Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Could a writer do what her characters do?

Could you do what your characters do?

The detective is shot in the leg. He can’t stop now, he’s got to get to the woman he loves and save her from the smooth, sweet-talking bad guy who will fool her and take her away and…. He rips his shirt off, binds the wound and hobbles toward his car. Within twenty minutes he is outside the house where she is being held. Miraculously his leg is well enough to…

Or how about this: The female police detective knows something bad is going on. She isn’t allowed to get in to the local FBI headquarters, so if she’s going to get to the bottom of the story, she has  to sneak into the facility. She watches and waits. It’s cold and raining. She’s shivering and exhausted. Finally she sees someone coming out of the building, someone who has been working late. She runs toward the building, jacket over her head as if desperate to get out of the rain. The man leaving is so chivalrous he holds the door open so she can scurry inside. Now she’s inside and she has to find the room that holds the files…



Pretty exciting stuff. But where does it come from? Is this something a writer or a reader could ever think of doing in real life? Ever? What makes writers want to put our characters in dire straits and have them perform in ways we never could? What makes readers want to read about it?

I love action scenes, but as a reader, I can’t picture myself in the action. I know I’m a total wuss and could never find the courage to go after bad guys. I can’t imagine how I would get out of big trouble. As bad as reading about someone who is in a physical confrontation is reading about someone who is trapped. I know if that happened to me that if I didn’t die of fear, I’d have to be institutionalized afterwards because I’d lose my mind.

I’m pretty sure I read these types of books in order to make myself think everything will be okay. I have a real life example. My husband loves sailing, bigtime. I like it okay but was terrified at the idea of going on an ocean voyage and being out of sight of land. Then I read a true story about a woman who ROWED across the Atlantic alone. Next time there was a chance for me to go on a trip where we’d be out of sight of land, I said “I’m in.” If told she could do something like that, I could spend a few hours away from land.

But why do I write stories like that? ? Well, I actually don’t. I write the kinds of books where people have to solve crimes by deduction in an environment where my protagonist knows people’s strengths and weaknesses and is never in real danger. Like I said, I’m a wuss. I read books by writers that I know have never been in the kind of peril they imagine for their characters. So here’s my question: Do they imagine themselves in those situations, and do they think they could do what their characters do?





3 comments:

Mary Barton said...

Frankly, I like the fact that Samuel has a bum knee and retirement age. I can relate! He may have to ask someone younger to help, like spending the night in the barn with Jenny's horse. He still carries the weight of authority in his voice and bearing and experience, which gives him real strength in the townspeople's eyes. Samuel is REAL and has to deal with potential danger realistically. I appreciate that.

kathywaller1.com said...

If I heard a noise in the basement or in the barn or in the yard or anywhere in the middle of the night, I would not get a flashlight and trot off to see what it was. I don't care how many heroines of mystery novels do that, none of mine ever will. I'll never be able to make them. Considering all the things I'm reluctant (too scared or too smart) to do, my stories may turn out too bland to be read by anyone except adoring relatives, if I have any of those left. Sigh.

Terry said...

Kathy, I'm totally with you. That version of "too stupid to live" doesn't impress me in fiction unless there is a REALLY good, believable reason for it. I think some people enjoy reading it as a fantasy, but it's hard to get past the improbability to it for me. I think there are lots of us out here, so I wouldn't worry about it in my writing if I were you.