I didn’t have this listed originally s a topic I’d post on, but after receiving a few emails, I added it to the list.
I’m sure you’ve all read a book (or seen a movie) where you want to yell at the characters to JUST TALK! But the truth is, if they “just talked”, the story would likely fall flat.
As writers, we’re supposed to “entertain”. How entertaining would it be if there wasn’t any conflict? Sure, the conflict could be external, but that’s not always possible. (Not to mention if that’s how a book always played out, that trend would get old very quickly.) There are many times when a couple gets along great and doesn’t have a lot of external conflict that keeps them apart. So instead, their conflict must come in the form of a misunderstanding or a reluctance to communicate.
For as infuriating as it might seem while reading the book, it’d be far more infuriating to you as a reader–or at least I’d feel this way–if you paid $5 for a book that was only 10,000 words because in the beginning, the characters meet, then they fall in love without any sort of conflict. That’s not fun and it’s not very entertaining.
Sometimes, their communication breakdown comes from one or both of the characters not divulging the information they’re holding because they think it’s unimportant, or they don’t want to expose that part of their life, or simply because they don’t know how to explain themselves to the other person. Part of making books more realistic (and I use this word loosely as let’s face it, they’re works of fiction, they can’t be completely true to life or nobody would want to read them) is having characters face some of the same struggles we do, but just with a neat, tidy, happy ending a few chapters later where their horrendous problem has been completely rectified. Without them facing the same struggles we do, we can’t relate to them. Communication is a crucial part of any relationship and yet, there are many people who don’t have good communication skills because of the same reasons listed above. The difference with a book is, you’re getting to be in two different heads (hopefully at different times) so you can see the other side of the relationship and understand the other person’s thoughts and ideas, but their counterpart in the book doesn’t haven’t that advantage. So think of it like you’re in a fight with your significant other, you don’t know what they’re thinking–nor do they know what you’re thinking. Characters are the same.
Another reason some don’t “just talk” is the time isn’t right. Whether it be they don’t trust the other–which, once again, thinking about it from the reader’s perspective, YOU know their counterpart is trustworthy, but they don’t. Or perhaps they simply hadn’t been afforded the time to tell such a thing–one thing about writing historicals is in trying to keep with the norms of the period, private time for unmarried couples to chat would have been greatly limited and if the topic were really important, it might be hard to find enough uninterrupted time to talk. Not to mention the post I made a month or so ago about what was taboo to talk about with a suitor before marriage.
Then of course, there are times when the entire plot of the book relies on a misunderstanding or else the couple wouldn’t be thrown together in the first place.
Like most writers, before I started writing books, I read hundreds, if not thousands of them, and I, too, would groan and say, “Just tell her you love her, you coxcomb.” But then I’d get to the end of the book, and found myself far more pleased with how it ended and realized it wouldn’t have all worked out this way (nor afforded me so many hours of entertainment) without their failure to communicate properly early in the book.
So, as my challenge to you–and there is one of you out there I’m talking to directly!–next time you read a book with a big or little or multiple misunderstandings, let them go and realize that without all these little hurdles in their relationship where she has to learn she can trust him and he has to learn how to put his thoughts into words, they wouldn’t grow into who they were meant to become. (Plus, would you really be ready for the book to end right then anyway?)