Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why did you do that in your book?

By Steve Weddle

I wrote a book called Country Hardball. There’s some cussing in there. And some killing. And, um, some more killing. And some thieving. There’s also quite a bit of hope and prayers and people being hella nice to each other.
But there’s this one thing in the book that kinda catches people.
I’ve talked with people about this story. I’ve FB messaged people. I’ve emailed people. I’ve chatted with a couple people on the phone about it.
If you’ve read the book, then you know the story I’m talking about. If you haven’t read the book, I’ll try not to spoil anything for you, because I have faith that one day you’ll read the book.
People who have been hit in the heart by the story ask me why the guy in the story did the terrible thing he did.
“Why did you do that?” they ask me about the story. “That was terrible.”
You see, I know it was a terrible thing the character did. I hate that he did that thing. It honestly saddens me.
But, in that story, the character took all the weight on himself to do this terrible thing – knowing that it was a terrible thing to do.
For him, in his mind, considering his circumstances, this was the right thing to do, no matter how terrible a thing it was.
This wasn’t dying on the cross to save the world from sin. This wasn’t jumping in a lake to save a puppy. This wasn’t getting up at two in the morning to drive two counties over to pick up your kid from a sleepover because the other kids are being complete assholes.
Sacrifices come in so many flavors that I can’t begin to list them all.
And, in the part of Country Hardball where that character does that terrible thing, he makes a sacrifice which is explained.
You don’t have to agree with his action. I don’t agree with his action.
But, for that character in that moment, it was the thing he had to do.
And, for the book, it was the thing that had to be done.
I’ve watched shows on television and I’ve read books in which someone does something that I’d rather they didn’t do. Why did you kiss that woman who isn’t your wife? Why are you having another drink? You can see these characters doing things you don’t agree with and wish they wouldn’t do, but they do it to further the plot.
That’s part of it.
But there’s that other level, that layer where a character does a thing that you don’t like, something you wouldn’t do, and it’s the absolute right thing to do, even though it’s so terrible.
These are some of the darkest moments in fiction, the last third of Apocalypse Now moments.
These moments aren’t gratuitous. They aren’t plot-driven. And they aren’t fun to write.
They’re terrible to write. They’re terrible to read. And they’re absolutely the right choice.


John McFetridge said...

Fiction is choice. You decide what's going to drive your choices.

The older I get the less I like the choice that's right for the character but leaves me without hope. Anything that's too final.

Of course, I also dislike the choice that's not right for the character.

Nigel Bird said...

I hope those that haven't been there will go along to find out what this is all about in this specific example. It's a fantastic story and was from the off. The turn of events completely threw me and it made me have to rethink. It was a perfect thing in an imperfect world. I saw that the book's in a library or two now, so folk who haven't read won't even have to pay, just order or borrow.

It's one of the things I really love about writing stories, the way that they catch me unawares. The dynamic, organic element of lives developing means that there's a tension that helps to offset some of the more mundane aspects of putting a long piece onto paper. I love the surprises even if I can't always condone them.


Dana King said...

The deciding criterion is, "is this what the character would do?" That counts for a lot. On the other hand, it's rare when a character has but one choice. There are levels. This is among the reasons I don;t read a lot of what is called neo-noir. Too many writers think "noir" means, "What are all the things the character might do here?" and takes the worst one, every time. That's not noir at all. (And not what you did, either.)