19 June 2013
He commented on which of the bad guys in my book were punished and which weren't. I replied that I had expected one of them – we will call him Smith – to get away unscathed. As it is, he wound up getting scathed, in spades.
What happened? Well, someone registered such a strong and eloquent protest I had to reconsider. Who was it that insisted Smith pay for his sins?
It was another character in the book. This person – sorry, but I will call him Jones – in effect said: "It's not fair! You've built me up through the novel and never given me anything important to do. I have the personality and the motive to seek revenge. Give me the method and opportunity and get out of my way. Remember Chekhov's gun!"
What my eloquent fictional friend is referring to is a dramatic principle first stated by the great Russian playwright: If a gun is hanging on the wall in the first act, it must be fired in the last. Mr. Jones, was claiming to be that gun, primed and ready.
I have known a lot of writers to talk about their characters "coming alive" and convincing them to change a planned action. I believe I have only experienced it twice.
Besides Jones, the other guilty party was Cora Neal, writer of women's fiction and beloved wife of Leopold Longshanks, star of many of my short stories. They have always had a somewhat testy relationship - well, here is the first sentence of the first story in the series.
"For heaven's sake, Shanks, try to behave yourself today."
They love each other, but Cora does seem to spend a lot of time chewing him out for sins real or imagined. But in one recent story after Shanks had done something outrageous and I expected Cora to complain accordingly, she laughed instead.
I was stunned. It was a completely different side of her personality. And it has effected how I have written about her ever since. (You can see that more clearly in last year's "Shanks Commences" than in this year's "Shanks' Ride").
So let me end with a question for you writers out there: do your characters ever pick fights with you? If so, who wins?