Bucket lists are generally grandiose compilations of big events with universal appear. So, you want to swim with the dolphins and go cave spelunking in Chile? Well, who the hell doesn’t want to do those things? Big events do not a compelling character make.
I believe I’ve taken the bucket list concept to a much more satisfying place, one that celebrates happenstance and relative minutiae rather than expensive plane tickets and vacation photo fodder.
For a long time, I’ve been paying attention to the unique moments of my life, ones that more often than not seem to materialize without any provocation, but that are nonetheless sources of pride. Here are a few examples of the accomplishments on my bucket list:
- Free alcohol drinks on an airplane (described here)
- Witness a light bulb burning out
- Make a day-stranger friend in an unfamiliar city (adapted to the non-fiction piece “A Chinese Gemini” from my chapbook, Charactered Pieces: stories)
- Witness a highway car wreck
- Live through a tornado
- Tell a depressed-looking stranger she’s beautiful, without any ulterior motive
- Call 911
What is the impact of these items in terms of character development?
The way a character reacts to each of the events above says a great deal about the mental state and lifestyle of the character. Does a character routinely get free drinks on an airplane? If so, how? If not, how would this character react to such a unique gesture? Would a character witnessing a light bulb burn out assume he caused the light to burn out? Was there a big event happening when the light went out, such as a wedding, award ceremony, or something smaller like a criminal interrogation? Who is the day-stranger friend? How did this friend meet your story’s character? Perhaps the meeting was planned without one of the parties knowing. Who was in the car wreck? How was it that our character was in the right place at the right time to witness this car wreck? Why did the character call 911? Was it a prank call? And on and on and on…
By contrast, a character connected to a big event from a traditional bucket list item (such as skydiving or swimming with dolphins) may simply be the product of a plot rather than a rounded character in his own right.
Traits implied by a happenstance bucket list puts the focus on the character rather than on the plot. What are some items on your happenstance bucket list?
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ratatatratsy/
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About Caleb J. Ross
Caleb began writing his sophomore year of undergrad study when, tired of the formal art education then being taught, he abandoned the pursuit in the middle of a compositional drawing class. Major-less and fearful of losing his financial aid, he signed up to seek a degree in English Literature for no other reason than his lengthy history with the language. Coincidentally, this decision not only introduced him to writing but to reading as well. Prior this transition he had read three books. One of which he understood.