The lyrics go: “I wish I was homeward bound. Home, where my thought's escaping. Home, where my music's playing. Home, where my love lies waiting silently for me.”
Hopefully, his love isn’t lying there silently because she is dead. If so, it would place the story in the mystery or horror category.
For most, the word “home” conjures warmth and belonging, especially during the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Home can be a place where Dick finds nurturance and love. It can be the place where he feels safe in a world gone mad.
What kind of place do your characters call home? What lies in wait for Dick when he gets there? Home can remind Dick of all the things he lost or never had. Family get-togethers may be bitter rather than sweet. If a story problem forces Dick to go home, the game begins.
What if home is full of ghosts, personal demons and the walking dead, either literally or figuratively? Home can be full of mildly or severely dysfunctional people. If Dick’s family home or hometown is filled with addicts and felons, then it isn’t the cheery Hallmark scenario everyone imagines.
Going home can be psychologically or physically damaging. Can he tell anyone what home is truly like for him? Not necessarily. Shame is a huge motivating factor. It may keep Dick from telling anyone just how bad home really is. Even if Dick tells, he might be mildly rebuked for being so hard on his nearest and dearest. Surely it can’t be that bad? Except, it is. When his coworkers are rushing home, eager for the weekend or his schoolmates returning home at the end of school term, it can fill Dick with dread.
Coming from a family with something to hide places Dick in a precarious position. Even if he is brilliant and has a laudable talent or amazing skills, he has to be careful to not allow the spotlight to veer in his direction. It might startle the cockroaches from his past and make them frightened, which can make them dangerous.
Home can be a trigger for a recovering Sally. Most characters long for home. If going home puts Sally at risk for a relapse, it may not be the best place to visit. If the dysfunction that exists there is the thing that made her get high or drunk in the first place, the trigger will always be there, waiting like a land mine to blow up in her face. Sally may have to avoid home as much as she craves it. She will have to find a way to build her own home and that is not an easy thing to do. What if Sally feels more at home somewhere else? As much as her friends or other family members may like her, she isn’t really part of their home. Will they make room for her? Can they? Should they? To what extent?
Home can be full of actual ghosts or zombies. That places the story in the paranormal realm. Can Jane tell anyone? Maybe not. If she has to deal with the paranormal element at home while trying to live a normal life outside of it, Jane has serious conflict. Keeping a secret becomes a prison whether Jane is hiding that her Dad is a serial killer or a faerie King. How far is she pushed? Who could she tell? Who would believe her? How could she prove it? Her life is in danger either way.
What if Dick returns home and finds it markedly changed? He can return from college, a trip abroad, or from living on another coast or planet. What if it isn’t what he remembered? Dick may have a hard time reconciling the idealized version of home with the reality. How do the changes make him feel? Have things improved or gotten much worse. Has the town been invaded by trolls? Maybe Sally and Jane don’t remember things in quite the same way. Maybe Dick is forced to face a completely different “truth” about the way things were. The story can review all the things he thought he remembered and offer a completely different twist.
A fully drawn hero has both a home life and a work life. It’s important to give your reader a glimpse into both. It is unbalanced when we are presented with characters that are never at home or never at work. We don’t need to see every little thing they do at either location, but it helps to understand them if we see how the character operates in both worlds. They are defined by how they navigate the tricky waters both inside and outside the family.
For more on crafting conflict to create tension, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback and E-book.