Talking in Cars

“You girls okay?” Dad shouted from the kitchen door. It must have been after midnight and we were sixteen and sitting in my dad’s car. The windows were rolled down. We could barely hear the cars from the highway on the other side of the cow pasture. The lake was still and the sky clear. S. and I talked for hours about all those things teenage girls talk about. Once dad determined we were fine, we were left alone again.


S. eventually dropped out of high school, had her heart broken by a married man, got disowned and then reunited with her family, went on welfare and mood stabilizers, and became a single mother. I went to college and grad school, joined the Peace Corps, got married, had my son, and got a regular job. We don’t like the same music, the same books, or the same food. But we can still talk for hours.

In fiction we ought to put characters together who don’t belong together. Or maybe I should say characters who you don’t expect to be together. That’s not right either. Okay. Put makes friends of characters who you don’t expect and make enemies of those who ought to be friends. I worry that all my characters think the same and act the same and obviously this is not good for a story.

Do you have any unexpected friends in your own life? Do you pull it off in your fiction? Do you remember any surprising and convincing combination of characters in fiction?

13 thoughts on “Talking in Cars

  1. All my friends are unexpected; I venture into such relationships more on chemistry than expectation. The closer the friend the more unexpected the friendship was. Perhaps the greatest friend is one whose books I read, whose saloon in San Francisco I used to frequent, never expecting the bond that formed years after I first knew him. The other great friend used to sit in the back row of one of my classes, asking intelligent and intriguing questions. One night at the coffee truck, he asked if I’d consider collaborating on a TV version of a series of short stories he was turning in. I politely explained my reluctance to work on speculative projects that weren’t of my own invention. Just as politely he said he understood. The next week he had a check from HBO made in my name. A considerable amount of chemistry flowed back and forth over the years. Now, once again, at no apparent risk to our friendship, we are collaborating on a book.

    The first friend has eastern associations and schooling, the second is a Brit; we are all most unlikely friends, held by a mutual sense of words and stories…and chemistry.

    I am always amazed at what draws me to friends or friends to me, which is to say I haven’t a clue why these friends and not some others who would seem to be more likely candidates.

    Surprising and convincing combinations: men and women who are not afraid to work toward being good at something, taking enormous risks to achieve a talent or technique that produces something, a clay pot, a song a play, a novel, a short story that breaks the rules and breaks your heart.

  2. I have to say that I have been getting so much writing help from my blog friends. This is a very good idea. I too thin my characters are often too much alike for the good of my novel, and even when they are different, they all end up nice nice, so I’ve had to force myself to make them antagonistic to each other, to want different, opposing things. I’ve had to force myself to keep from giving the reader what she wants. I’ve had to force myself to allow awful things to happen to my poor character and force myself to allow the characters to do awful things to the other characters.

    But I have to say, with all this opposition and awfulness, I am having a bit of fun right now as the story comes alive and tension rises.

    If you’re looking for literary inspiration, look no further than Pride and Prejudice. Of course, I think the wonderful thing about differences is that people often have similarities deep within that are not visible when looking at the surface differences.

  3. This is an interesting extension of the previous post: internal contradictions in characters and contradictions between characters who have unexpected relationships. In my own life? There are too many different factors for me to assess at this moment. Let’s just say that aside from intelligence and sense of humor, I’d never have a friend like me.

  4. It’s funny you should write about this because for the first time, I’ve got two characters who are very different. Actually, one of them is so different from me that I’m afraid to write about her….Just not sure what she would say in any given situation, but I’m trying, and it’s a challenge. Still, I’m not sure I’m developing her enough. Oh well. I guess that can wait until December.

    Yes, I have some unexpected friends, and I always wonder how they become my friends. Because I’ll meet other people who are similar to them, yet they will rub me the wrong way. I think it has something to with just how real they are and how open they are to me. However, I admit, I just don’t talk about the issues we differ on, and I wonder that if I did, would it make a difference?

