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Monday, 12 October 2009


It has occurred to me that the plots of short stories often rely on mistakes. The main character usually has a conflict, which is resolved by the end, sometimes satisfactorily, sometimes not. Sometimes everything is neatly tied and sometimes there are loose ends to give the reader food for thought.

However, these conflicts are often simple misunderstandings, crossed wires, mistakes made by the MC. For example, I have just finished reading a good story in which the MC, a married woman, feels attracted to a married colleague. She makes the error of believing that he feels the same. Carried away, she makes her feelings known to him - another mistake - and is gently but firmly rebuffed. Later she realises her major error was to believe she was genuinely attracted to him. She observes him closely when enough time has passed for her blunder to be less embarrassing. She sees that he is ordinary, mortal, dull even. Her passion was the stuff of a romantic novel or piece of music. Her husband and family are her real love.

This story worked because of the conflict - should she make a play for him or not? But it worked particularly well because of the series of mistakes. I think we like reading about mistakes. They reflect humanity starkly and we can justify ourselves. Aren't we always making mistakes? The awful reality that she cannot hide her awkward error from the man and has to live with the shame strikes a chord with us all. We have all done or said something embarrassing. We share her blushes and feel better about our own.

Allow characters to be foolish. We are all foolish. But how we deal with that idiocy can be inspiring and make an excellent tale.

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