Truth in Labeling

The current brouhaha, with appropriate emphasis on the last two immature syllables, seems useless for writers, unless it’s to check on legitimate motivation. Sending an underwear pic or puffed chest — like a chilly bird — to a stranger is not a breach of constitutional rights or of Representative W’s job description. Denying that he did it? Really? Who out there wouldn’t? What if he had said, “Yup. I did it. I’ve done it before. As far as I’m concerned, this is 21st Century flirting.” Story over? I think not. Many people would still be wringing their hands.

But perhaps more of the mouths out there would move on to the heart of the matter? For many of us, it’s the simple ick factor.

Mr. W. recognizes this factor because he tried to keep his acts a secret, and then he said he was ashamed — hallmarks for what can only be labeled as inappropriate behaviors.

If someone has achieved what he has achieved (or a character is in a position of power) but has a need to do *that* — he’s simply not the adult he’s been playing. It is as if the climax broke for the wrong reason. If Michael Douglas had been brought down in the Wall Street movies because of sexting — or a sudden earthquake — the films would have remained undone. Characters need to make sense.

And we want people to make sense, too. Let it be abuse of power that brings them down.

This W. behavior appears to show a brain that didn’t finish maturing. Adults actually have more sophisticated ways of flirting than “I’ll show you mine if…” Don’t they?!?!? Many adults, anyway. Adults who run the country, please. A character who would resort to this aberration would be laughed off the stage by readers. Actually the writer should catch this problem during revision. A character flaw — or strength — that appears out of nowhere annoys a lot of us, because it is not organic (in the earlier sense).

I read a short story by Octavia Butler a while ago that was set in the future, and a few pages into the tale, Butler said that by “that time” people with left hands had a specific attribute, an attribute that she needed to have her characters use at that moment. The declaration seemed like a last-minute idea she’d tossed in, and it undermined the credibility of both the story and writer.

If a character is cast in a story with psychological problems that call for unfinished development, drag out the immature behaviors. If characters are in positions of power, then power lapses need to bring them down. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t work in fiction; we can all see how messy it is in life.


About Carolyn

I live in Washington, D.C., write, teach, try to eat the requisite fruits and veggies daily, and avoid caffeine after 2 pm. I wonder about things a lot -- like why "pretty" means "pretty" and "not so much" and if I can ever perfect the single-portion, no-knead, daily baguette and how many people realize that Beau Brummel had a lot to do with our desire to bathe daily -- those of us who do in fact "take the daily."
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