Gates and building entrances drive me crazy. Here in China, movement sometimes feels quite restricted. I hear that voice in the back of my head, that one with an Upstate New York accent that tells me, “You can’t get theah from heah.” For example, when I get off the bus at the stop in front of the college where I teach, there is a gate and a building right in front of the stop. But the gate, with its guardhouse empty, is closed, impassable. And even if it were open, the front doors to the lab building are locked with bicycle chains. There is no way to get to the teaching building right behind it. I have to walk to the main gate a block down the road, and cross campus to get that building. And the teaching building, which has a perfectly adequate number of doors at each end of the T-shaped building, has only one real entrance, because all those doors except the main entrance are locked with bicycle chains too. God help us if there’s ever an emergency that requires a quick egress.
Plus, there are the guards. These are the guys at the gate whose job it is to make sure that only the right kind of people get on campus. Or if there happens to be an epidemic, they make sure only the right people get out. During the H1N1 virus scare several years ago, they had thermometers and were supposedly checking everyone’s temperature before they left campus. If you had a fever, you weren’t allowed off campus. But they never checked the foreign teacher’s temperatures. I actually had a bad cold with a fever at the time. But I later found out that I didn’t need to worry about that. Their thermometers didn’t even work.
The guards also watch the main entrance to the teaching building. That’s all they do, watch it. Quite the sweet job, if you ask me. And every housing compound, commercial building and public facility has a handy guard to sit and watch the door. Do they know anything about the location of it’s occupants? No. That’s not their job. Do they know how to find any particular office? No. Hm.
My novel has been limping along recently because of hindrances like these. I had no way to really enter a part of the story because of my ignorance. A significant part of my story is about a legal proceeding that, until today, I knew little to nothing about. I know where my main character is, I know where I want her to get to, but “You can’t get theah from heah.”
I found out how true that is today. I interviewed an attorney about the legal procedures of this particular area of property law. I found out that the timing I had planned was all wrong! But something else happened. That part of my story completely came alive for me. There are elements of the process that are fraught with intrigue. And the timelines for the procedures create some intense suspense. It is a much faster process than I ever dreamed. I also gained a huge insight into the nature of this kind of law. All this, courtesy of my dear source, an attorney who gave me his time and resources. Yes, a lawyer gave me time. For FREE! And he’s willing to give me even more! I love my job.
Research can do that for our writing, bring it alive, and get our story moving to where it needs to go. We may start out thinking our characters need to go straight from point A to point B. But through our research, we find the twists and turns that enrich and liven the plot, and make it more real and meaningful.
I need to be more grateful to those guards sitting at the gate, and to the restrictions that prevent me from going directly from point A to point B. It’s hard. It seems so stupid to me. It adds almost ten minutes to my commute. But I could look at it as extra time to exercise and to contemplate the intricacies of and contradictions in Chinese culture. I could use those extra ten minutes of podcast Chinese lessons. Or, hey, I could use the time think about how to get my main character to win her court case!