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….