A couple of days ago I was travelling along a motorway and came upon the scene of an accident. A lorry (truck if you’re in the US) had crashed through the middle barrier and lay sprawled across all three lanes, plus the emergency one, plus one lane on the other side. When I and my family arrived, this must have just happened as we came to a stop less than 100 yards from the accident site. So what if we’d arrived ten seconds earlier?
I wouldn’t be writing this now.
When we make up our stories, we decide on the characters’ fate and sometimes we can be accused of making it too unbelievable, too unreal. But real life is like that too. Things do happen, just like that, when you least expect them to, and they can change everything. Those few vital seconds make such a difference.
Now I’m sitting here feeling very grateful to my guardian angel or whoever was looking after me that night. And I’m also thinking about the awesome power I have over my characters. A power that brings responsibility too. Because if I make my characters suffer, it has to be for a reason. If I have horrible things happen to them just for the hell of it, then that isn’t going to make for a very satisfying story.
I’m going to confess that I’m not a fan of Thomas Hardy’s stories. Yes, I know they’re classics, I know he probably had good reasons and I know he was an infinitely better writer than I’ll ever be, but he was cruel to his characters – in my opinion unnecessarily. Why, for example, having put poor Tess of the D’Urbervilles through so much pain and suffering, could he not have let her have her happy ending? Why did she have to die? I’ve never understood the point of that.
So when I write, I try to think really hard about the things I do to my characters because I wouldn’t want my readers to feel that way. I wouldn’t want them to feel cheated somehow.
And in the meantime, I’m looking out at a beautiful sunny garden and I’m happy to just be here.