I’ve been told by more than one person that I have a song for everything. That is, for almost any situation, I can recall some obscure song lyric that captures that situation’s essence, or enhances the experience thereof. There’s probably at least one song that applies to any occasion. I just seem to know more than my fair share.
Thus, when I was thinking about a title for this post, it shouldn’t surprise you that I settled on song lyrics. In fact, the lyrics of two songs from “Quadrophenia“, the classic album by The Who, came to mind. In two different songs from that outstanding concept album, there are lines that ask, “Why should I care?”
I’ve been asking myself that question lately regarding my reaction to fictional characters. As I alluded to in my previous post about “Peace Like a River”, some books have characters that are so real, so sympathetic, so readily identifiable, I simply buy into them as real people and I care about what happens to them. Further, I want to know what happens to them once the story (movie, book, play, short story, whatever) ends.
The short answer is that I have no idea. I would like to know, however, because those are the kinds of characters I want to write. A story populated with those kinds of characters is easier to write. They have a will of their own. They move the writer along rather that the other way around.
A collection of flat, one-dimensional characters have no place to go and no reason to go there. They have no motivation, no purpose for being. Who cares what they do? They’re deadly dull. They are dead. Who wants to read or write about them?
We could learn a lot by thinking about ourselves in those terms. If we have no depth, no purpose, no absolute motivator, we’re going to lead a pretty dull existence, more than likely swamped by our own self-interest.
Recently, someone who performed a test-read of my first (and, so far, only) novel said she couldn’t stop thinking about the protagonist, a young woman in Haiti. That’s about as high praise as I could want and more than I expect, yet I feel the same way about her and the rest of the characters.
Having rewritten the book in part or whole several times, I’ve probably read it a dozen or more times. Maybe it’s my familiarity with the characters, but I’ve come to (in some weird way) love and care for them. I’m so pathetic in fact, that I cry every time I read certain poignant passages.
It happens all over the place with me. In movies, for example:
- I’d love to follow the relationship of Sam and Annie (and Jonah) after they finally meet at the top of the Empire State Building in “Sleepless in Seattle”. Will they be married? Where will they eventually live, Seattle or Baltimore? Will Becky, Greg, and Suzy all hang out together? Sadly, Nora Ephron is gone so I’ll never know.
- I want to watch as George and Nina Banks raise little Megan. (“Father of the Bride 2”)
- Is there any hope of redemption for Harry Caul after trashing his apartment in “The Conversation”?
- Where does that long road lead for the tramp and the gamin at the end of “Modern Times”?
And those are just movies. What of books like “The Rosie Project”, “Winter’s Tale”, “Gilead”, “Claire of the Sea Light”, and, of course, “Peace Like a River”?
(This phenomenon appears to be a “chick thing”. If you Google “fictional characters”, you’ll see what I mean. I’ll have to live with that, I guess.)
This is why I love movies with “follow-up” info before the credits roll. I get to find out what happened to all those fascinating players in “Remember the Titans”. Those are real human beings, so there’s some excuse for me in that case.
Strangely, it doesn’t matter if the characters are the creation of some writer’s imagination. I still wanna know what happens to them. That’s why I’m relieved to see where the lives of the members of The Wonders (not the One-ders) lead them in Tom Hanks’ vastly under-appreciated “That Thing You Do”.
That extra information can make a funny movie even funnier and more memorable. The roller coaster relationship of Robert and Mary is just as nuts after the movie ends in Albert Brooks’s hysterical “Modern Romance”, another hidden gem and one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.
I’m not alone in my mania. This pointless passion is one of the key elements in John Green’s wonderful book, “The Fault in Our Stars”. Without Hazel and Gus’s quest for the next events in Van Houten’s “An Imperial Affliction”, the story is left incomplete. But then, they are fictional characters, too. And I want to know what happens to Hazel! How long does she live? What happens to Isaac? Argh!! Nested frustration! I want to know what happens to fictional characters who are trying to figure out what happens to fictional characters.
I really care about these quasi-people. I just don’t know why.
Maybe I should stick with non-fiction.