information?”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “I want a divorce.”
The marble floor pitched beneath her. She groped for the oven door for support, jerking her hand back when a burning sensation demanded her attention. Past Josh, Lizzy’s inquisitive eyes peered at both of them as she gnawed on a piece of toast.
“You what?” Her words came out as a strangled whisper.
“I want a divorce.” Certainty infused his voice.
“A divorce? Are you kidding?” As she always had, Emma gained strength from his strength. She wrapped her arms around herself. “Why? I mean, this is a little abrupt. Can’t we work on it? Or are you saying you’re done with me? After seven years?”
Josh glanced at the stove, but she glared at him, still loving the strong jawline, the stubble before he’d shaved, the slight smell of sweat from him. After this many years, she still was head over heels for him.
Looking back at her, he shrugged. “I’ve found someone else. I’ve been unhappy for awhile, and…”
“Whoa—you what?” He didn’t answer. “Who?” Something was burning in the kitchen. Something besides her marriage.
“It’s not important.”
“What about Lizzy?”
For the first time, he seemed to hesitate. Lizzy had put her toast down and her blue irises were rimmed by white. “I won’t contest custody.”
“Oh.” Emma blinked at him and, feeling sarcasm was her best defense, gave in. “Great. Okay. That’s wonderful. You’re really serious? You’re just walking away from us?”
“I’ll pay alimony, child care, whatever you want. You write it up, and I’ll sign it.” Josh’s pale blue eyes, which she’d once thought eternally kind and trustworthy, now seemed hard and uncaring. “I just can’t do this anymore.”
“There’s nothing I can say to make you stay?”
The floor rolled under her now. She couldn’t breathe. Distantly, she heard the smoke detector sound its alarm.
As Josh leapt into action, turning off the stove and grabbing a towel to wave smoke away, Emma sank to the cold floor, too numb to cry.
Uncontested. That was the status update of her life. Uncontested divorce. Uncontested sale of home. Uncontested division of property. Uncontested single mom. There was nothing left in her to contest. Not anymore. Josh had stolen her last shred of self-esteem.
Emma Chesworth left the courthouse a woman with a new title. Divorcée. She fought to hold back the tears as she left alone. No lawyer, no husband. No marriage. As she climbed behind the wheel of her BMW SUV, a remnant of a life once lived, Emma lost control.
The tears she had denied herself for six months overflowed, hot and hopeless. Only when her eyes were slits and her cheeks red, puffy messes, did she steal a brown Starbucks napkin out of the otherwise impeccable center console. The mirror showed her for what she really was: a woman in her early thirties that would never be carded if she were buying alcohol right now, but probably be picked up by the police for public drunkenness should she walk down the street. She’d gotten her first greys in the past two months, which jumped out against her chocolate tresses, and which she had promptly yanked out by the roots. However, if they continued their rapid appearance, she’d be fully grey—or bald—within the year.
Once she’d dabbed the mascara rivulets from her cheeks, she snapped the mirror shut and the visor up. Glanced at the clock. She’d walked out of the courthouse twenty minutes ago. For twenty minutes, her life had been irrevocably different.
Only twenty minutes.
There was something anticlimactic about leaving the courthouse and heading to her parents’ house a half hour away. Something that changed everything seemed to have changed nothing.
For the past four months, she’d lived with her parents, a kind of return to high school life, only with a four-year-old daughter who now threw tantrums every single day.
Josh, on the other hand, had immediately shacked up with his childless girlfriend—not even waiting to sign the divorce papers before running off to Europe for six weeks and proposing to said woman. The home-wrecker was five-nine, one-thirty, blonde, rich, gorgeous, and foreign. If Emma hadn’t been insecure enough before, she was now.
Her phone rang from her purse, and Emma flinched. She debated whether to let it ring, but sighed and dug it from her purse.
Her realtor’s name blinked on the screen. She slid her finger across the phone to answer. “Hi, Kevin. Tell me you have good news.”
The realtor chuckled. “I happen to have excellent news.”
“Yes, you know that Victorian house you made an offer on two weeks ago?”
Emma frowned. “Yes.” Two weeks ago, she’d gotten in a slight bidding war with her future divorce settlement money. She needed a home, and she’d always dreamed of a perfect Victorian house. But the only way to get a “perfect” one was to restore it herself. So she’d bid on a run-down, desperately-in-need-of-repair Victorian house from 1899 in nearby Whytcombe. It was a crazy scheme, she’d decided after she was outbid by twenty-thousand dollars, to restore the home herself. Every single room needed attention. A part of her had been relieved to lose, to avoid another sure failure.
“Well,” Kevin said, drawing the word out into three syllables, “I hope you’re still interested. Because I told the seller you were.”
“Still interested? What do you mean? The house sold.” Emma straightened. “Didn’t it?”
“The buyers backed out after their inspection. They’re going to put it back on the market, but they wanted me to check with you first.” Kevin paused. “What do you think?”
“I—” Emma blinked. “Yes. I’ll take it.”