Okay, so we’ve all been in uncomfortable spots, right? Those moments where we wish we could just duck out unnoticed or fade into the background, invisible. Unfortunately, it in those exact times that escape is not an option. Our cheeks flush, our hearts quicken, our voice pinches up an octave or three.
If you think about it, fitting these very situations into a plot thread can do a lot toward building empathy for your characters while also giving a reader some comic relief between bouts of tension-filled action. Those “fake it ‘til ya make it” stories highlight the idea that awkward circumstances can happen to anybody—even the main character. It makes their flaws acceptable. We end up caring more for him or her and therefore become more invested the story.
This particular idea came to me when Pastor shared a rather comical vignette…
The set up: Pastor was asked to officiate the funeral of a long-time church member and friend. The man’s family—traditionally Catholic—requested Pastor give his talk in the Catholic church. Pastor comes from a non-Catholic background, but accepted the request, honored to be chosen for such a solemn occasion.
The pitch: Pastor, Priest, and Brother of the deceased walk into a bar…no, no, just kidding! They went to a café. Anyway, they planned the funeral itinerary and by the end of the discussion, Priest asked Pastor if he’d sprinkle the coffin with Holy Water. Pastor was open about his lack of knowledge regarding the rituals often seen in Catholic ceremonies, and said: “I’m honored, however, everyone there who’s Catholic would know I have no idea what I’m doing and everyone there from Home Church would wonder what the heck I was doing!”
The Punchline: On the day of the funeral, Priest sprinkled the Holy Water on the coffin and Pastor gave his speech. When the pallbearers took their places to carry the coffin, Priest handed Pastor a golden staff containing Holy Water. Pastor grinned, quite unsure of himself and what he was supposed to do. But he was holding the staff! With a smile, Pastor waved the staff, sprinkling the coffin, and said, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” In response, the congregation crossed themselves.
It worked! Pastor smiled with relief and rejoiced pulling off something he had no idea he could do, regardless of its simplicity.
There you have it folks. Fake it ‘til ya make it.
Now, try this with any other situation and any other character. I bet you’ll see the angst and anxiety can be teased out while the humorous and awkward can be developed. At the end, look over your work. Do you feel more attached to your character? Did you blush for them? Did you sheepishly grin at their antics? If so, you’ve struck gold. Write on, my friends. Write on.