I think a really important and useful tool in fiction is the use of misunderstandings to pull the story along, create drama, and allow relationships to either break if they weren’t strong enough in the first place, or grow. Think about real life – how many times have a misunderstanding heightened the drama of a relationship? Even in real life, if two people aren’t communicating well, a dramatic story will unfold, like this little example:
Let’s call the pair George and Simone…
- Simone and George are out for what is supposed to be a lovely little dinner in a tiny French restaurant. Except, the couple sitting next to them are loud, and drunk. Simone mishears George and thinks he’s insulted her in some way – George has never done that – but she’s used to that from her past relationship, so she’s kind of been thinking in the back of her head that it’s only a matter of time.
- Simone is so hurt, she doesn’t say anything. She retreats. She plays what he said over and over again in her head.
- She starts to think she never really knew George in the first place.
- George thinks Simone has changed. She’s so cold. Does he really know her?
- George starts to retreat. He gets grumpy.
- This confirms Simone’s suspicion that deep down George is an ass.
- They stop speaking. Both of their lives are turned upside down. Neither can eat, neither can concentrate on work or school.
- And then, finally, at 2am., Simone, in a moment of weakness, texts, “why did you say that shitty thing you said?”
- George has no idea what the hell she’s talking about.
- And either they decide to communicate, make up – or continue to be stubborn, and hurt, and human.
- And unless the relationship becomes a prison sentence – unless the relationship is going to turn into a sludgy tedious slew of miscommunications that neither of them is strong enough to fix – they’ll have to have learned something from it. Simone will have to address situations when the come up, and George will have to learn to ask if something is bothering her when something feels off.
It may seem obvious that the two just need to TALK. But if characters are going to play out on the page as real people, they’re going to have to have some of these very human, idiotic moments. People are stubborn by nature. No one wants to be the first to admit that they’re wrong, or to be vulnerable. And they suffer for it.
How deeply are your characters going to have to suffer before they finally confront the situation? If you’ve drawn them out as real characters – probably a lot.