New England is in the midst of another large snow storm. I woke up to about a foot of snow on the ground, snow on the branches of the bare trees, and snow all the way up to our front door. Mgo had to shovel himself out of the house to begin shoveling the driveway to prevent it from icing up before we get the second wave of snow this afternoon. Yes, it’s a beautiful thing. To not have to leave the house. To stay inside and do all the reading you want, play video games, drink hot chocolate. But as I watch the snow fall, I can’t help but feel a little bit claustrophobic. It keeps coming down and after a whole day of it, I wonder if it will ever stop. I feel stuck in this house. The house seems smaller, having less air to breathe. Cabin fever…
In the story I am presently working on, I have intentionally placed my characters in a claustrophobic situation. The entire story takes place at a funeral home. The main character only goes out to bury her grandmother. It sounds a bit eerie, and it is so. There is some dark humor in there that comes with putting a young person in such tight quarters with people who deal with death every day. Who have made it a business. If you have not yet read “The Loved One” by Evelyn Waugh, and if you are brave, read it. Waugh is very clever with the dark humor he imposes on the reader regarding the business aspect of funeral homes. I increase tension in this story by bringing my character back home to Los Angeles after a fairly long absence. She leaves home at a young age to escape from her dysfunctional family (her father left her and her mother at a young age). She is not on good terms with her mother. Also upon her return, she finds out that her cousin is engaged. A lot has changed, and she is angry that they have changed without her. That things are not as she left them. I have combined all of this tension with the fact that she has to confront her past in the small, eerie confines of a funeral home.
This is character claustrophobia at its best. As I work on my thesis, I strive to put my characters in these types of situations. To push them, pull them, nudge them, push all their buttons to see what they will do in their most frustrated, excited, overwhelmed moments.
Sorry, Josephine. You’re really in for it, now.