“Miranda clenched her hands together. ‘Oh dear.’
Josef, who had been quiet all this time, stepped forward to block her way. He planted himself in front of the Spiritualist, looking down at her with a stony expression. ‘Why is a pillar bad?’
‘I’ll have to explain later,’ Miranda said, pushing past him. ‘We need to get to the-‘
‘No,’, Josef said, grabbing her arm. ‘You’ll explain now.'”
— The Spirit Thief, Rachel Aaron
One thing that drives me absolutely out of my mind is when people tell me, “I have something important to tell you. Later.” It makes me want to scream. If you can’t tell me right now, don’t mention it until you are free to talk. Otherwise I’m going to spend the next two hours or days chewing it over in my head. I’ll extrapolate what the big secret might be, adding detail from my imagination until it becomes far more world-shattering than it probably really is. You heard that two friends are splitting up, but because you didn’t tell me right away, in my head those two friends are not only splitting up but hiring hit men to kill each other. Which means I’ve also spent all that time unhappy and worried. Is that really the feeling my friend wanted to share with me? Gosh, I hope not.
It makes me no less crazy in fiction. That’s why I was so excited when I ran across this passage in the book I’m currently reading. Hallelujah! A character did what I always want to do, strong-arming the secret-keeper into spilling on his terms instead of hers. I know that in stories we can’t release all the information in the first chapter, but we also have to remember that people hate being manipulated. If I was in a real-life situation with someone telling me “Just go along with what I’m doing, and I’ll tell you why later,” I wouldn’t stick around. Yet it happens all the time in stories. Characters go along with a main character’s demands on blind trust. David talked yesterday about how freaky and bizarre real life is, but even with that in mind, uninformed trust between characters can ring hollow.
So what is a writer to do? Sometimes a willingness to follow is related to the character’s past relationship. Two people who’ve been close friends for many years might trust each other enough to act without question. Say your friend calls you on a Tuesday afternoon, all out of breath. “I have to destroy a mighty Ring of Power,” he pants, “and I need you to come with me.” You’ve known your friend forever. You’d probably donate a kidney if he asked for it. But your first question, after he stops for breath, is going to be “Why?” Fiction shouldn’t really be any different. A character who needs his friend’s help should be prepared to share at least part of the reason up front.
If the characters don’t know each other at all, it gets a little tougher. There’s already a barrier to trust merely because they don’t know each other. Unless some greater power (a divine edict, a royal order, a military command) has required it, the characters aren’t likely to even want to have a drink together, much less go on a dangerous quest. Again, the characters will have to share at least a portion of the information in order to convince the others to help.
Or they can lie. Lying effectively leads to an even more complicated (and entertaining) environment when the lie is discovered.
Tom Clancy said, “The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” Most of the time we refer to this because life is bizarre (you did read David’s post yesterday, yes?) In this case, though, real life and fiction are lining up. If it’s not something an ordinary person would put up with in real life, it’s not likely to read true. One of the most important aspects of a successful novel is the life the writer breathes into his characters. People in real life don’t trust blindly, and you can’t expect your characters to give in without a fight either. Think about how you’d react in a similar situation, and remember to treat your characters like the real people they have to be.