Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hard Stuff

One of the hardest things for a novelist is to put characters into a situation they can’t escape from. Think of all of the romance novels in which a woman marries a man because he needs someone to take care of his kids after he is widowed, but he we find out that he didn’t really love his first wife. I was reading one of the reviews of one of Colleen Coble’s books and the reviewer commented on how the character was about to become engaged, but her husband showed up, only it wasn’t a problem because the man she was to be engaged to was “just a friend.” Now, compare that to Cast Away. A man is stuck on an island for a long time. His wife moves on and marries another guy, so when he gets off the island, the love of his life is no longer available. We hate doing that to our characters, but it makes it so much more powerful. But much like in a romance novel, the writers of Cast Away made it okay by having the Tom Hanks character deliver a package to an attractive woman, implying that he’ll be alright anyway.

Personally, I hate situations like that. Here a man has remained faithful for all this time, but his wife didn’t. She thought he was dead, so you can’t really blame her and it isn’t the fault of the second guy either. You don’t want her to divorce him to go back to the first guy, but you want the first guy to have the love of his life. It is so tempting to make it okay by making someone evil or killing someone off. But I think we’re selling ourselves short when we do that. It is how a character handles the really hard stuff that let’s us see who he really is.