Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Which I Do Not Endorse Pitching Yourself Down Staircases

It's time for another, extra-special glimpse into MindyLand - a fascinating place in which the reliable narrator appears to be protected by a higher power, cause really, I shoulda died.

Ignore the old-house-in-renovation-look
And I promise, it ties into writing. Eventually. Bear with me.

I live in a big old, rambling farmhouse, with a big old takes-forever-to-climb, built-at-an-alarming-angle staircase.  I love my big old house, and the staircase was a serious motivating factor when I bought the house. Then it tried to kill me this past winter.

*Pause for world-building info dump*

My bedroom is on the second floor; a bathroom in the process of renovation is conveniently, right next door.  If one were (and, one often does) to walk out of the bathroom, you take a hard left to get to the bedroom.  Then there's a Misleading Bit O'Wall (reason for being thus dubbed to follow) and, immediately following, also on the left, the Staircase of Fate.  Said stairs are made out of real dead trees, not pressed and hardened cardboard.  And there used to be carpet on them.  I took it off.  Very.  Very. Smart.

So late one night - technically, it was very early, cause I'm a stay-upper like that - last December I found myself in need of the potty.  I make that trip, and flip off the light in the bathroom as I exit - cause who needs the lights on to make a hard left turn into their own bedroom? But it's late, and I'm tired, so when I put my hand out and feel the Misleading Bit O'Wall ending, I think oh good - bedroom - and commenced to step out into nothingness.  I was already leaning forward a bit, reaching for the light switch inside the bedroom, so I don't do one of those slippity, land on your butt things.  I fell completely forward and went end over end so that the very first thing that HIT was literally the crown of my head.  On a step.  A hard one.  With no carpet.  I heard the *CRUNCH* inside my head as my neck impacted.

Thought process went like this, as I stepped into nothingness, surrounded by pitch blackness:

1) Where the hell did my bedroom floor go?
2) *CRUNCH* Oh shit, I'm falling down the stairs, and I think my neck just got shorter.
3) Wow, this is really taking a long time to get to the bottom
4) *still falling down the stairs* Do these stairs end?  It would be really terrifying if I just kept falling.
5) *MEATY SMACK as I hit the bottom* (cause she never really slowed down) Oh good, I'm done falling, the perpetual stairs theory is false.
6) Ouch
7) I appear to be alright
8) *attempts to stand, immediate vomit reaction, curls into fetal position* Should I call the squad?  I can either crawl the length of the house to the security panel and do that, or crawl back up the stairs to my cell phone.
9) Well, I'm butt ass naked so I don't think I will go for option one.  (Inside track - BBC sleeps in the nude. Yeah, cause that's how I roll - and let me tell you, the bruises were interesting).

So I crawl back up the stairs, to call my Mommy and Daddy - cause that's also how I roll.  And an interesting conversation follows:

Mindy: (after a few dials cause it's like, 3 AM) Hi Mom - first of all, I think I'm OK, but I fell down my stairs and I want you to come and make sure I don't fall asleep and not wake up, or vomit and choke on it and die in my sleep.
MOM: (long sigh) How did you manage to do that?
Mindy: Does it matter?  I just DID!
MOM: Hold on.
*I overhear MOM waking up DAD*
MOM: Here - keep your daughter talking on the phone while I drive over there to make sure she's OK.
DAD: What happened?
MOM:  She fell down the stairs.
DAD: How did she manage to do that?

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, shortly after the Staircase of Fate escapade, I began analyzing the thought process I had while in the act of getting shorter.  When something alarming, sudden, and traumatizing happens to our characters, we tend to make them aware of what's going on.  But the truth is, when something like that occurs in real life, we are so disoriented we have no CLUE what is happening - hence my wondering why my bedroom floor had evaporated.

True, it's hard to write a realistic, sudden scene where your character doesn't know what's going on without confusing or losing your reader.  I was able to think of one example (and my apologies to Sue Grafton, because I'm not able to quote her word for word here).  In one of the earlier Kinsey Milhone stories (I believe it was somewhere in the D-F range) Kinsey is walking out of a house where she just conducted an interview to have a very attractive blonde assassin take a shot at her.  She meets his eyes, and smiles and says "Hi," cause he's that cute, and then a bee flies past her ear and the wooden post beside her face randomly explodes.   He took a shot at her - we know that - but she doesn't, and the casual, realistic description of the scene was such an awesomely fresh take on writing that it stuck with me a long time - I read those books in junior high.

So, chew on that - and by all means let me know if you can think of other examples.  Better yet, if you can tip me off on which Grafton novel that was, I'd appreciate it - I want a re-read!

