Why Don’t They Just Talk To Each Other!
I really enjoy reading author blogs. Blogging is by far my favorite social media, and I find that, in general, authors who write books I like often have interesting things to say on other topics as well. Unfortunately, I tend to stay pretty busy with life and work and all things Swoon Reads, so I never manage to stay caught up. However, to combat that, occasionally, when I have a short break, or am feeling a bit overwhelmed and need to waste time on the internet, I’ll randomly pull a book off my shelf and Google the author to see what they’ve written on their blog since the last time I checked.
This weekend, I was lucky enough to hit on Graceling by Kristen Cashore, who has a great voice and a fun blog at kristincashore.blogspot.com. And, as I was reading through I found this passage in a post called Snowy Randutiae for a Sunday:
“So far, I’m just relieved that we’re four episodes in and the writers are still managing to avoid the Most Annoying Way of Creating Tension Ever, namely, having otherwise likeable characters withhold really important information from each other and/or lie, for no good reason. (Have you ever found yourself watching a TV show and thinking to yourself, “Why doesn’t he just tell them? The entire problem would be solved if he would just tell them! THERE IS NO REASON NOT TO TELL THEM!!!!) I hate it when TV writers do this! At best, it makes the plot structure shaky and transparent and at worst, it makes me dislike the characters intensely.”
It’s not that I don’t love secrets and lies and omissions in my fiction. They are extremely valuable tools in creating tension and drama, but there have to be reasons for the characters to withhold valuable information from each other. And just as important, I, as the reader, need to be able to understand those reasons. Now, I don’t always have to agree with the characters reasons, and I don’t always have to know exactly what the reasons are right away, but I do need to know that the reason exists. (And as a side note, it’s important to keep in mind that the longer you hide these reasons from the reader, the bigger the stakes get for the reveal.) If you don’t provide a good and valid reason to explain to the reader why this otherwise decent character is continuing a harmful deception or omission, then we’re all going to start wondering what’s wrong with these people that they can’t just talk to each other, and questioning whether or not we really like this character after all.
And it gets even worse in romance novels, where love and trust and relationships between characters are the core of the story. The Big Misunderstanding is a hugely popular romance trope, and done right it can be either moving or hilarious, but there has to be a solid reason for the misunderstanding to continue. Otherwise your characters fall into the trap that author Jennifer Crusie calls “an almost pathological inability to communicate.”
So, please, when you are setting up your big misunderstandings, take the time to think about whether or not this misunderstanding is a real problem or something that can be solved with a simple question or a single conversation. And if you can solve it with a single question, make sure that there is a realistic and important reason why no one ever asks it.