On writing

I, the author, declare that you, the character, must have an affair … even if you weren’t going to

I was channel surfing last night when I chanced on Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction.

This is a movie about a man who starts hearing a woman’s voice inside his head. This woman appears to be his author, and he is the character in a novel she is writing. (I haven’t watched it. I must do after this.)

In the scene I stopped at, Ferrell —a tax collector—is talking to a woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who has paid only part of her tax bill. There is no sexual tension between the two at all, but suddenly the author’s voice comes in over the top and talks about how Ferrell’s character couldn’t help noticing what attractive legs the woman has, and the way her body fits snugly into her skirt—or thoughts similar to that.

Because I was channel surfing and hadn’t expected the voice, it came totally out of the blue.

I had to laugh because I have read a lot of books where the physical attraction between protagonists is just like that.

I’m not talking about those stories which build up to events which culminate in a sudden physical attraction between two characters. When that’s well done it works, and it’s good.

Nor am I talking about relationships where the protagonists have been friends for a long time and then something happens that triggers an awareness of each other in a sexual way.

And of course, I’m not talking about the story where the attraction starts when the characters meet, and just keeps growing in looks and actions all the way through.

What I am talking about are those books where the characters are getting along just fine, without a hint of attraction between them and then, for no logical reason whatsover related to the story, they start thinking about each other sexually. It feels like the author has decided—all of a sudden—that they must be lovers. Almost as if the author is stuck for ideas, or doesn’t really know their characters. Or they need to change the direction of the story.

So, out of the blue, both characters start noticing things about each other that they hitherto hadn’t.

And it feels like an act of God. One minute the characters are friends or acquaintances, the next—by authorial decree—they’re embarking on an affair.

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