“Many of the things you can count, don't count.
Many of the things you can't count, really count.”
― Albert Einstein
I know Albert's a genius, and all that, but I'm not sure I agree with this.
Everyone counts multiple things every day, whether you are consciously aware of it or not. Most people have a running tally of minutes and pennies in their mind, because the world seems to revolve around money and time. Do these things count count?
I think that's individualized. I don't value money as much as I value time, but the old adage, "time is money," rings very true for me. So perhaps I do value money more than I thought.
What about the other things you can count? Here's some counts involving time that might not come to mind initially, but how many people do you know define themselves by one of these below?
1) months sober
2) years since an act of abuse or being diagnosed with cancer
3) years married/separated
4) birthdays of your children
5) anniversaries of deaths
As to things unrelated to time, like:
1) number of states/countries you've visited
2) how many movies you've seen
3) how many signed first edition books you own
4) number of techno-gadgets you stood in line for to buy
5) number of suicide attempts
Where am I going with this post, and why should you care?People count what they care about. If they didn't care, they wouldn't keep up with the count. Can you see how any of the above examples could be something that a person defines themselves by? A recovering addict keeps close watch on clean time, the same way someone who suffers from PTSD due to a rape would count the passage of time since that event changed the outlook on their life.
A film critic would naturally count movies seen, as would a traveler the number of states. They easily could define each of themselves by these values.
My current character in my YA counts the number of years she has gone without being kissed. For her, this lack of experience defines her.
What about your character? What does s/he value? What do they spend their time counting, whether they consciously realize it or not? Is it something tangible, or intangible?
And once you've figured that out, how can you impact their ability to count it--value it--through your plot? Here are three ideas to help you brainstorm:
What could change how they count what they count?
Say a military man on the front lines counts number of lives saved. Could an injury get him honorably discharged and unable to count this particular category in this way anymore? Now he'd have to find some other way to meet this need, because his counting has been categorically changed due to a limitation he suffered.
What could take away what they count?
Say an employee counts the number of reports done a certain way since being hired. Could a new boss come in and declare that report no longer needed, taking away her feeling of worth and productivity? making her counting category inherently change in some way as to throw the meaning out for her?
What could disrupt their ability to count?
Say a woman counts the number of animals she could rescue in an community, because rescuing them feeds her need to take care of something else besides herself. Could a freak storm or flood render this counting useless for several weeks?