Pondering Air Conditioners and Writing

Friedrich by michelle thompson from FlickrIt’s been hot recently. I’ve mentioned this a few times on here.

But, seriously, it’s been hot.

It’s been hot to the point that even with the air conditioner on, it’s still hot.

This is a weird concept to me. It is also an awful concept to me. I work at home, if my home air conditioner can’t keep up, then I’m working in a hot room.

But even friends in offices told tales last week of how the mega-crazy air conditioners in mid-down Manhattan were unable to effectively keep the air inside the buildings chilled.

This is one of those details that, for various reasons, I’d never have thought to write: “It was so hot outside that the air conditioners of the city couldn’t keep the buildings cool.”

See, in my mind air conditioners just work. The notion that one might be unable to remove heat fast enough from a room to offset the amount of heat dumped into the room is so granular that it sounds silly to me. It’s an air conditioner! Of course it makes your room cold. Otherwise it’s broken.

I had never bothered to think it through before.

Plus, there are things I can do, like insulate around the open window where my air conditioner is installed, or hang things in my windows to keep my cool air inside and the hot air outside.

But, no. I never pondered air conditioners on more than a general level.

Now, I’m sure this isn’t groundbreaking news I’m delivering about how air conditioners do (or don’t) work.

My point is that things become lumped together and simplified in our heads; an air conditioner cools the room. But when that happens, the chance to capture something like a hot summer day in words gets lost.

Don’t get me wrong, you can describe how hot it is, that can get you very far. But imagine writing a scene in a room where the air conditioner is humming but everybody is still hot? Maybe someone glances over and there’s a makeshift attempt at insulation surrounding the air conditioner, like duct tape and packing foam, a slapdash offering to the air conditioner gods in hopes that it will allow the heat wave demons to be defeated?

Details like that, details that crop up once you stop simplifying the things around you and actually learn about them, those details are what will bore holes into your readers’ heads.

The more you unpack what an air conditioner does, the better you can write one into a scene to produce a desired effect.

Now…if only all my current scenes weren’t set in 17th century Transylvania…