A major part of Live to Tell is Stephen’s marriage to Grace. We’re introduced to Stephen when they’re on the verge of separation, Grace indignant about his long absences on his book tour, and Stephen full of animosity for her threatening to walk. They’ve clearly forgotten what they love about each other, and Jacinta coming into their lives is the biggest test of their resolve.
Stephen is very much a creature of habit, who has become too self-involved with his work. Grace has been left with Chloe, their six-year-old daughter, who’s already precocious and bratty, and Grace’s patience is almost spent. Grace is sassy and clever, but too tough to be pushed around or shortchanged by Stephen’s selfishness.
It held true you’d never spend a life with someone who wasn’t capable of making you a decent cup of tea. Stephen would joke about this to people when he spoke of Grace, and it was so trite given all she did for him. He hadn’t been paying her back in kind. She slid the cup over to him, the kitchen bench creating some kind of neutral zone to begin negotiations. Out of respect for her giving him this chance, he put it to her to start.
“I was at my wit’s end before you left,” she said. “Something in me said I had to go, but since you’ve been gone, I’ve thought through all the ramifications, and I’ve decided it wouldn’t be fair on you or Chloe for me not to try and fix this.”
He made his sigh of relief as quiet as possible. “What do you need me to do?”
“Spend more time with Chloe. Take a break and give me time to go back to work.”
“I can do all that.” He believed himself until he remembered the envelope in his bag upstairs. “I’m meeting with the head of nursing tomorrow about taking a few shifts at the hospital.
Nothing too strenuous, no night shifts.”
“You’re being very agreeable.”
“Your demands aren’t unreasonable,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t come back sooner.”
“Karen explained things. I shouldn’t have asked you to drop everything. I’m jealous you get to jet around to different places while I’m stuck here with Chloe.” He sipped his tea. “We can go somewhere.”
“Stephen, stop it.”
“You’re just placating me to avoid another row. Don’t give me all these false promises when I don’t know what’s going on with you now.”
~Excerpt from Chapter 2
Neither of them is perfect, and their marriage is hardly solid. I prefer to write imperfect characters, I won’t give you a hero that’s without fault, and I don’t believe in Mary Sue types a reader can imprint themselves onto. They might be an idealised version of me or a flawed version of me. Some people I know might be loosely woven into my characters, or the character is based on no one at all. One of my favourite screenwriters, Dan Harmon, made a very attractive version of himself in the character Jeff Winger in Community. Dan is famous for being self-effacing but egotistical, as I’ve learnt by listening to his podcast over the years. Community was very much his vehicle for working through his own flaws and how he approached others. If you know a writer on a personal level, it’s hard to remove them from their work, but in some literary debate, the writer and the text (book, film etc.) should always remain apart.
The best part of character development is fleshing out each individual player and creating a persona that you can play with. Provided their motivations make sense to the reader, even if they are terrible decisions, or maligned ones, the reader will find this believable. Then you know you’ve made a strong charter.
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