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Susan Ito trying to do it all: reading writing mothering spousing daughtering working living

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Would he REALLY do that?!

Last night I gobbled up another book: Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller. I have to admit that sometimes this fast-reading thing makes me feel ripped off. I pay money for a hardcover book, then within three hours, it's gone. Poof. I don't like that.

I wanted to read this book because it's set in Napa's wine country, and since I just spent some time there, I was intrigued. Plus, I like Sue Miller's family sagas. This one was a good one. I was really engaged with all the characters, and I was rapidly flipping those pages, until... one of the main characters just did something that stopped me dead. I just couldn't believe it. I kept flipping back and forth incredulously, saying, "No way." And after that, the book sort of died a little for me (this was about at the 75% mark). I just didn't believe that he (or anyone in his position) would do what he did.

I'm struggling with this a bit with my own novel in progress. I have a character who does a particular Something, and I'm having a bit of a hard time believing it mySELF. So I need to either change the character, to make him more credible, or I have to change what he does.

And I'm trying to differentiate, with the Sue Miller book: was it just that I didn't LIKE what he did, didn't AGREE with it, or I don't believe that this particular character - as I have come to know him - would do what he did. I think this is the most critical thing in fiction writing. Even if you don't like or agree with a character's actions, the most crucial thing is that it makes sense for the character. That it is IN CHARACTER.


Blogger C(h)ristine said...

I love this point! I get called on it all the time too -- a big struggle for me. "Why would he do THAT?" kind of thing.

btw -- you changed your blog title! I loved "reading writing living" :)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005 9:12:00 AM

Blogger Susan said...

Really? That readingwritingliving thing felt so unwieldy to me. These things are so stressful. ("What should I call my blog?") I don't like the current name either, but if I keep changing it, nobody will ever be able to find me.

As to the "Why would he do THAT" question... I guess it means we need to really show that he WOULD do that, that it makes perfect sense, and it is just one of those surprising/inevitable things. I'm thinking now how Sue Miller could have set her character up differently, to make what he did make more sense (to me, anyway).

Wednesday, August 03, 2005 9:24:00 AM

Blogger C(h)ristine said...

I love the "susanito" type of word play (is it spanish? is it your name?) -- and it's no big deal -- but readingwritingliving was really specific as a subject matter. and i'm just thinking you'll attract more readers?

I sometimes wish, "can't my readers read my mind?" but yes, that's the challenge -- building a character up so well that we understand the moves she/he makes. I guess -- I could always make a character schizophrenic, which opens up all possibilities! haha.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005 2:54:00 PM

Blogger Susan said...

My solution to this is to keep the url "readingwriting living" but then to have it morph into Susanito etc once logged in. I hope this will make sense. I feel like such a blogger neophyte, and hope I am not making some grievous and dumb error here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005 5:25:00 PM

Blogger Katharine Weber said...

Forster talked about a requirement of the rounded character in fiction to surprise us in convincing ways. So -- surprising, convincing. Are both elements present and compelling?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005 9:13:00 PM

Blogger Susan said...

Hello KW, great to see you here! So it was Forster who came up with that surprising/convincing combo? I first heard it in a lecture by Ethan Canin who said that endings in stories must be both surprising and inevitable. So easy to agree with, so hard to pull offf.....

Thursday, August 04, 2005 10:49:00 AM


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