I'll leave you with a related conversation, that has no bearing on writing.  A week after my Fateful Fall Forward I was still dizzy at random moments, and slightly sluggish.  So I thought - Hey!  Maybe I should go to the Dr!  *dials phone*

Mindy: Yeah I need to get an appt.
Receptionist: And what do we need to see you for today?
Mindy: I fell down my stairs and I think I have a concussion.
Recept: Ma'am? Would you like us to call the squad for you?
Mindy: Oh no, this was like a week ago.
Recept: (long pause) What are your symptoms?
Mindy: I'm dizzy and nauseous, plus I want to sleep a lot.
Recept: For a week now?
Mindy: Yeah
Recept: OK - be here in the office in 15 minutes. I'm taking the liberty of scheduling you for an MRI as well, cause they're going to want to do that.
Mindy: Well, it'll have to be in half an hour, it'll take me that long to drive there.
Recept: You're driving yourself around?
Mindy: Uh... nooooo, no, of course not.

MRI said that my brain is just fine :)  Do you trust modern medicine?

If I can find a way to fit into a writing-themed blog post, I'll share a picture of my superfluous banister!

12 comments:

cherie said...

OMG! I've skidded on my butt down the stairs with a baby in my arms (so of course I let my body take the brunt of it to protect baby, and I couldn't use my hands to stop my downhill butt sledding); I've also skidded down my steep icy driveway, again with baby in my arms; and my 4-inch heel got caught on a cement crack while attending a funeral and went down on my butt (again with baby in my arms) but I've never had the misfortune of toppling down the stairs butt naked.

Glad you're ok. Kudos for managing to tie this in with writing! Only a writer would be able to see a potentially deadly accident in a different perspective.

Caitlin Vincent said...

Oh my goodness, the narration of your thoughts as you were falling was h.i.l.a.r.i.o.u.s. Great post, thanks for sharing :)

Riley Redgate said...

THAT IS THE LONGEST SET OF STEPS EVER. Staircase of Fate indeed, BBC. Staircase of Fate indeed.

Thank God you're still in one piece! *fusses over injured crown of BBC's head*

Charlotte M said...

Wow, I actually winced as I read that! When I write scenes for my characters I try to liken their feelings to something completely different. For instance, when one of my characters begins to lose consciousness, I liken it to being at the bottom of a well, where noises begin to soften and blackness envelops them. Having gone through this myself (becoming unconscious not falling down a well) that's how I described it to the shocked onlookers! :-)Great blog you have here though! Look me up if you have any spare time :-)

Angela said...

Great post!! Is it wrong that I was more interested in how YOUR story ended as opposed to the writing tip you were trying to explain? lol. My eyes actually glazed over that part the first time I read it. I did go back though- after I made sure your story ended well . . . lol.

Bethany C. said...

*smiling*
Um...why is it SO funny when other people hurt themsleves? The jealous, single-story dweller in me would say, "THAT'S WHAT YOU GET FOR HAVING A COOL OLD FARM HOUSE WITH AWESOME STAIRCASE." The mother in me says, "HONEY, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? THAT'S EXACTLY WHY YOU DON'T SLEEP IN THE NUDE!" And the writer in me says, "THAT'S BONUS MATERIAL!"

Love, love, LOOOOVE this post!

Anita said...

Aack! This scared me for you!! Very well written, because I was at the edge of my seat worried sick, even though I KNOW you must've survived, elsewise, how would you be writing this post?? RIGHT?

I'm so glad you ended up being okay, Mindy. And great way to tie it into writing. Personally, I hate writing any kind of action scene for the very reasons you stated above. But that was a great example you gave and now I want to take a look at that book. Another great post, girl.

Now, NO MORE FALLING. That's an order. And have a great weekend, too. :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Thanks for your concern ladies :) I'm blessed / cursed with finding everything amusing, even my own injuries.

And why is it that other people getting hurt is so damn funny? Cause it really is. I'm sure there's some kind of psychological "I'm laughing in relief that it wasn't me" at work there. But at the same time, maybe it's just... damn funny.

Now I've GOT to find a way to tie the superfluous banister into writing... cause it's the funniest architectural anomaly I've ever seen.

Gennifer Albin said...

I love your dangerous house. It's the kind of place I would buy and also fall down the stairs in. Worth it!

Glad you are ok!

Mindy McGinnis said...

Genn - yeah it's a dangerous house. I really do think of those stairs as nasty, tricksy stairs now. I'm always watching them in my peripheral, making sure they're not going to force themselves upon me.

After some thoughts while sweeping I realized I CAN fit the superfluous banister into a post..... forthcoming.

Joey Francisco said...

Glad you're okay! And yes, I trust modern medicine. If I didn't, I should probably go find another day job.

It is interesting the way the author created a scene of sudden shock with the excerpt from the book describing the bullet flying by the characters' head as a bee.

As I've heard many times (I don't write specifically about my work), accidents happen when you truly least expect them. And if you're writing about them, it is the perspective of the accident which counts. Is it from an outsider watching it unfold or is it the account from the character experiencing the situation?

Mindy McGinnis said...

Hi Joey!

So far I've almost always written any physically traumatic scene from the POV of the person it's happening to, which presents unique problems. Pain is something I find incredibly difficult to accurately convey. At the same time, taking the scene into another person's POV removes your reader from the "action." So yeah, I find new ways to describe pain.