In this post, I want to talk more about the OADA model for writing (see my August 25 post). The accompanying illustration shows more of what comprises OADA. While further OADA development is needed, this graphic introduces the ROUTINE SCRIPT as well as other stored matter that resides in our MEMORY. Let’s face it – no one can function without memory. Not only that – without memory we have no identity. Don’t believe me? Then talk with someone who has firsthand experience with the unfortunate souls suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
When I sit at my computer and start writing with a fresh, blank screen I do what a lot of “pantsers” do: I think about my characters interacting with situations. I tend to think this way because that is how life unfolds to us humans. When folks hear about something happening to a friend or relative, only part of the news is the event itself. The rest of the news is how it affects them. For example, suppose Sam’s close friends know he lives paycheck to paycheck and is just scraping by. If they learn Sam was mugged by a street gang and his injuries will keep him laid up for a few weeks, their first thoughts revolve around his medical condition. Once they know he will recover, their thoughts shift to how will he pay his medical bills and recover his lost wages. The mugging was the event; being injured and penniless is the situation.
Another way to think about this example is that Sam has been temporarily removed from his routine (day-to-day) life and now faces new challenges. During Sam’s routine existence his OADA process pretty much ran on automatic. Sure, he still observed, assessed, made decisions, and acted; it simply wasn’t anything noteworthy. For example, he observed that it was going to be a cold day so he assessed that a light jacket was advisable. He decided to wear it, thus he grabbed his jacket and put it on. This routine existence is represented by the ROUTINE SCRIPT shown in the graphic under the MEMORY area. This doesn’t mean Sam doesn’t have hopes, dreams, plans, wants, and the like. It simply means all those things are stored another place in his memory, perhaps in the location called PLANS, WANTS, & EXPERIENCES.
Now, however, Sam is confronted with a new situation. Now his OADA process is running in high gear, thrashing around in his memory searching for ideas and options based on his experiences and knowledge. Sam’s mind, like most of ours, thinks in terms of questions: how can I recoup the money I’ve lost from missing work? How can I get money to pay my medical bills? How can I avoid another mugging – I didn’t have any money on me anyway?
Fortunately, Sam’s friends come by and let him know they can help with the bills. He has done a good turn or two for all of them over the years and thinks perhaps they can help solve his problem. Each of them gives him a slip of paper with the amount they can contribute. Luckily, Sam sees that his friends will indeed help him over the hump. With their help and his short-term disability income, it should be enough to get him back on his feet.
Stepping back for a moment, I don’t see that I have much of a story to write at this point. I don’t have anything against happy endings but I do want to avoid routine and predictable situations. The truth is that the day-to-day routine of our characters plays an important role in a story. It provides the backdrop, the reference from which we (as readers and writers) can recognize what’s changed. We can also better understand what the character is thinking and feeling when things change by knowing what passed for the status quo before the change.
I could build a story by making Sam’s situation more challenging. Let’s say he is about to divorce his second wife and will have to pay more alimony (he’s still paying alimony to his first wife). This pretty much means the help his friends offer is not going to get him where he needs to be. He has to consider more drastic action, like selling his car or subleasing his apartment and moving in with his brother Larry.
There are more options for Sam to look at, any number of which will cause him to depart his routine life. Then things will start getting interesting. However, I’m going to stop here with this example because it has illustrated my points.
There are two more points I want to make on this topic. One is that making changes in Sam’s life could eventually lead to his establishing a new routine. In other words, routines are not permanent but over time can be re-cast. This underscores an aspect of human nature: most days in our lives are, well, routine. The second point addresses the unique challenges that science fiction and fantasy writers face when they are worldbuilding. They have to consider what is routine in their world and what is not. Since their worlds are different from what we human readers know to be normal, they have to clearly make us aware of the distinction between routine events and the unusual.