Tools of the Trade
A while back, my printer died. Then my keyboard decided that hitting a key would produce a random response. No telling what you'd get, if anything.
Both of those tools are critical for my work. I have backups—there's another printer in Hubster's office, although it's not a color printer. I have a laptop, and we have an old keyboard. Although I wasn't dead in the water, working wasn't the same.
My solutions? A refurbished printer just like my old one is on its way (I have almost new cartridges of toner, and this way, I'm not out the mega-bucks they cost.) I found a new keyboard. It's not quite the same. It was a trade-off of getting one that worked immediately, or driving all the way down to the Springs to see if there was a better selection at Office Depot. Or going on line and ordering something that might not be what I wanted, or would take too long to get here. There's a bit of adjusting to the new keyboard, beyond simply the feel of the keys. The function keys aren't all the same, and the mouse doesn't have all the same hot buttons. Some of the extra keys aren't where they were on the old keyboard.
But I can work.
What about your characters? They all have their own tools. What happens when you take some (or all) of them away? How do they cope? Do they give up? Go get new ones? Make do with something else?
Did anyone watch the NCIS episode some time back where there was a massive power outage? All those fancy computers and digital everythings were useless. I loved the scene where Gibbs handed McGee a Polaroid camera. (And it was fun seeing Gibbs being the guy who actually understood the technology for a change.)
Sometimes the actual tools the character uses can create the restrictions. Randy's arsenal, in FINDING SARAH, is his cop's rule book. He's never deviated from what he considers proper cop behavior. In HIDDEN FIRE, I took him out of his small-town cop element, and sent him to help out the county Sheriff's Office. Not only is he working away from his domain, he's in a huge organization, and he's lost his spot in the pecking order.
In WHAT'S IN A NAME? Blake is a corporate executive, but those tools don't help him for most of the book. I shoved his old tool belt back at him—literally—when I made him play the role of handyman. He understood those tools, since he'd been raised that way, but he didn't like having to revisit that part of his life.
For my Blackthorne, Inc. books, I take away all the toys the agents are used to working with, shoving them into civilian circumstances. Without access to all the sophisticated equipment they're used to, they have to find other ways to solve their problems.
In WHEN DANGER CALLS, Ryan's walked away from the job to prove he's not a traitor. He has to deal with solving his puzzle without anyone backing him up, and without the resources to do the investigating.
In WHERE DANGER HIDES, Dalton is stuck investigating a missing persons case—a far cry from tracking down drug lords, which is where he wants to be. He has to adapt to a different approach to solving his problem.
Overall, I'd say that heroes (or heroines) are really relying on their intelligence, wit, personality, and "internal" tools to do their jobs, but they've become dependent on using the toys.
What tools do you need at hand to be comfortable doing your own work? What would bring you to a complete halt? What do you do to your characters to make their lives difficult. How does dealing with these problems show the readers what kind of people they are?
Next week is the last week of this discussion. If you have anything you want covered, now's your chance.