Element 3 – The Ordinary World

Welcome to the Shire, a water farm on Tattooine, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. Here, we find our Main Character (MC) in their natural environment.

Shh, MCs can be very shy and timid at first. Don’t spook the wee rascal.

Image by RENE RAUSCHENBERGER from Pixabay 

The point of the Ordinary World is to allow you to set up benchmarks for your MC. Show the reader what the MC’s State of Perfection (SOP) is and why they will work so hard, face so many challenges, and sometimes literally go through hell to get back home.

As we previously discussed, the SOP is generally how the MC starts off – reasonably happy, contented, an okay (maybe even great) life. They have people they care about, things they are working toward, goals, hopes and dreams.

via Giphy

Poor lambs.

And along comes you, dear writer, to take that wonderful life away. But it’s crucial to make sure that the reader appreciates, even feels that loss along with the MC.

How to do it? Five “easy” steps.

  1. Loved ones. Who does your MC care about? Why? Is it a long-time lover, or a new flame, a beloved parent, charmingly precocious child, a sibling they are trying to impress or their bestie who’s always ready to share a beverage and a chat?
  2. Hopes and dreams. What is your MC working towards? It doesn’t have to be big, but it can be. A promotion at work, a trip, eating sushi for the first time, getting their crush to notice them. Consider how this can work with the plot and how it can work against it (even better – TENSION!).
  3. Foreshadowing. This is harder to do than threeshadowing, but not as advanced as fiveshadowing. For you pantsers, some of this will be done in post-first-draft revision. Totally okay. You do you. For you plotters, this is where the magic happens. Drop hints of what your MC will face and how they will change. Be subtle, but not too subtle. You know, write casual.
  4. Setting. What are the day-to-day conditions of MC’s life? Are they super advanced, living in a world where nanotech is a thing and they can access anything via their neural implant? Are they in the middle of a war? Are they at sea, in space, under the ground, at a horse race? Consider how the setting can either push the MC outward or draw them back.
  5. Routine. What kind of life has MC built for themselves? Are they a student going through the school grind? Are they a 9 to 5 office drone? A fisherman on the lonely isle of Nergoingnoplaceelseagain (located off the coast of Wales, I believe)? Consider how this can be used against them…I mean used to propel the story. Yes.
Image by Isa KARAKUS from Pixabay

And what about the feely-feels? Your MC recognizes the story problem (“What’s the what of the story?” remember?), but can’t or won’t address it. They want to stay in the Shire and not have any adventures. They want to harvest water and shoot womp rats. They want to get out of the cupboard under the stairs, sure (not a euphemism, but J.K. Rowlings may yet prove me wrong), but they’re not expecting to go to a magical school.

Although this is where you can slow down and do a bit of worldbuilidng, writing “The Ordinary World” shouldn’t be boring and your reader shouldn’t be bored. Keep the focus on your characters – what do they care about? What do they notice? Why are they doing the things they’re doing?

If you don’t know or the answer to this last one is “cuz plot” that’s okay. This is your first draft. You can fix it later. The main thing is to get the ideas down before they escape into the ether.

Good luck!