Coupling Characters

Right now, I’m struggling with a short story that began as a love story and has developed into something far darker, maybe even a horror story. Love stories challenge me, don’t know why. In Perceval, the love story reflects my struggles with it as well as the difficulties of the two involved characters. How do you know when the two characters you want to be together in your story aren’t right for each other? Is it like in reality? That is, if it’s right, it flows; if it’s not, it’s like pulling teeth with toothpicks?

Stieg Larsson’s Salander novels offer an interesting example. Do Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist belong together or are they the ultimate mismatch? Let me put it another way: Do Mikael “serial womanizer” Blomkvist and Lisbeth “distrustful of men” Salander belong together? They slept together in the first novel. This does not always count as a relationship in fiction, as it often does in the movies. But then what? Salander takes off, cuts Blomkvist out of her life, leaves him wondering about her. I haven’t read the third novel yet, so I don’t know what happens. But I suspect, considering the ending of the second novel, that they continue to be separated in the third novel.

Larsson is making an interesting point here: relationships are about far more than sex in fiction and it’s possible to explore the characters’ emotional landscapes to discover all that keeps them apart and what might bring them together for good. Relationships are about emotional attachments. Friendships, for example, begin with common interests and liking each other, spending time together pursuing those common interests. Hanging out. That time together eventually produces an emotional attachment between the two friends. What exactly is that emotional attachment? Love.

Ah, now I get what’s happening with my short story. I have needed to spend time with the characters in order to reveal and illuminate the emotional landscape they inhabit. I’ve also been experimenting with point of view, trying out first person to see if it will work in this story. The point of view character is the woman, and I’m beginning to see that third person limited — like watching over the woman’s shoulder and having access to her thoughts — may be a wiser choice for this story. The first person will make it too melodramatic and that’s not what I want. Her emotional life hooked me into writing the story, so it makes sense to focus on her and her experience. She wants a specific man and competes with someone else for him.

The characters in Perceval mirror the short story in many ways, but the man is the focus. I continue to struggle with whether or not he belongs with the woman. I’m beginning to suspect that as much as he wants to be involved with her, she is not the one. He wants to impress her too much, regards her as being way out of his league. But can the romance still serve a purpose in the man’s life (and the story)? It may be fun to explore the experience of two people who care about each other but who are a total mismatch. Since all the books are third person limited POV focused on the man, I suspect fear will play a huge role in how this subplot plays out. Right now, I don’t see them together at the end of the fifth book, but nothing’s written in stone at this point. They could surprise me.

As for Blomkvist and Salander, they are like the couple you see at a party and wonder how on earth they got together, which only makes them and their lives, separate and together, more interesting. He has shown her that men can be respectful, kind, interesting and intelligent human beings. She has shown him that male dominance is not the way to impress a woman, especially a highly intelligent, creative and fearless one. Will he choose to form that emotional attachment with her that will be a commitment to their relationship? Will she let him in? More than anything, he needs to prove to her that she will be safe with him, that he is trustworthy. Maybe that’s all in the third novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest….


4 responses to “Coupling Characters

  1. Why do people stay together? Because they choose to. What is perhaps more incomprehensible is when people who seem to be well-suited split. We won’t understand unless we understand their Choice paradigm.

    I choose to love my husband. It isn’t a pre-ordained event. I find it infinitely more satisfying to know that someone has chosen to love me. How am I supposed to revel in the fact that you’re here because you couldn’t get out of it? That’s why I pay taxes; it isn’t why I got married. It sounds sterile or cold-hearted to state that I’m married to someone because every day I make the choice not to leave him. Yet in reality that is what we do, all of us.

    • So sweet when someone chooses to love you and continues to make that choice daily. I suspect that Salander may come to that realization eventually. Then the question is, will she make the choice to love? Will Blomkvist make the choice to remain committed and faithful to one woman? And will they continue to choose each day of the rest of their lives?

      It seems that Hollywood truly is going forward with the remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Still shaking my head about that one….

  2. remake of Dragon Tattoo: well, never doubt Hollywood’s willingness to spend millions of dollars in hopes of tens if not hundreds of millions in box office take. Daniel Craig has apparently signed a deal for Blomkvist. Don’t recognize the Salander character.

    What is intriguing – and likely the only thing I’ll find intriguing – is which plot elements the American version is going to leave out/add in (the original didn’t include all of the book). If it’s exactly the same … why bother? If it’s different, what elements will the new director find more appealing & how will he put them together. The Nazi-connection just won’t ring the same emotional bell with us as it would with the Swedes. So perhaps it won’t be set in Sweden at all; in which case, who’s going to be the Bad Guys and where would it be?

    I find it difficult to believe the rape scenes will be as blatantly violent as the Swedish version. Then again, I found those to be particularly difficult (I didn’t watch the 2nd one) … In this case, perhaps the American-Victorian-ized version might be better in the sense of “less emotionally disturbing”. And off the top of my head I can probably count the number of times I’ve seen frontal nudity in our movies: one (Eastern Promises).

    we will see …

    • The young woman who’s going to play Salander is an actress just beginning her career. I read an article about her — she’s done some work but it’s not like she’s that experienced. I worry a bit about that because Salander is a very complicated character. I can see her ending up almost a caricature in the wrong hands.

      I agree about the reason for the remake — what will be left in, what taken out, what added. I’m still waiting to rent the original Swedish movie on DVD — maybe this weekend….

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