Many years ago I went to a mystery conference with my mother. Russell James was a speaker on one of the panels. To say I was impressed is an understatement. I immediately bought a bunch of his books, including ‘Painting in the Dark.’ (I just found the electronic version on Amazon and it’s now nestling on my Kindle!)
When he was asked why he didn’t write a series with recurring characters, he replied that his novels were about the biggest thing that happened in the protagonist’s life. A detective in a series may grow and change, but the credibility of the character is challenged if their life in a fictional world rockets from one drama to the next. Instead, he would write each book focusing on a monumental event in one character’s life and, if he liked the character, he or she might become a secondary player in another novel.
I liked the idea and I still do.
In real life—off the page, electronic or material—we don’t live lurching from on big dramatic moment to the next, like characters in a soap opera. Still, from time-to-time we need to venture outside the safety of our personal comfort zones and shake things up. These out-of-norm moments aren’t as big as the radical experiences in a Russell James novel, but they are mini explosive devices that undermine the norm.
I was ‘theatrical’ as a teenager. Shy to the point of awkward, I somehow found freedom on stage. Even with stage fright, I could carry a tune, memorize my lines, hit my marks and project a character. I’m not pretending I was a good actor; I’m just putting my adventure outside my comfort zone in context. Last week, in a purely amateur Tango performance, I played a peacock with a day-glow nose, neon crown and glow-in-the-dark tail feathers made of line green tulle. The show required me to be bold, obnoxious, brave and determined. I was me—and I was not me, simultaneously.
The line between writing a character and being a character is clear, but for actors that line is more like a porous net. The peacock expressed parts of me I don’t usually expose, parts of me that are both consciously and unconsciously hidden. It was liberating and great fun! I can’t be the peacock all the time, but I can bring her out in secondary roles from time-to-time, stepping (and dancing and writing, etc.) outside my comfort zone to create mini-pivotal moments where I’m center stage.
When was the last time you ventured outside your comfort zone?