I did not see that coming, didn’t want it to happen --- which, I can state categorically, mirrors their feelings, too.
It wasn’t a screaming match or overtly dramatic --- you know, the sort of thing many of us have witnessed: a couple getting into a very public, very vocal (possibly very protracted) disagreement at a restaurant or other venue, so that, eventually, everyone within earshot abandons any pretense of paying attention to their own meal/conversation and just raptly listens to the Magnificent/Horrendous (depending on your proclivities) Unseemly Public Behaviour. Because watching a train wreck in slow motion is, almost universally, a guilty pleasure.
But in some ways, this was worse: private (nobody else within earshot), low-key, marked by dangerous questions that didn’t get answered forthrightly… and at its conclusion… well, it was one of those fights where you leave with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, knowing there’s a strong possibility real damage has been done to the relationship, and it’ll take time to process just how salvageable things are. If they are.
So, today’s questions: (a) How Did This Happen; and (b) What Do We Do About It?
These are real people, then, people you care about? you ask tentatively (because you want the sordid details but, being raised properly, are hesitant to ask outright). Well, yes and no. A little context: Rhiss and Lowri are very real and very dear to me… and, I hope, to those who’ve read my novel, Gryphon’s Heir. They’re characters in the book, you see --- Rhiss is the protagonist, and he met Lowri after a pretty traumatic event. She kind of sailed to his rescue, which, in retrospect, is rather a neat reversal of the hackneyed damsel-in-distress scenario (although I didn’t consciously plan it that way), and they ended up falling for each other fairly hard. They have some lovely moments together, although ultimately, Rhiss has to ride off and (figuratively) slay some dragons. Lowri could go with him --- he wants her to, in fact --- but she decides, for her own reasons, not to.
Currently, I’m industriously working on book 2, Gryphon’s Awakening. (What’s that? Oh, yes, it’s going very well… 131,000ish words and counting. I figure… 75-80% complete. Thanks for asking.) And recently, after a number of escapades with the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,’ Fate (read Your Ever-So-Humble Author) re-united Rhiss and Lowri. Oh, I was so looking forward to this: I wanted to watch their burgeoning relationship once more develop apace! I put them together and…
…they blew it. Against his better judgement, Rhiss asked some questions he kinda knew in his heart were better left well alone. And Lowri sort-of-but-not-really answered in ways engendering ambiguity instead of security. In short, they unfortunately behaved like real people all too often do, and while on the one hand, I wanted to smack them both upside the head, I was also… well, ‘pleased’ isn’t really the right word, but… perversely gratified they weren’t acting like puppets. And this brings me to today’s central thesis (plus a subsidiary one):
What Do We Do About It? I asked earlier. The depressing --- but fundamentally correct --- answer is starkly simple: Not A Damned Thing. Now, I know, as both author and reader, the immediate impulse is to alter what we see as a horrible miscarriage of love, if not justice. I mean, this isn’t the real world, right? We can right wrongs with the flick of a keystroke, yes?
Well, aye, we can. But I’m telling you, that’s a horrendous mistake. As a writer in this situation, you must ask: are you Creator, or Puppet Master? Do your characters possess free will, or are they merely convenient place-holders for your shallow wish-fulfillment fantasies? With both questions, if you have any integrity at all, your answers must be the former.
Now, to be clear, I want things to work between Rhiss and Lowri, I really do --- they’re a lovely couple, and (surprise!) there’s a great deal of me in him. But I don’t know if they’ll live happily ever after. I was, frankly, horrified as their conversation went sideways. What the hell are you doing, guys? I whispered as the words appeared on the page. (I went so far as to have Rhiss mirror my thoughts when he told Lowri this was definitely not the conversation he had planned or wanted to have with her. But they did. Sigh.)
But… if I’m true to them, and they to each other, it must be like that. Sure, I could re-write their conversation to make it lovey-dovey, devoid of thorny questions that got Rhiss into such trouble. But that would be flipping them the bird. When characters behave realistically, on their own… they’ve come to life, independent of me --- a wondrous thing --- and to attempt to strait-jacket them into artificial behaviours is just wrong. And, frankly, an abuse of power, too. (If you want to put this into a theological context, this whole dilemma goes a looong ways towards explaining why bad things happen, and why evil occurs. At least, I think so.)
The subsidiary thesis is that this incident illustrates again (to me, anyway) the futility of trying to plot novels in advance. (Plotters vs. pantsers, in writing vernacular.) We can’t plot our life stories beforehand, so what colossal arrogance makes us think we can do that for our characters --- if they’re behaving like real people? (This is very counter-cultural, I know: our society is obsessed with the idea of being in control. But the truth is… we’re not. You get to make choices, people, but stop kidding yourselves with the farcical notion you’re in control. You’ll sleep better.)
So, things are… strained… between Rhiss and Lowri right now. And personally, I don’t see any resolution to their contretemps in book 2. Might be book 3. Might not happen at all.
Oops. Sorry. Spoiler alert… maybe.
But, hey… that’s life, isn’t it?
Besides… they might surprise me. People often do, you know.