Friday, January 26, 2018

Sick Days

In my on-going effort to understand the characters in my 1939 book-in-progress, I've been thinking about how my characters respond to being ill. This was inspired in part by my annual physical, after which I was given my flu shot. I thought about it again when I saw three people in the same row on my plane flight wearing masks. They looked young, college-aged. Seeing them made me glad I'd had my flu shot. But I saw them again after we landed – just as the young man – having discarded his mask – was turning his baseball cap backward. He strolled away, wearing his backpack, one of the young women at his side. She had ditched her mask, too, and looked unlike someone who would have needed or donned one. The other young woman, who had seemed to be with them, wasn't in sight. I was left curious about them. Had their parents told them to wear masks? Or, had they thought it would be cool to do it? Or, really been concerned about ruining their trip by coming down with something?

That sighting made me think of Adrian Monk, and the final episode of the show that I had seen last weekend. Monk, who should have owned stock in a company that manufactured anti-bacterial wipes, had learned his dead wife's secret and found the daughter that she thought had died but that had been adopted. With his wife's murder solved and her daughter now in his life, Monk had begun to heal. On his way to a crime scene, he wore a turtleneck sweater under his jacket instead of a white shirt and tie. And one suspected that he was less concerned about shaking hands and being hugged.

In my 1939 book, there are several characters who don't have the time to be ill. If they were sick, they would try to conceal it and keep working. My sleeping car porter and train cook need the money. But the cook -- who wants to own a restaurant would have his grandma's recipe for chicken soup. The sleeping car porter, whose mother died when he was a boy, would shiver in his jacket and blow his nose out of sight of the passengers. He might dose himself with cough medicine (Was it being sold in 1939? What brand was popular?). He was raised by his father and had no grandma (why not? both dead? Estranged? But his father was a preacher).

Then there is my villain. How would he handle being under the weather? Stretched out in his bed, under warm covers.

Hot toddy brought to him by a servant on his nightstand. Flipping through a book that the woman he is courting was reading the last time he saw her. What book is it? What does he think about it?

So my thoughts about my sick characters – down with a cold or the flu – has taken me a bit deeper as I think about how they would respond. I've generated a few more questions about them that might provide useful insights.

How do your characters handle sick days?


Sybil Johnson said...

Interesting question. I've never wondered this about my characters. Perhaps I should.

Rick Blechta said...

I believe it would be a bit self-defeating to have a character fall ill because, basically, not much can happen to drive the plot forward from that character's standpoint. It's more or less “dead time” in the story.

Interesting topic. Thanks!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I agree, Rick. Although I did once have John Quinn, the man that my protagonist, Lizzie Stuart is involved with, come down with food poisoning. I needed him present, but sidelined. Luckily, the series Lizzie is a first-person narrator.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Sybil, I found it really useful when I was thinking about not what will happen in the book, but how the characters would respond in normal times. Only one of them would have the luxury of taking to his sick bed. And how would he spend his time. And how would the other two hide the fact they were ill.

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Interesting post. I think the way we react to being sick nowadays must have changed a lot since 1939, especially as antibiotics weren't in mainstream use then – i think they became more common in the 1940s. So "falling ill" could have had more deadly consequences. And, of course, as you say, Frankie, in 1939 poor people couldn't afford to be sick.