When I stepped out of the shower recently, I reached for my bath towel, which usually hangs on a hook by my shower. The hook was empty. I threw the shower curtain back farther and looked around. The only towels available were tucked away in a cabinet under the sink, several steps across a potentially wet floor. What happened to my bath towel, and how did it disappear? How could I traverse a cold, wet, and slippery floor to get a towel? The situation might have been funny in a sit-com, but I’m still weak, just recovering from a bad bout with bronchitis, and at my age my balance isn’t great, either. Instead of reacting instinctively and stepping out of the shower dripping wet, I took a moment to ponder my options. What was my safest action plan? I decided my best bet was to put my washcloth on the floor and carefully step on it, to be sure the floor wasn’t slippery, and next reach into the cabinet under my sink to get a fresh towel. The process worked.
Towel retrieved, I dried off and went about my day. It took me many minutes to remember that after the house cleaners left a day earlier, I’d found a towel neatly folded at the bottom of my bed. I assumed it was a towel that was mistakenly mixed in with the fresh bedsheets the cleaners had put on the bed, and I stuck it in the cabinet under my sink. It turns out I had made an incorrect assumption. For some reason the cleaners had taken my bath towel out of my bathroom, neatly folded it, and put it at the bottom of my bed. Go figure! As a result, the towel I needed was nowhere close to where I needed it when I needed it.
I bring all this information to light because in reality almost everything that happens actually comes about as a result of several steps or missteps. Every accident that takes place has a series of mistakes, oversights, or incorrect decisions that precede the accident. If I’d blatantly stepped out of the shower to get a towel without careful preparation, I could have slipped and broken a hip or worse, and not simply because I stepped out of a shower soaking wet. Why did I have to step out of the shower without toweling off? Because someone else made a decision to remove the towel, fold it neatly, and leave it in the bedroom, rather than returning it to the bathroom. It took several things to go wrong before I slid back that shower curtain and naked, soaking wet, and cold, discovered I had no towel.
When we write our fiction stories the same way, with realistic steps that lead to disaster, climaxes, or plot turns, our stories have believability. While the circumstances that led to the disappearing towel can be seen as a good lesson for writers, it also turned out to be a good lesson for a bather and a housekeeper. As soon as I was dressed, I contacted my house cleaners and told them never, ever to remove the bath towel from my towel hook again. In addition, never again will I step into the shower without first making sure my bath towel is safely nearby.
When you devise the next plot of your next novel, be sure to show realistic circumstances that lead up to each surprise, shift, and plot twist. And be sure your towel is near your shower before you turn on the water.