On the night table: March Violets (Philip Kerr)
I guess Will Gardner won’t be sweeping the clutter off my desk in a spectacular gesture of jealous rage after all.
I’m going to miss that fantasy.
And God knows, I’m going to miss Josh Charles.
Maybe I should have issued a SPOILER ALERT, but I can’t imagine that anyone who’s a fan of The Good Wife still hasn't watched Sunday’s episode or is still completely unaware of the shocked, horrified and furious response that accompanied his departure. I got my hair colored Tuesday (shock, that blond isn't natural), and my stylist and I talked about nothing else for two hours.
Before Sunday night, I'd been focusing my attention elsewhere, on some first class procrastinating about planning for my meeting tonight with members of a writers group at my local library. Most of them are new writers. Many of them aren't writing mysteries. Many of them probably don’t even read mysteries.
So instead of planning, I was obsessing. Come September, I’ll have four novels published. Just four. Who am I to impart wisdom? If I were wiser, I would have begun writing before I started to lose my nouns.
And then Will died, reminding me with a punch to the solar plexus how attached we get to characters.
In visual media, the character creation is collaborative; for Will, it required the considerable skills of the show’s writers and the actor. Novel-writing is generally not. Not unless you’re so famous that you have uncredited co-authors, or you consider a collaboration you and your internal Little Editor, who tells you that whatever you just wrote is 1) trite, 2) overblown, 3) illogical.
The novelist has to come up with not only the words, but also the way they're performed: The cadence of the dialog and the accompanying behaviors that evoke that character. Heck, we even have to supply the costumes.
Mostly we learn about character by doing it wrong. When we write our first books, we often cram every tragic flaw and misery we can think of into our characters, or load our protag up with enough backstory to grind the action to a halt every other page. Or we convince ourselves we’re being spare when what we have is a roomful of dull people who all sound alike. Or that a ‘wacky’ woman is the same as charming.
Gradually we begin to understand what all those books on how to create characters were talking about. We want to write real life, but real life and fiction are very, very different. No character comes into a book without a purpose. No bit of dialogue is meaningless. Conflict is cherished. And unless you’re writing a ‘hero versus nature’ novel, that conflict has to come from the characters.
So, I think we’ll talk a bit about characters tonight. About how and why readers become attached to them. We enjoy a clever plot, but the novel's world is made real by its characters.
I’m feeling better about my meeting.
But there's still too much clutter on my desk, Will.
Note: If you never watch The Good Wife, there was a terrific scene last season in which Will got so upset with Alicia — his former lover — that he raked everything off the top of her desk in one glorious motion.