Monday, May 27, 2013

The Mosquito In The Bedroom

You're dead tired. It's a summer night and you're sleeping with just a sheet over you. And that's too hot. You've just flipped off the light. The house is quiet. And then you hear it--the whine of a single mosquito in the bedroom with you.

Do you turn the light on again and hunt the blighter? Do you pull the sheet over your head and hope she can't bite through it? (It is a she. All biting mosquitoes are female.) Or do you just lie back and think of England?

I can think of few things more irritating.

Mimi on The Drew Carey Show was pretty irritating. She was everything I could hate in a character. She's unpleasant, unattractive, and just plain irritating. She was there by design. And in this design she plays a very specific role: She's an irritant.

Once I started looking for "irritants" I started finding them in different variations in a lot of stories. And I realized that I'd been suggesting them without knowing why.

In the case of Mimi, her job was to keep Drew from ever having a peaceful, happy day at work. The mutual animosity was intended to keep a ready reservoir of conflict at the ready.

And more than conflict, the irritant provides distraction.

Suppose you have some heavy exposition. Perhaps you've got an infodump you need to get out of the way. Your readers need to know a whole lot of stuff that'll make your next plot point make sense. Or that'll provide the several missing puzzle pieces your protagonist must fit together. Sure, you could have your hero attend a lecture and all the things s/he needs to know about whodunnit would be laid out in straightforward prose. But lectures are often boring. Just ask Ferris Bueller.

Just add a mosquito to the infodump. The mosquito will irritate one or both of the characters giving/receiving the info and they'll take breaks from lecturing or listening to try to swat the mosquito. Or try to avoid getting bitten by it.

Keep in mind that the mosquito is not a central part of the story, it is an accessory intended to provide narrative distraction. S/he cannot take over the story, and cannot side-track the narrative, but must merely provide some speed-bumps on the way.

Think through some of your scenes where you've heard there's not enough conflict, or that this scene is boring (but you know it's necessary to set up something else). Consider adding an irritant to the scene--an annoying, pestering distraction. Maybe a potentially violent boyfriend of the girl your protagonist is chatting up. Or an angry customer vying for the attention of the sales clerk from which your detective is coaxing some privileged information.

What you want to do is multiplex the various interactions. Just take the straight Q and A ping-pong match, and insert various Mosquito to A and Q to Mosquito interruptions. Don't divert your original course of Q and A, just add a lot of swatting and buzzing.


  1. A reader can certainly learn a lot about the characters by how they deal with the mosquito. (I hide under my covers!)

  2. A swaying train or subway car, talking while the driver is being completely insane and barely missing disasters, little kid demanding whatever while Mom's trying to talk . . . this kind of stuff?

  3. It's difficult to sleep in the middle of the summer. Add to that the annoying buzz and painful bite of mosquitoes, not to mention the deadly diseases they carry, and you're sure to endure one of the worst nights of your life. There are ways you can rid your home of mosquitoes though. Cleaning your house regularly, and have your house and backyard sprayed for pest control.
    Mosquito Squad

    1. I think the cruelest aspect of mosquito predation upon humans is mental. Worrying about disease only adds to it.


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