by Robert Lopresti
I recently sent the novel
I have been working on to various GFRs (Gullible First Readers) and am
busily contemplating their wisdom. One note from James Lincoln Warren
set me thinking.
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.
happened? Well, someone registered such a strong and eloquent protest
I had to reconsider. Who was it that insisted Smith pay for his sins?
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!"
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."
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?