100 Things To Do Before I Go…

by Toni

Just a week or so ago, I read a blog by Maggie, where she was starting a list of 100 things to do before she dies, and I was fascinated with the variety on her list. Okay, I have to confess that the first thing I thought was who has time to make a list of 100 things? and then the second thing I thought was that, if I had to make a list of what I wanted to do before I died, I’d be hard pressed to keep it at just a hundred. Or keep it serious.

23. Get roaring drunk in an Irish pub
68. Meet royalty

(preferably not at the same time)
(unless the royalty’s paying)

And then a bunch of other people started their own lists and sometimes they made me smile (ride a giraffe) and sometimes they made me question their sanity (spend the night in the room where Janis Joplin died).

32. Learn to be an expert at firearms

(probably best not mixed with #23)

Sometimes, sandwiched in between simple desires, like learning to bake a puff pastry and making great marinara sauce, they would slip in the one that’s a quiet knife to the soul: quit being mad at my parents or learn my biological dad’s real name.

How often do we admit to these things? It’s brave, I think, to face the hurt, the pain, and want to find a way to write it on a list and check it off as done.

79. Live in a big city for a year

And I wondered, then, what kind of lists would my characters write, if they had to make a list? I know the character’s backstory, but since I’m writing a series, I’m still discovering little things about each of them along the way, which makes the process interesting. While I know them well, they’re growing and changing from book to book, and if I ever thought I knew them absolutely, that there was nothing left about them that could surprise me, I’d instantly be bored and wouldn’t be able to write another word of that series. But even though I’ve thought in terms of goals and desires and internal conflicts… I haven’t ever thought of a list like this, of all of the little things they’d randomly want to do before they died.

If they each got everything they wanted in the current story, what sort of things would they want to do next? What are the small things, I wonder, that aren’t life threatening, that would bring them joy? Or peace?

2. follow dad’s advice, and keep it fun

It’s different, too, to think of the list I would have made for myself ten years ago vs. the list I’d make now. I’ve accomplished some of the things I’d have originally felt were necessary, and just as important, I’ve realized that others weren’t things I really wanted, or needed, to do. I haven’t regretted those choices (but then, I tend to not worry about regret, because life’s too damned short and I’ve lived a good one). But this led me to think in terms of what my characters would have thought was important to accomplish a few years prior to the story starting vs. what they would put on their list right now. In using this simple tool, I can see their growth (or lack thereof) and the continuity of their lives.

What are some things that would be on your list? or your characters’?

21 thoughts on “100 Things To Do Before I Go…

  1. Zoe Sharp

    Great topic, Toni – who wants to ride a giraffe?

    As for ambitions, I’ve long held the belief the only thing sadder in life than someone who has a long-standing ambition and never achieves it, is someone who never really has an ambition at all.

    Making a 100 TTDBYD list for Charlie Fox would be fun, and she’s certainly changed a lot since I first wrote about her, but I think I know what would be #1:

    1. Try not to kill anyone (else) today …

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I don’t mean to be contradictory but the first thing I thought of at the idea of making a list of 100 things is that when you’re talking about death (at least in some spiritual systems) the actual goal is to not need to do all those things… to realize that everything that is, is contained in you already.

    (I of course can say things like that and not practice them a bit.)

    But since we’re talking about character traits, that could also be a character trait – to not need to do THINGS.

  3. toni

    Zoe, LOL on the not killing someone today for Charlie. For Bobbie Faye, it would be not to blow something up.

    Alex, yeah, I suppose that is the ultimate enlightened goal. So few people get there, and to me, the point of using something like this was to explore what it is they thought they wanted and how they thought they might get there, especially since not every character *is* enlightened. Aren’t you curious about what people think they want along the way? And doesn’t that at least start to delineate differences between characters?

  4. Louise Ure

    Maybe I better explain that comment above. I picture these Arizona folks of mine as geographically challenged. They know Tucson, even past the city limits. But they’d be fish out of water on the East Coast or … heaven forbid, Asia or Hawaii.

    I imagine that spreading those geographical wings might be something that Calla Gentry or Cadence Moran might wish to do before they die. (Of course, those books are standalones, so maybe they’re already beyond the pale.)

  5. toni

    Great point, Louise. I live in an area which is a big mix of cultures and food, and I tend to forget that other areas of the country (much less world) don’t have that mix. Keeping that in mind would definitely give me better insights into what my characters would want — thanks for the reminder!

  6. JT Ellison

    Oooh, I love this! I’m going to start making Taylor’s list. I think we spend a lot of time actualizing our characters, and finding out what their back stories are, and their hopes and dreams, but we don’t get into as concrete of detail as would be needed for this.

