Blind Trust

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“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.

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12 comments to Blind Trust

  • Yes! I hate it when a character dosen’t share. It’s a writer’s cheap ploy to try and build suspense. That said, I’ve used a version of it myself, time to time. :)

    I’ve tried to keep it less obvious. I’ve tried to use a deft hand. Like, *She got a strange look on her face, as if she had seen….* or *She turned and ran, shouting, “Follow me!”* But still. It’s the same ploy. And it’s lazy writing. I hate it when I have to fall to ploys to get the plot job done. Grrr. And I hate when a writer does it too.

  • This is a particular problem in crime fiction, so much so that it’s become an all-too-familiar feature of TV cop dramas. X phones Y to say she has something crucial to tell her but can’t divulge it over the phone. They have to meet at the coffee shop on the corner in one hour. Of course, by then X is dead and the story takes another twist. The plot lives on, in other words, but our sense of being played means that the author takes a hit as someone who deals in reality.

  • I can honestly see places where this would make sense, like when it really will take too long to divulge the history of something, but if it takes a minute or less to describe (let me esplain, no, there is too much, let me sum up…Buttercup is marry Humperdink in little less’n half an hour…), then it’d be far easier to just divulge than to cause friction in an already tense scene. It’s old, horrible, full of ancient evil that can destroy the world. Can we go destroy it now or continue to banter about every facet of its history until it eats our souls? 😉

  • “Or they can lie. Lying effectively leads to an even more complicated (and entertaining) environment when the lie is discovered.”

    *phew* I was a bit worried for a moment, there.

    My MC has to lie. A lot. She doesn’t want anyone to know the truth about her because protecting her secret has been a matter of life or death for some time. She tells the reader the full truth within the first 15K, after strongly hinting at it from Chapter 1 on. The person traveling with her follows her not out of blind trust, but to save his own bacon, and he asks a lot of questions. Thus she lies more. So I save him learning the full truth for the climax, when the you-know-what has just hit the fan. That works, right?

  • What AJ and Faith said. Crazy making it is. And I’ll tell you why I hate it so much, but first I have to go have lunch with my wife…

  • Tom Berrisford

    It’s all about character, isn’t it? Not too many people sit around waiting for a friend to call with a mysterious request to go do something. Most people have their own desires and motivations for pursuing them. So if Fred wants to persuade Barney to do help him stop the Poo-Bah convention and won’t tell Barney why, the writer needs to provide at least some hint of the motivation that would drive Barney to help. Otherwise, Barney isn’t a real character, just a cardboard cut-out waiting for direction from the almighty plot-focused writer. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically enjoy reading about cardboard.

  • I absolutely hate it when my day job manager schedules a meeting on Monday without any indication of what it’s about. I spend the entire weekend wondering whether I’m getting fired. Great way to destroy a weekend.

    Oh, and when an executive schedules a trip to our branch office? We generally spend the week building up an dandy doomsday scenario. Other offices have been shut down, and it’s always via a visit by upper management. On the upside, it does result in a good drinking binge with coworkers. Holding hair while someone empties their lunch into the toilet is a great bonding experience.

    Fortunately, we’ve trained them to say “no, we’re not gonna toss you out on the street.”

    Writing wise, I could see this blind trust issue as a dandy way to build conflict between characters.

  • I’m like Faith. It drives me nuts, but I use it occasionally. Not the “I have something important to tell you. Later.” thing, but rather the moment when the character realizes something crucial, but doesn’t share it quite yet. The epiphany goes unexplained for a little while longer. I actually think of that as a legitimate narrative tool. But otherwise, yes, I totally agree.

  • Not the “I have something important to tell you. Later.” thing, but rather the moment when the character realizes something crucial, but doesn’t share it quite yet.

    Actually I agree with this, too. It’s okay for the character to know something if I, the reader, am also in on it, because generally that also means I know his reasons for not sharing. It’s when characters refuse to be honest with their party OR with me that it becomes problematic. -smile-

  • The unexplained epiphany is something I try to do. I try to give all the same hints to the reader as to the character and then have the character nod, or say “uh-huh” but don’t explain, in the hope the reader feels clever for also figuring it out. It is my attempt to get the reader closer to the character and to make them engage with the story more.
    Does it work?
    Buggered if I know. I don’t have any readers yet :)
    Time will tell.

  • Hmmm… What if the MC is told a secret that could be detrimental to the group if they all know, but might not hurt the group if they don’t know. Of course, failing to share will piss them all off once they find out, but that’s a small price to pay.

    What if the MC rationalized it that way so that he wouldn’t have to be the bearer of bad news? It’s a bit cowardly, but if he’s already struggling with unpopularity among his peers. Now you’ve got me thinking. Thanks,

    NGD

  • rachel aaron

    First: Yay Josef! Way to be direct!
    Second: Woo! I’m an EXAMPLE! A good one, this time!
    Third (serious answer): I have a huge problem with revealing information in my books. Every edit I’ve ever received has included some version of “need more information.” This is mostly because I always play things way too close to the vest, but also because, in the Eli series at least, Eli knows everything. If I let him talk too much, he’ll spoil the series!

    I do my best to always avoid the “come with me, don’t ask questions” scenario at all times, though. My general rule of thumb is that if allies working together have varying levels of knowledge about something that’s going on, there had better be a damn good reason for Character A to keep Character B in the dark. Usually, I just have someone tell a huge whopper of a lie. This gets even better when the character isn’t a liar, but is forced to lie to protect the other person, because then you get guilt and angst and betrayal. AKA, a delicious bowl of tension :D.

    Or I just have Josef make demands. That works too.