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So it was like any other Tuesday morning. I lolled in bed until almost 7 before hurrying into the shower, brushing my teeth, and dressing. I had breakfast nuked and set on the coffee table when I remembered I left my glass of Mountain Dew on my nightstand. I padded barefoot through the muted morning darkness and as I turned to walk back into the hallway, I saw it.
The black slithery line squiggled like lightning on my carpet and headed into the distinctive location of my bathroom.
I had a motherfucking snake in my motherfucking apartment.
I imagine to the average person, a snake the size of a bloated earthworm is no big deal, and to my herpetological-loving boyfriend, he’d probably argue whether it was actually a snake, being it was a whole 10-inches long and more anorexic than my pinkie finger; however, I would not be swayed. I was freaked the fuck out.
I hate snakes, and by that, I don’t mean I hate them and then go to the zoo to look at them in the Reptile room. I mean I hate snakes. I don’t discuss them; I don’t look at pictures of them; I don’t draw them for Pictionary. I don't google snakes. I don't play with plush ones at the stores. If you thrust a rubber one in my face, I will strangle you with it. The basilisk in Harry Potter flips me out, and it’s computer generated. I’m not joking; I hate snakes.
But don’t worry. Like all things that can scare me, I had a strategy planned, should the need ever arise of me having to deal with a snake in my domicile. I was going to call for someone to take the snake out of my house. It was going to be completely Samuel L. Jackson, jumping up and down on my couch, screaming into my phone, “Get this motherfucking snake out of my motherfucking apartment!” Then I was going to continue jumping up and down, screaming, until someone got it the hell out of my apartment. Simple, easy to remember.
Except I realized immediately—adrenaline rushing a pragmatic train of thought through my brain—I was going to have to deal with this problem. I knew immediately I wasn’t going to be able to just call someone to come get it. Waiting would cause me more problems. Like it disappearing again and not being found. A snake continuing to be in my house, unfound, would be an infinitely BIGGER problem.
I’d have to trap it. Then call and freak out at my landlord. He could take the snake away once it was contained in a place smaller than my apartment.
I brought out the biggest, tallest Tupperware container I had and shakily brought it back to the bathroom. I screeched at the snake, who cowered behind the door as if it thought I might not see it. Right. My hawk-like gaze zeroed on the little bastard. I screamed and tried to scoop. He kept wiggling. I kept screaming and shaking so hard you would have thought I was a whippet caught in a blizzard.
Finally I relocated the damned thing into its new plastic home and lidded it tightly, prancing back into the living room and setting it on the card table. Then I curled up on my couch and allowed myself the Dobby-esque nervous breakdown I so richly deserved. I called the landlord and freaked out on the answering machine. “There is a SNAKE in my apartment! I have trapped it, but I don’t know if there are more SNAKES!”
Then I called my boyfriend. When my knight-in-shining-armor returned my call, he asked what’s wrong. This was an auspicious beginning; he’d sensed the terror in my voice and immediately called me back. “There is a fucking snake in my house.” “A snake?”—I can actually hear him sucking in his cheeks to keep from laughing outright. “Are you laughing?” I ask in my deadly woman voice. “Noooo. Where is the snake now?” “I trapped it in a Tupperware bowl. With a lid.” The lid was very important. I was still doing my best whippet shiver, but now I was able to redirect my fear into anger that somebody did not understand how dangerous this 10-inch non-venomous snake was.
Okay, time for the Charles Dickens’ HEA: the snake rode with me to work so I could release it as far from my house as feasibly possible (landlord did not return immediate call and I wasn't leaving it in the apartment--what if the snake was Houdini?); he was released into a nearby park around noon, the container thrown like I was trying out for shot put; and I haven’t seen the damned thing since. Best HEA of all.
I took a picture as proof in case my landlord thinks I’m just making up shit at this point. I feel like I call him every other week about something. Please note that the camera adds ten pounds. However, to me, ten inches is as good as a mile.
Now I only share this story and picture—other than I figure a lot of you would love to be marooned with Bo’sun and cut out of my will—because in creating characters, it’s important to give your character three things (three is always the magic number in fairy tales, I guess) they would never do. Then make them do them. If you had asked me a month ago what my plan was regarding snakes, it would be “call someone to get it out of my house.” Nowhere—and I mean nowhere—would the following procedures be on the list: “catch the snake” and “ride with it to work, passenger’s seat” and “release the live snake back into the wild.” What a joke.
It was when I was emailing with my friend Pam, who understands my phobia of snakes (she’s seen me walk on water to exit a swimming area where a snake had been spotted) gaped at me through email: “You trapped the snake? Really? OMG.” Same sort of email voice that would display the sort of awe for You cured cancer? Really? OMG. You know, as if I had wrangled a six-foot python rather an itty-bitty garter snake. (Same difference to me, you understand.) I also got brownie points for not bashing its head in. And I realized, Wow, I really had done something I would never, ever would have done in any other circumstances.
So if I, chicken shit extraordinaire, could corral a garter snake, then my own characters in novels could definitely do the shit they’d never dream of doing in real life. And I’m going to have to think hard because it really does need to be something that scares them to death.
I think it’s conquering the thing that scares you the most (not that I’m going to become a snake charmer by any means, nor bring home a pet python) that gives you the most satisfaction. Like you really earned your HEA or reward. One of the most satisfying moments in Stranger Than Fiction is when Will Ferrell starts living his life. He does things he never thought he could do—but wanted to do, like play the guitar. So he went and bought a kick ass guitar and learned to play a song. Then he plays the song for the girl he’s in love with—again, something he never would do in ordinary circumstances (but because he was going to die soon, he did it)—the dorkiest version of “Whole Wide World”, eyes closed, totally vulnerable, and for his efforts, his love interest totally jumps him. (Huzzah for that kind of HEA.)
I didn’t get magnificent sex for my efforts; however, I did feel—once the shivers wore off—like Lara Croft. I felt like a Heroine. That’s why writers have to make their heroines do the things they’d never want to do, or they’ll never be true heroines.
So what do you do to make your heroines earn their heroine status? Or your heroes for that matter? Do you notice in novels when characters do the things they said they’d never do? What are your favorite examples from novels or authors who do this well?