Work interactions

You spend most of your life with the people in the office, and for better or for worse, they can provide you with ideas when you’re writing fantasy.

Remember the old advice when you’re conducting a presentation?  “Imagine everyone in their underwear, so you don’t feel nervous.”  Turn this on its head a little bit and imagine a couple of your more difficult colleagues swinging swords during your next meeting, or throwing fireballs, or shape-changing, or something else outlandish and you start to get the gist of where I’m heading with this (just try not to laugh at the time or the fireballs could be launched in your direction).  But if you take note of why they are angry or excited, what the background of it is and what they intend to do about it, you can use these as the groundwork for how your fictional characters interact.  Adding layers of complexity onto your characters based on your own experiences adds to their richness and diversity, it makes them seem “real” to your reader, because you can describe it well so they can understand them better.

Your workplace is full of politics and interaction.  True, a lot of it is fairly friendly and benign, but there are times when it is isn’t.  It’s during these extraordinary events where you can grab character traits and plot ideas from those around you.  Here are a few examples that took place in various offices I’ve worked in over the years:

  • Two ladies were after the same man in the office, but neither realised this.  When the more explosive of the two women found out that someone else was dating her intended, she screeched the office down and then punched her rival with a mug, breaking her front teeth.
  • My first boss took to yelling at me whenever I gently tried to point out that he wasn’t accounting for his project profits correctly.  The reasons behind this may have been that I was old enough to be his grand-daughter, or because I was a woman or simply because he felt I knew nothing as I was fresh out of university, it may also have been because he was ex-military.  Regardless of what his motivation may have been, I didn’t enjoy the abuse at all, but I could do nothing about it.  The people around me sympathised but didn’t do anything.  My personal favourite was when he took me aside and suggested that I look upon him as a “father figure” (choke, hack, cough).
  • The consulting firm I was working for was engaged to provide a single product, but two other consulting firms were also engaged to work on the same product.  We all had the same goal, but none of the consultants could agree on anything and there was a continual one-upmanship thing going on which was infuriating as it meant that very little was getting done, but we all had a tight schedule to keep for our client who had very high expectations.

So there are 3 examples in the real world.  But what could you make out of these sorts of interactions?  Well, probably more than you think.  Here are the same experiences rejigged as fantasy plot lines:

  • Imelda admired Johann immensely and sensed that he was interested in her in return.  But when the town crier announced his engagement to Mistress Antonia her blood reached fever pitch in an instant and she turned to the old ways of her mother’s people for retribution.   “Antonia will know only pain… but where to start,” Imelda muttered as she brushed the dust off an old tome and leafed through the vellum pages.  “Here it is,” she whispered and a wry smiled turned the corners of her thin lips.  She touched the page’s gilt drawings just so and sparks raced beneath her fingertips.  “May her teeth blacken and fall from her mouth,” she laughed and watched as the tiny lights arced into the air, off to do her bidding.
  • The apprentice cowered in the darkest corner of the cave.  He knew what was coming.  The master’s spell had failed again.  He glanced at the mess of bones and viscera spread across the cave floor, knowing that he was not to blame.  “The spell is faulty,” he whimpered.  But the master did not enjoy being told by a mere novice how he might resolve his failures, when he only had time for what the elders might say.   So the boy waited in the darkness trembling, anticipating the beating that would come.
  • The coven stood around the cauldron with the fire lighting their faces from beneath, giving them the appearance of skeletal spectres.  “You should have done it the way I said,” Caltar shouted at Felix and pointed at him as if his finger were a knife.  “Gerson told me to do it that way,” Felix replied, stealing a sideways glance at the offending coven member who stood nearby with his arms crossed and his expression as dark as a storm.  “We only have one more day and then you know what will happen,” Caltar hissed and punched the air with his fist, “We need a solution now or they will come for us and they will be justified in flaying us, for we have nothing to give them for all the work we have done.”  The coven members bowed their heads and turned their faces away from the flames as sweat beaded on each brow.

I hope that gives you a flavour for what interactions in the office can provide you with.

But although your work colleagues can provide inspiration, be very very very careful with what you use.  I strongly recommend that you ensure that no one can recognise themselves in what you write into your stories – and don’t even try to use their names or rehashed versions of them. For example, if you cast your current boss as a cannibalistic blood-sucking monster, this may not look so good on your annual performance review should he/she read your book.  So be discrete and use the interactions you see, but don’t attack the people you know.

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