    Then again, maybe they aren’t all that different from me after all.

  5. I’ve always had women friends who are tough on the outside (think Erin Brokovich) but softies underneath. I come across as amenable and sweet, but I can be hell on wheels if crossed in some essential way. I’m drawn to the toughies because they make me feel safe. They’re drawn to me because I somehow make it safe for them to lighten up and be soft.

    (safety is a big, big theme for me…)

  6. I’ve always had women friends who are tough on the outside (think Erin Brokovich) but softies underneath. I come across as amenable and sweet, but I can be hell on wheels if crossed in some essential way. I’m drawn to the toughies because they make me feel safe. They’re drawn to me because I somehow make it safe for them to lighten up and be soft.

    (safety is a big, big theme for me…)

  7. A college professor once quoted to me a line from Emily Dickinson. It’s the only line from Dickinson I know by heart IS from Dickinson: “The soul selects her own society.” Aside from sexual/pheromonal attraction, there’s almost no accounting for the ways in which people end up becoming friends with one other. No doubt there are psychologists and sociologists who understand (or claim to understand) this, but for most of us it’s an utter mystery.

    (Of course, we all also have friends whose friendship could have been predicted from the start.)

    Karen’s example was great.

    I also think of fictional teams who aren’t necessarily friends but are very comfortably different from one another: Holmes and Watson; Archie and Nero Wolfe (or Archie and Mehitabel, for that matter); Gus McRae and Woodrow Call; the Marx Brothers; the Grant and Hepburn characters in “Bringing Up Baby”… These are all different from “friendly antagonists, btw, by virtue of working to common purpose (even if they don’t know it at the outset). Successful bands often break up, I think, not because their members’ personalities differ (heck, they attain their success pretty much because they’re not all alike), but because their professional purposes grow apart.

  8. Pamela

    I tend to move around. I make friends easily. However, I did realize that the lasting friendships are with people I would never expect to keep in contact with. And they are better friends than I could imagine. Perhaps, we have more impact on people we are different from.

  9. M–I have been staring at your words in googlereader for a week now with longing to have time to comment. I am always so taken in from the very first sentence. Your beginnings are some of the strongest I have read.

    My best friend, roommate, and sister…all the same person, is my exact opposite in every way, it’s a struggle to get along and some times we can’t stop talking for hours. It’s been one of the most satisfying relationships of my life.

  10. M – this is a great question. Much like Rowena I used to make my characters nice and similar. However, someone in a writing group once confronted me about one of my characters. She said, “Let yourself go. If this character is similar to a real person write them as they are – besides people never think they are the bad people in novels.” It was so hard but I wrote all the awful things I imagined she would do and it was great. It brought real tension to the story. I love writing about opposites and in my life I have many opposites and like D’Arcy those have been some of the most satusfying relationships

  11. “I like people as a concept, not as a reality.”
    -Sophie in the Moonlight

    That’s really my life’s social motto. So I’m surprised as hell when I really like someone and surprised again when they like me back. I have a few really really close friends whom I have known for almost 20 years. I’m keeping them forever. Luckily they feel the same way about me.

    I don’t have a ton of friends b/c I hate, HATE, small talk. My life is too short to waste in on inane social niceties. Either we are great friends who can talk about everything at any time, or we are two people who met once upon a time. No gray area. Which is the one thing I hate about my husband’s friends. He’s known them since high school and they are very nice, Ivy league educated, upstanding citizens. I like them well enough, but not enough to really embrace them as my bosom buddies. For one thing they are way too normal. I don’t do normal very well. 😉 Really, I don’t.

    Oh, well. Once a socially awkward 3rd grader, always a socially awkward 3rd grader.

  12. To everyone–that I’ve met all of you and we come together here or in your little niche or wherever in this vague place called cyberspace is unexpected. Who knows how we’d have gotten along if we’d met at work or some other real place.

    Thanks again from this particular socially awkward third grader.

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