Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Plot Peeve

Reading a Stephen King book now, which I may or may not post a review for because it’s book V of the Dark Tower series. Anyway, with the disclaimer that I like a lot of his work quite a bit, there is one thing that came up in this book that annoyed me, and I recalled the same device from “Pet Sematary.”

This comes about when a character knows something that, if he or she were to communicate it to the other characters, would seriously change the direction of the plot and would better prepare the good guys to battle evil. But of course, it makes for better tension for the character NOT to tell the others. This is the kind of thing where, if you pull it off right, it has great tragic gravitas. One of the best examples is in the film “West Side Story,” where after Anita is taunted and bullied by the Jets, she bursts out into the lie that Maria is dead, which leads to Tony’s death.

Now, we’ve got that situation in “Dark Tower V,” except that the character who knows the information is a sworn companion to the others, a member of a bond stronger than friendship, and the information he holds is, if not immediately relevant and important, at least strange enough that we as the reader can put it together and say, “Hey… you should mention that, because I bet that’s got something to do with what’s happening.” (Given, we have the advantage of knowing what the author chooses to show, but still.) So how does King work his way around this? The character doesn’t tell any of the others because of “a feeling.”

This is SO unsatisfying for me as a reader. I mean, come on. Give me more than that. In “Pet Sematary,” he wrote himself into a situation where he couldn’t reasonably have a character arrive too late to save the main character unless a string of bad luck happened. So of course the bad luck happens and he blames it on this vague villain called the Wendigo, without explaining why it is that if the Wendigo can reach all the way to Portland to knock out someone’s car, it’s so fixated on getting this one guy in a small town in upstate Maine to bury crap in its field.

So anyway. I know it’s hard to make all your characters seem realistic. You want them all to do the right thing, but sometimes it’d work better for the plot and tension if they don’t. That’s okay. But give them a reason of appropriate proportions. If you’re withholding information from your ka-tet (loosely: band of brothers), it better be something really fundamental and terrifying to you.

That’s all for now.

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