Friday, September 17, 2010

Sept Dare Day 16 - Betraying Characters

As usual, not as much done as I'd like, today. I did see Singin' In The Rain in a real theater. (During a rain storm, actually.) That is one brilliantly written movie, with many many lessons in how to write. I do advise anyone to see it, as I have, about fifty times. It's an astounding lesson in theme and subtext - no matter how far you dig, you never get to the bottom of the layers in that. But that's for another day.

Today I just want to talk briefly about betrayed characters, because I'm dealing with some issues in the book.

The particular issue is something that never bugged me much as a reader of cozy mysteries, but it's bugging me a lot as a writer. To whit: you've got all these puzzles and misdirections and frame ups and lies in a mystery. When it comes down to it, everybody in a mystery ends up betrayed in some way or other. Not only do people lose loved ones, or suffer from frame ups, but people are just plain fooled. Sometimes over a long term. And you don't always get to see the emotional result of that.

Part of the reason is because in a mystery (as opposed to suspense) you never get a real close look at the real emotions of the suspect characters. Or even the witnesses. Even in Christie, they're often specimens as much as people. We're interested in their reactions as it pertains to the mystery, and overt plotlines.

So when a character is betrayed, we're used to large overt reactions. The killer is revealed, and the husband of the victim attacks him with rage. The person who was fooled into helping the killer might also react with fury. But an awful lot of the reactions at the end of a mystery - as the detectives sit around and discuss the case and sort out the last details, the reactions are more on the order of "Golly, and here I was listening to sermons every Sunday from a murderer! You just never know, do you?"

Part of this is because the stories are light toned, and so, like sex and other raw emotions, these things are kept behind a curtain. Sometimes the deeper emotions are implied, and sometimes just obscured by the fact that we only see certain characters with their most public faces on.

I, however, seem to get my viewpoint characters wrapped up in this kind of thing. And while many detectives can remain detached, I find that I have to acknowledge when my viewpoint characters feel the weight of the world.

For instance, in Have Gun Will Play, Mick McKee is a gunslinger. A nice, kinda cute young gunslinger who would rather schmooze than shoot, but a gunslinger never-the-less. Still he's one of life's innocents, and though he can deal with having to get in a gunfight with bad guys, he has a harder time with 'good' people who lie, cheat or betray. So when a person he thought was his moral superior turned out to be a liar and no better than anyone else, he cannot forgive. It doesn't matter that he totally understands the motivation. It doesn't matter that he is willing to work with this person. He does not get over the betrayal, and has not finished mentally processing it even at the end of the story.

That one, though, was pretty easy to write. For one thing, Mick is the narrator, so what he thinks and feels it out there in a consistent way. Writing such things in third person is a little harder, because the characters aren't choosing to let you in. But if you have multiple points of view, you can always choose to draw that veil by addressing the issue while in the point of view of a character who is not so personally involved.

Except that I have written myself into a corner. I realized last spring that some of the secondary and minor revelations would cause the whole world to spin for certain characters - so I couldn't just off-handedly reveal them while everybody does a Murder She Wrote ending and laughs. So I moved that info to be a part of the big revelation, and thus a part of the emotional climax.

So far so good.

Except now I realize that, at a moment when the police have taken over and everybody has a chance to retreat and start processing emotions, I need one of these blindsided characters to be on top if things and to still contribute to the clever Murder She Wrote ending.

Furthermore, the scene would work best if it were from that character's point of view. Crap! What do I do with the emotional baggage? I can't draw a veil over it at this point, and I can't just stow it. I'll have to give up on that clever turn that requires that point of view....

Unless, of course, I use the right point of view and actually deal with the emotional baggage. The scene could actually be richer if the character sucks it up and pauses to deal with one last thing before going off to lick wounds and face demons. And maybe I should do the same with the other characters who were affected by the revelations.

I'm the writer. That's what I'm supposed to do. Dig in and expose raw nerves (even in a comedy) and then deal with them.

It's just ... work.

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