When characters tell each other things

I love to receive mail from readers. A recent message pointed out something about my novels that I wasn’t consciously aware of.

Thank you for what I think is almost a unique point in your books – your characters actually tell each other things. It seems to be a common plot device for people to keep things to themselves for various reasons, but the underlying reason is that the author wants to keep the story going by causing confusion or discord. You would not believe the number of books I’ve read (or TV programmes I’ve shouted at) thinking just tell X or Y or the police what has just happened.

My sister-in-arms! I also shout at TV programs. To the point that my kids sometimes point the remote at me and hit MUTE.

Sometimes I throw books across the room, too. But that’s another story.

Back to the reader’s point.

That is what your characters do – they tell their relatives and friends what is happening and report things to the police. They might not always be believed and the discord and confusion is caused by this but not by an unnatural secretiveness. Every time it happens it stops me in my tracks, I think “yes” and my mind does a little happy dance.

Dear Reader: Thank you. I’m thrilled that you’re enjoying my novels, and I’m glad you think the characters act both believably and responsibly.

In general, I avoid the don’t-talk tactic because I find it annoying. In particular, I toss aside any book where a woman sees the man she’s attracted to speaking to another woman, jumps to the conclusion that they’re romantically involved, and spends the next 100 pages fuming/flouncing/bitching at him in a fit of jealousy. Of course it turns out that the “other woman” is his boss, or his sister, or his doctor. The whole thing smacks me as contrived, juvenile and, worst, cliched.

If I hate reading something in a story, I try to keep from writing it into my own.

I’m just telling you all this, so you’ll write books to suit me.

However, I’ll allow characters the following reasons for not talking:

  1. They’re little kids, too scared to tell anybody what they saw
  2. They’re teenagers, who get distracted and forget
  3. They fear that if they talk to the police, word will get back to the perpetrator and they’ll be put in danger
  4. The community enforces a “don’t snitch” standard

And I appreciate the idea that “unnatural secretiveness” can trip up a story. Remember that, folks.

2 responses to “When characters tell each other things

  1. The reasons you list above for characters not talking are true-to-life and not plot devices. That’s why your books work and the ‘flouncy’ ones don’t. I detest books that twist dialog, characters, etc. to suit a contrived plot device. I detest that just as much as the contrived coincidences. Guaranteed to send a book flying. Your books, however, end up glued to my fingertips. No flying across the room at all. And this kind of detail to writing is the reason why.

  2. Thanks, Lisa! Glad you agree about contrived coincidences. *fist bump* *book throw*

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