I’m a great believer in writing what you know. Because even as a fantasy writer, inspiration often comes from real life in all of its glorious forms. And if this post is a little later than I would have liked, it’s because I had a real life reminder that when mischievous minds are given free rein, the results can be quite destructive.
In my own defence I’ve just started a new job, so the instinctive parental radar capable of detecting acts of mischief was a bit overloaded. So when I asked my son to come in for lunch and he said he had to find his shoes in the hedge, I didn’t immediately realise that something was afoot.
Number one son and his friend had been out on the trampoline playing ‘happily’ for some time. Next to the trampoline is a giant hedge. It’s big and bushy from the trampoline side, but it grows over a huge retaining wall and drops down about two stories on the back side of the section. Into the depths of this monster three shoes had been flung. Apparently they were trying to see if they could throw the shoes over the hedge.They couldn’t tell us where the shoes might have landed because they had been laughing so much at the time…
To cut a long story short, an hour and half later, utilising ladders, precarious balancing, getting various body parts pierced by hedge roses and other thorns, many many scratches and hubby taking hedge clippers to a particularly prickly part of the hedge, the shoes were retrieved. My lovely hedge which was flowering beautifully now has a big bald patch, lunch was cold and visitors turned up. Mischief 1 – Saturday 0.
The next day hubby bought a new standing lamp which came in a big box packed with polystyrene. Because it was quite big the children thought they could cut swords out of the packaging. It all seemed a bit harmless and they had a great time. By Monday the swords had lost their shine somewhat and they decided to take the game up a notch. I was cooking dinner at the time, and could hear the children laughing and playing happily in the lounge. Half an hour later I came in to see how they were doing.
What I found could only be described as a snowdrift piled all over the lounge. My little cherubs had discovered if you crumbled the polystyrene it turned into something resembling snow. There was snow on top of the curtains, piled over the floor, on the furniture and it was drifting down the hallway. The two of them were lying on the floor making snow angels and laughing fit to burst. The creative, fun part of me was delighted. The tired, practical side of me wanted to weep.
It took three of us an hour and a half to clean it all up. They dealt with the big bits and I filled up numerous vacuum cleaner bags with the light little balls that seemed to have found their way into every nook and cranny of the lounge.
Determined to put a positive spin on what really is a common slice of my life, I started thinking about how I could use mischief as a storytelling tool:
Humour: It’s always so much funnier when you aren’t the person cleaning up the mess.
Character Development: This is a great way to show another side to a character. Whether you want to show a previously unobserved sense of humour, or have a tightly controlled character lose the plot, the reaction to mischievous behaviour can be very revealing. I can always remember my grandfather offering to teach me to drive our diesel farm ute after he saw me joyriding (bunny hopping) around the farm with some friends. His reaction surprised me, and I always remembered and respected him for it because I thought he would (quite justifiably) be really mad with me.
Story Obstacle: If your story is feeling a bit linear and the characters need more conflict – add a dose of mischief. It can slow down a time sensitive mission, lose an important piece of kit, and generally make things harder for everyone. Great story fodder.
Animals: Don’t forget that animals can often bring the mischief. Our cat Jingles is known as the Holy Tearer or Shredder, because he will shred any paper left unattended. He’s destroyed bags of newspaper, toilet rolls, autographed sports posters and has eaten both of my children’s homework.
Villains: I just have to mention Loki here, because who doesn’t love Tom Hiddleston’s version. A little bit of mischief goes some way to making him into a villain we love to hate. But even if your villain doesn’t have much of a sense of humour they may react in a spectacularly bad way when on the receiving end of a mischievious hero or minion.
Do you have any favourite mischievous characters? Do you use mischief as a story tool? I’d love to hear some of your mischievous stories in the comments!