A lot of writing involves telling people things without actually telling them subtlety being the key. While our characters endure much emotional turmoil we can’t keep saying “Kate looked miserable” or “Tracey was elated”. There has to be another way to convey this to the reader.
Ironically, a lot of the time we use a visual metaphor. When Kate is feeling threatened she dresses sharply, her suits are a carapace to protect her and hide any vulnerability. Tracey on the other hand exploits her wardrobe to enhance her feminine whiles and so the clothes become tighter and occasionally there are less of them, especially in an important scene you’ll have to read in the book if you want to know more !
I think this works better on the page than on television or film. Most of the time, characters wear clothes because that’s what we do. Therefore when you see someone on telly wearing clothes you don’t think anything about it, unless you’re watching a specialist channel late at night anyway. In the text we also assume that or characters are wearing clothes suitable for the situation they find themselves in, or that they would like to find themselves as in Tracey’s case, after all, this is a story and not the Freemans Catalogue so we need to get on with the plot (I am going to get soooo much stick for that shopping reference, probably have said the Asos website) .
All this means that when clothes get a mention, the writer is telling the reader something. I’ve blogged about my learning curve in this respect before so I’ll leave this there. The real point of this post is to mention an important character who isn’t human and yet is important to the plot.
The chocolate machine.
It doesn’t matter where you work, the organisation has a “mood”. HR call it staff morale and produce PowerPoint presentations on the subject. Even though the company isn’t a real entity*, it sometimes seems down and sometimes cheerful. On the good days, everything is going to plan. Individuals might be sunny or grumpy but they often seem at odds with the overall mood and b****y anoying because of this. But as writers, how do we represent this ? After all, the plot revolves around an organisation being closed down. Mentioning every couple of pages that the whole place seems miserable is likely to have the reader on the phone to the Samaritans by chapter 3. That’s got to limit the potential sales of any sequel.
Luckily, we were sitting in a quango which had an ideal character. Now we’d been carefull not to include anyone who might recognise themselves from the page. The Horticulture Investigation Agency is entirely fictitious and not anything like where were working but that didn’t mean we couldn’t pinch ideas and inspiration from our situation. In the corner of the office was a kitchen and in the kitchen a chocolate machine. And you could tell how people were feeling from the state of he contents.
If everyone was fine then the would slowly be consumed but there were certain delicacies that just didn’t seem worth the bother and never sold between refills. When you buy sweets there are some you like and some you just ignore. For some reason the machine often had a quantity of the later. Worse, the design was such that before the delivery spiral got to the nice sweets, they dull items often had to be sold. When the news came through that the place was closing, if the packet chocolate in any form in it, there was a willing buyer.
So, the chocolate machine acts as a barometer for the organisation. If you are in Human Resources, you might like to bear this in mind. At least it will give you and excuse to nip down to the kitchen and check on the contents. Perhaps management ought to be informed when the staff will even eat the Blue Ribands ?
*Companies might not be real entities but according to a particularly nutty person I knew many years ago, they could have horoscopes. Really, people used to pay her money to cast a bespoke horoscope for their firm. If you find out that the CEO is having this done then perhaps it’s time to polish the CV and head for the lifeboats.