Some Girls Never Change

We said goodbye in the U-Haul parking lot the tactophobe and I. I didn’t think he really cared about kissing me goodbye, but we’d taken that turn and it seemed required. Perhaps he’d finally kissed me in first place to prove something. I didn’t know if he thought we ought to wait for each other while we were away or if we ought to even write. I didn’t know if he liked me.

with fish in backyard
with fish in backyard

The habit of not asking may have started when I was 4 and my mother left for a summer of doctors and electric shock treatment. The habit may have cemented itself when I didn’t ask where J, my step-mother had disappeared to–or why she was back. Asking didn’t change anything. Did it?

with my bike in the schoolyard
with my bike in the schoolyard

The kiss was quick, and relieved I turned to my U-Haul truck. I don’t remember the joke he made, but I waved without quite looking back.

Characters change at the end of a story, but the groundwork has to be there–and certain changes aren’t possible. You’ve got to take their history into account. People love to repeat their mistakes–how many people actually learn from them? But characters aren’t real people. They just have to look like real people. How far can you push this one or that one? How radical a change can be believed by the reader? You can surprise them, but you can’t break that spell of suspended disbelief. Push, push, push, until right about…here.

Where exactly is here anyway? If I don’t find it, I could always pack all the characters onto a moving truck and go somewhere else.

6 thoughts on “Some Girls Never Change

  1. Great pairing of photos to go with the theme/title. Actually quite amazing that you even HAD — let alone FOUND — such a matching set!

    (When I’m looking for graphics for my blog posts, it can get pretty tedious to browse apparently endless pages of search results. But at least I’ve got the option of searching electronically. Since my own family photos are utterly disorganized — just dumped in boxes any which-way — I’m maybe extrapolating too far to imagine your simply pawing through similar boxes to come up with Just The Right Photo. Are your pictures organized somehow?) (I think you mentioned at one point that most of these started out as slides, which makes it even harder for me to imagine the work involved!)

    Changing characters, and by how much, and when: beats me. There doesn’t seem to be a vague rule of thumb, let alone a formula. The fine (and difficult) line to dance, for me, is letting them decide based on the sort of people they know they are — but manipulating their decisions (sorry, it comes down to that) based on the sort of people I really know they are.

    If you pack them all into a U-Haul and go somewhere else, will the reader willingly kiss them as well as you good-bye? willingly, but with regret? or willingly, and with relief?

  2. JES, those 2 pictures are luck. And my photos are hardly organized at all. Some are in albums. Many are free and mixed up in boxes. I’ve spent time searching through them and pulling out the ones I thought had potential for something. I also tend to remember most of the photos I have, so if I think of it, I’ll keep digging until I find it. And I use the slides only for the Sunlight Grocery site. Well, that’s not entirely true, but there aren’t that many slides of me or anything like that.

    As for how the reader would feel kissing my characters goodbye–I wish I knew.

  3. Even after only a couple months of your “snapshot posts,” I’m already convinced that (a) I don’t have anywhere near the photographic record of my past that you do, and (b) I really should just email you the pix I do have and let you blog about them as if they were your own memories. Pathetic, eh? 🙂

    I didn’t read the book, but at the end of the Lonesome Dove mini-series I cried like a baby to be leaving Gus McRae behind. At the other end of the spectrum are, oh, pick one — any of a half-dozen or more really evil characters I couldn’t wait to be shut of, don’t like to think about, but “miss” in a sort of weird “I wouldn’t be me without them” way. Somewhere at those extremes are the place my characters need to be, I think. Maybe readers will kiss them goodbye willingly or otherwise. But they’ll never forget the parting — the kiss. That’s what I dearly wish I could leave them with.

  4. Changing characters. This is important. They have to change, HAVE TO, for me to feel like the story was worth it. I don’t like those nihilistic stories that say, in the end, we all suck, we never change, we never learn, give up trying to make things better.

    But that doesn’t mean change is easy or steady. I think back sliding is a big part of growth. People don’t become new people in one aha moment. People struggle and take baby steps as the light slowly dawns, or it slowly dawns on them that they can walk in the light. And then the drama of screwing up again.

    Taking that drink after 3 months of sobriety. Being mean to your sister when you have been working so hard on building a relationship. Choosing the guy that’s wrong for you, yet again, when you thought you were over that bad boy obsession.

    That just makes the characters feel more real, gives them an added level of depth… screws up the process of making things right… and allows them to pick themselves back up, proving that they can do it, and maybe we can too.

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