    And I like the idea for me, personally. I had a bucket list when I was younger. I don’t remember what was on it, because my life took a very weird turn in my twenties, I got married and went in a totally different direction than I originally planned. So my list would certainly be different now.

    I think you can be sublimely happy and still want. Desire drives us all, don’t you think? Be it material things, spiritual enlightenment, of just plaid greed, we’re all driven by the want, or need, for “something.” Knowing that goal in our characters means a richer book.

  7. pari noskin taichert

    Toni,Wonderful post. I love how your mind works.

    I’m going to make that list for myself; it’ll be a very cool exercise. Then, I think I’ll do it for the three main characters I’m working with. Damn, you’ve got me going.

    Two for me personally?Do a walking tour of pubs in Ireland — for the beer.Do a walking tour of pubs(?) in Scotland for, well, you know . . .

    I sound like a lush, don’t I? Well, a daily practice of yoga would be on the list, too.

  8. JT Ellison

    You need a recharge, Alex : ) Come to Nashville and hang. We’re loafing today.

    I don’t know about a character who isn’t driven to move forward in some way. They’d be static and subsequently boring if they were satisfied with their lives all the way. Are there any well-drawn characters who don’t have something they are searching for?

  9. Zoe Sharp

    JT – I personally like to have characters that develop and move forwards, characters that learn a little from the events of each book and take that knowledge on with them to the next.

    But … and it’s a big ‘but’ how much *can* you change your series character, bearing in mind that if people like them, they probably don’t want them to change out of all recognition.

    Two iconic, well-drawn static characters? After the first couple of books, Robert B Parker’s Spenser has hardly changed over about thirty years. He doesn’t even get any older.

    And I don’t believe Reacher is very different from the way he was when he walked into Lee Child’s first book. Sometimes an author just gets it right, straight off the bat. (sigh)

  10. Zoe Sharp

    Is it me, or does drinking in Irish pubs seems to crop up on people’s wish-lists a lot?

    The last time we drank in an Irish pub, it was with Ken Bruen and Pat Mullan in Galway, and was a memorable evening for many reasons.

    Not least of which was the emergency surgerical repair I had to perform on Andy on the way back across to Dublin. Happy days …

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Since I started this sidebar (even if it was unconsciously and out of sheer exhaustion!) I’ll try to redeem myself. I think truly enlightened characters probably only work as mentors, because it really is desire that drives drama. And even mentor characters usually have strong desires within the framework of a story (Yoda comes to mind, and my great favorite, Lecter).

    Spenser is an interesting example of an unchanging character. Reacher is too.

    Actually, though, now that I’m thinking about it – those two guys appear in a variations on the “Mysterious Stranger” plot – which usually has an enlightened character who doesn’t need to or want to change, and has no driving personal desire… Mary Poppins being one of the great examples of that kind of story. She is, of course, Practically Perfect in Every Way.

    But she does have her interesting little desires.

    The Mysterious Stranger goes into someone else’s chaotic situation and fixes it, without having to have much of a revelation him-or-her-self.

  12. j.t. ellison

    Oh, Alex, perfect description and example. I totally dig the mysterious stranger, and Zoe is right too, there’s something very appealing about the static character in this vein.

    I’ve been thinking about this today. Taylor, for the most part, is a static character. I set her up to be an iconic, non-changing person. So apparently, I’m a complete hypocrite ; )

    Sorry for highjacking your thread, Toni.

  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey, I’m the one who hijacked the thread, but Zoe actually saved it. You’re totally right, Z – a series character – or a series lead – can’t change too much. At least, you run the risk of alienating your readership if you change that character too much.

    And I never realized until today that series detectives are almost always Mysterious Strangers – iconic fixers of other people’s problems – and that does fit Taylor, JT. They are the calm of the storm. (That is, apparently, until around book 5, which is about when everything in a series gets shaken up, or so I’ve heard.)

    How interesting.

  14. toni

    I think Bobbie Faye is probably the storm in the middle of the storm. 😉

    And while I also think series characters don’t change as much, they typically have something new each book that they’re striving for. I don’t think the big things change for them (who they are, how they approach the world), but I do think there’s usually something smaller that they’d like to have with the start of each book. Even if it’s just a really fine meal with a great wine, uninterrupted for a change. Taylor would probably go for that. Bobbie Faye would go for a great crawfish boil and lots of beer, a cool breeze off a lake.

  15. Tom

    Toni, once again you have put into words the thing that’s helping kill my fiction. Thank you – my work my yet come to life.


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