Work In Progress

Protecting a character’s likeability

By October 19, 2021 No Comments

In The Lockdown Tales there’s an Assistant Professor, Amelia, who falls in love with a student, Grace, whose doctoral thesis she’s supervising. She wants Grace in her life and in her bed.

That’s a serious breach of university rules on staff-student relationships, and it’s very much against public opinion.

I’m aware of but don’t make any reference to the fact that most people will see a relationship involving two women more kindly than they would a relationship between a senior male academic and his female student. I would too, for various reasons. But I don’t go into that: it isn’t what the story is about.

1950s lesbian pulp. The sort of thing I didn’t want to write. Luckily¬†“Tereska Torres” has taken care of that.

My take on Amelia’s behaviour, in the book as in life, is that it’s wrong, but that Amelia gets into that position not because she’s a terrible person but because she lost her partner some years ago (hit by truck on a Marrickville street) and she’s sad and desperately lonely.

So she does something wrong, but I hope the reader forgives her, as flawed but human, and still likes her.

It’s pretty clear by the end of the Lockdown Tales that the main narrator, Gail, is in love with Amelia, and has been waiting for Amelia to come to her senses, and see Gail. So there’s a happy ending just out of sight, and I hope people think Amelia deserves happiness.

In the second volume of Lockdown Tales, not published yet, I’d written a story in which Amelia had fallen in lust with a different student 13 years earlier. In the core story, Amelia finds a way to end the relationship that saves the face and the feelings of the student. In the bigger story, that story is told by Amelia, and it’s her confessing that she should have known better, with Grace.

But it makes her a repeat offender, which I started to worry is asking for a lot of forgiveness, from most readers.

 

So I’ve changed it. Now the story is that one of her friends and colleagues enters that relationship, and Amelia advises her to terminate the relationship. Which the woman in that story manages to do, with – eventually – some grace.

So now the bigger story is that in telling that story Amelia is confessing to the others that she knew she was doing wrong, when she tried to take up with Grace, but that she couldn’t stop herself. She thanks them, and Grace, for their forgiveness.

 

So I’m hoping that the reader will see that love, and especially loneliness, are incredibly powerful forces that can override people’s judgement. And see Amelia as someone who is trying to be a good person, and feel happy that she’s happy now.

But I had to completely re-write the story to preserve (I hope) Amelia’s likeability.

 

Another question is is: why is a male writer writing a lesbian love triangle? The answer is that I followed the template set by Giovanni Boccaccio in the Decameron: seven women and three men leave the city to get away from a pandemic, and tell each other stories to keep their spirits up.

Boccaccio’s young nobles weren’t sexually interested in each other, mostly, and they were only away from the city for about a fortnight, so it’s easy to avoid the question of sex and partnerships among his cast of story-tellers. In my story it’s less plausible to pretend that contemporary people don’t have their own sexual needs and desires, and their lockdown goes on for about eighteen months.

So rather than have my characters going out of their minds with sexual frustration, or write some male fantasy where every guy gets two-three lovers, I had some of the women be interested in each other rather than – or in one case as well as – men.

 

Getting back to Amelia, she ends my story wiser and happier than she began. I hope she finds understanding, forgiving readers.

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