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Mundane Tasks

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Jan. 27, 2018

Have you noticed that it’s very rarely that in a webcomic (or any narrative work) there’s a category of tasks or activities that people do very often in real life, but extremely rarely in stories?

Watching TV, being on the computer (when NOT being a hacker or doing intense research montages), being in the bathroom (when NOT seducing someone in a bubble bath), studying or working for the actual course or actual job the characters are supposed to be doing, and so on…

The worst offenders seem to forget altogether that people need to eat, drink and go to the restroom at all during the intense unfurling of the plot (I’m looking at you, 24).

Does that make for bad writing or storytelling?

Of course not.

Especially when the story takes place in such a way that large (or fairly large) brackets of time are glossed over, it is safe to assume the characters engage in these necessary/ typical/ unavoidable tasks off-camera (after all, we don’t really want or need to watch our main hero or villain pooping). And even when it doesn’t, and the story takes place in a short amount of time we can suspend disbelief or assume that a character will “forget to eat” or do any other thing, or skip work, or just not do what they would normally do in their routine simply because the plot is taking place.

However, what I think would add a lot to a story by at least increasing the level of authenticity/realism one might want it to have, is to incorporate one or two of those tasks into the plot as plot devices: A character might miss an important phone call because they’ve stepped out to get food; another might be saved (or doomed) because of an urgent nature call that forces them to change course; another may stay glued to watching a series and forget they were supposed to meet someone; yet another might be sleepless due to cramming for an exam, and react differently than normal, and so on and so forth.

Sometimes, real life provides a ton of hurdles we may neglect to employ as problems or causes for plot development as creators (perhaps because we seek to escape the experience of the crappy civil servant that takes 2 hours to sign a document)- but which can offer ways for the audience to identify and even project their own emotions onto the characters and thus be engaged.



ghostrunner at 11:55PM, Jan. 29, 2018

ive yet to see a charactor plucking nose hairs

KimLuster at 6:14AM, Jan. 29, 2018

Yeah, these are the sorts of things that make a work feel real and true, but you really can go too far! I've had characters eating numerous times, and times on a computer... But I've never even drawn a TV!! Didn't even know I hadn't until this article! :D

Avart at 12:23AM, Jan. 28, 2018

Hey! I've been thinking the same! Really I need to include some 'normal' stuff just to give a more natural feeling to my story. Well, in a vampire story I think it's more interesting watching a vampire eating rather than a human XD. PS. Having sex counts as a mundane task? If it is, then my characters already got that one!

Amelius at 10:00PM, Jan. 27, 2018

Ah, must be reading different webcomics because I've seen plenty of comics that spend a little TOO much time on the mundane before the fantastical elements enter the story(mostly on infinite scroll series so not around here!) Showing how boring the protag's life is before something happens, I get bored as the reader and tune out. However, I also haven't shied away from showing mundane tasks being carried out within the narrative... washing/doing chores, sleeping, loafing, tv watching, gaming, cooking, eating, foraging, shopping, toothbrushing, potion making, brooding... I plan out what everyone is doing at any given time in the story so I know where the players are for their marks. Mundane tasks are often good for marking time passage and for introspective moments, I think.

bravo1102 at 2:37PM, Jan. 27, 2018

One secret is dialogue. Two people talking can be doing mundane stuff, not just being two heads. A character could have applied make-up to attract someone and be washing it off or establishing why some didn't go drinking the night before (they are nursing infants). The conflict between two characters is explored over laundry (Rio Grande; Victor McLaughlin and Maureen O'Hara) How many old movies does an estranged wife notice that the laundry of her husband hasn't been done right since she left?

bravo1102 at 2:35PM, Jan. 27, 2018

A character gets saved from the science fiction monster because he had to go to the bathroom. Interstellar Blood Beasts. Some of us have done this, not that we ever get any credit for it. A favorite I never forgot was a friend's book report on Day of the Condor. One character was saved from a massacre because he went out for lunch.

tupapayon at 2:29PM, Jan. 27, 2018

For those who always wandered how Darth Vather dispose of his waste... he uses the force... the dark side of the force...

usedbooks at 7:19AM, Jan. 27, 2018

Detective Conan also is heavy on the daily life stuff. There is a great deal of attention to culture and habits. Of course, as a "whodunnit" franchise, it's pretty much necessary. Suspects smoking habits, the shoes by the door, who went to the bathroom in what order... all plays into potential clues or red herrings.

usedbooks at 7:16AM, Jan. 27, 2018

I'm currently watching Steins;Gate, and I have noticed that the somewhat tense time travel plot is heavily peppered with the mundane daily lives and casual conversations. It gives the series a lot of charm.

Froggtreecomics at 7:08AM, Jan. 27, 2018

This was something I noticed about highly popular stories (such as Harry Potter/Hobbit), they have an unusual level of detail about food and meals in them. Maybe this is something that endears the reader, allows them to identify with the characters that share a love of certain foods etc.

Ozoneocean at 2:14AM, Jan. 27, 2018

Hahaha! I love it! :D I've shown Pinky pooping, eating, showering etc back when I was still a bright eyed bushy tailed young fella with a skip in my step and a gleam in my eye and I thought I had all the time in the world to tell my story... Now I have a quicker, more compressed style. I realise my pace is unavoidably sloooooowwww so my style has to be faster as a consequence. I gloss over much more.

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