I decided to talk about communication this week, mainly because I see it as being one of the big reasons much of the plot ends up actually happening. Poor communication. Tomas doesn’t talk to his parents, Katka insists on keeping secrets. Lubos, Babka, the vodnik–everybody’s lying to everyone else in one way or another throughout the novel.
This wasn’t the easiest thing for me to write. I’m a huge fan of communication. The more people talk, the less likely it becomes that people will be misunderstood. Scratch that–talking isn’t the only thing people need to do. They need to listen, as well. For Tomas’s parents to be so clueless about everything their son is going through in this book . . . says something about their relationship, I suppose. Though in their defense, they’re going through some pretty drastic life changes of their own at the same time all this is going on.
You’d think that for a fantasy writer, writing from someone else’s viewpoint would be easy. I mean, I’ve written from an alpaca viewpoint, for crying out loud. But when I’m writing from a different character’s viewpoint, I typically share a lot in common with that character, whether it’s an obsession with pop culture or noir or heist movies–in the end, a lot of my own personality inevitably bubbles its way to the surface.
The lack of communication thing . . . it was hard to capture. Does that sound stupid? I mean, in the course of my writing, I’ve put myself in the shoes of murderers, liars, con men, crooks, and criminals. How hard could it be to just have a family not communicate at all?
I suppose it’s because most of the criminals I’ve written have viewed themselves as good guys. They make decisions that are in their best interest, and I’ve got plenty of experience doing that. But to my way of thinking, poor communication is almost never in my best interest. Yes, there are secrets to keep from time to time, and different ways to spin information. But the fundamental communication screw up that is present in Tomas’s family is much more than that.
As I write about it, I think that I’ve identified some more of the problem. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that most families have unspoken communication rules. Things that you just don’t discuss. (Or is that just my family?) Maybe it’s not bringing up Uncle Jack’s college days. Or don’t ask Aunt Rachel about her earrings. (Note: I don’t have an Uncle Jack or an Aunt Rachel.) These are simple examples, but the principle holds true: maybe for families and friendships to work well, you have to pick and choose what you talk about.
So why was it hard for me to write this one?
I think it’s because it’s not my family. Families are unique beasts. Each one is different. And if you’ve grown up in one, then you know all the unspoken rules. Rules you don’t even notice until you’re married and someone else is trying to understand them. (Or when you get married and try to navigate someone else’s family yourself.) There are things you do or don’t say depending on the situation, and it makes complete sense to you, but no sense at all to someone else.
My task with this novel was to portray that sort of family relationship, but do it in a way that makes enough sense to the outsider, without having Tomas come right out and say “This is my family. This is what we talk about. This is what we don’t discuss.” Because it’s not that sort of narration. He’s telling the story his way, and there’s no way he’d come out and just state it like that.
Writing can be difficult. Hopefully this blog post wasn’t difficult to understand. 🙂
That’s all I’ve got for you today, folks. Have a nice Monday!