Friday, March 25, 2011

Self-deceivers

I'm reading a book with a very tight POV, and so I'm in the protagonist's head all the time.  (It's a mystery, btw, not a romance.) And I'm seeing something interesting. He thinks he's utterly in love with an old flame, and says it a whole lot. "I'm so in love with her." "She's the one I never got over." "If I'd stayed with her all these years, my life would have been happy."

Well, I don't believe it. As I read, I keep ticking off the clues (to me) that he's just deceiving himself, like he didn't think of her at all till she suddenly arrived at his house one day, and that their epic separation (engineered by her over-protective father, natch) would never have been successful if he'd just, you know, picked up the phone and called her, but he didn't bother. And that even now, he never thinks of her and doesn't pursue her-- she always has to go to him. And their conversations are all about how wonderful it was to be 16 and in love (only now they're in their 40s), and how tragic it was to be separated for so long, and not at all about current life, like her children and his job. 

Anyway, I want to take him aside and say, "Dude, you are just not that into her."

But I know he'd look at me with those starry eyes and reply, "What do you mean?  She's the love of my life!"

Now I'm wondering if at the end of the book (I'm still about halfway through) he's going to realize, or she is, that this great passion is 90% nostalgia for youth, and not actually love at all.  But there's something about the presentation of it that suggests to me that this is NOT what the author is setting up (the realization of self-deception), that the author actually does think that this is Twu Luv 4-evuh, and that the book will end with the two of them holding hands and gazing at their youthful photos in their high school yearbook and talking sincerely about how much they're in love. (I mean, that the author is deceived too. Because I'm so right-- the lady is just trying to escape her boring life by relighting an old flame, and the guy is just in love with the memory of himself in love.)


Has anyone had to work with this sort of issue? I was thinking that when you're really falling in love, it's more of a conflict than this, and there's more internal questioning and debate. But then I remembered one of my favorite Joan Wolf romances, where the hero has known that he has loved the heroine all their lives (they grew up together), and never for a moment did I doubt it (nor did they).  So it's not doubt and conflict that are the keys, I don't think.  Why do I think the mystery fella is lying to himself, but not the young Regency horse-trainer?

But we'll see. Anyway, I'm wondering what you all do when you want a character to deceive him/herself, but you don't want to make it too obvious or have an omniscient narrator make that observation.  How do you make the self-deception plausible (that he could really be in love with her) but also set up for some epiphany or change at the end?
And how does this differ from the way you'd handle the same set of circumstances if there WAS no self-deception, if this were truly true?


So-- scenarios. (Deep POV, remember-- we're in his head, no veering off into the common sense of his best friend or secretary.)
Protagonist is with a woman. He thinks he is in love with her. He thinks this is real. How would you present it (and I don't mean the ending) if:

1. It's not real. He's deceiving himself.
2. It's real. He's right. He really does love her.

13 comments:

PatriciaW said...

He's deceiving himself and she knows it. But as time progresses, he falls in love with her, for real. Now he has to convince her that it's love and not nostalgia.

Annette said...

I think one approach could be:

1)If he's deceiving himself, then I would present it more in the sense that it is SHE who makes HIM feel good more than the other way around. He enjoys superficial things with her, his focus is more on himself -- the good time, the temporary and shallower aspects. It's all about today and the ride. I would incorporate a scene or two where he might not notice certain things that would be quite apparent to the reader - perhaps that there's something bothering the woman, or she's asking him for something maybe without words, but that anyone with a modicum of intuition could plainly see, yet he doesn't. In other words, his actions tell us he's just not that into her, even while he's declaring that he is.

2)If he really does love her, then his focus becomes more on HER, and selfless, deeper issues matter, HER well-being and happiness become more important. And the FUTURE matters -- he starts considering tomorrow as much as today.

Sylvia said...

1.

Brian tried to keep his voice level. "We can make this work, I'm sure of it!"

"I just don't know..." She looked up at him with a single tear coursing down her cheek.

He clenched his fists to keep from shouting. She was so damn stubborn, throwing barriers up. "It doesn't have to be difficult," he said, his voice hoarse with frustration. "You just need to trust me."

2.

Brian tried to keep his voice level. "We can make this work, I'm sure of it!"

"I just don't know..." She looked up at him.

His heart cracked with pain at the tear tracks on her pale face. He clenched his fists to keep himself from gathering her into his arms, promising her the world. "I know it's difficult," he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. "I want to prove to you that I'm in this for the long haul."


(PS my word ver is "menerisms"!)

Edittorrent said...

Good thoughts. Hmm. So if he does show his love not just by "I'm so in love" but actually doing love for her, it might be more believable?

Now that I think of it, there is not sacrifice at all. He doesn't even have to pay for dinner. So being so in love doesn't cost him anything.
Alicia

elizaw said...

I think the more self deception, the more I would repeat how much he loves her. Just like that. Keep the foreshadowing subtle, but when things obviously don't work out and they're out of memories to recollect... the long silence in the living room as both rush for a conversation topic says volumes.

And if he really were in love, I'd never say it. I suppose it would depend whether or not he was conscious of it or no, his personality, his outlets. Do something out of character for her. Start refreshing her Facebook page. ... Frankly, my problem with the character is that he sounds like such a passive man. I have such trouble with those (in writing and real life).

Anonymous said...

There are many types of self-deception. Let's say he truly loves her for a host of reasons, but he overlooks traits in her character that point to disaster in the long-run. He overlooks them at first by not being aware of them, but when he does become aware, he deceives himself by making excuses for them, such as she's still young, she's had a hard life, or she doesn't doesn't realize how important certain things are to him. (Sound familiar, T?)

Wes

Anonymous said...

My favorite character in my WIP is my protag's gf. She's such a tart, and he allows himself to be deceived. Men are such guppies. Realize of course, that all of this is a product of my imagination. I have no experience in this area.

Wes

Wes said...

Test

Wes said...

Dang! Whatever I did worked. I can sign in again.

Ms Luey said...

If the character isn't really in love, I would have him insist to himself that he is. A lot. He doth protest too much, I think is how the saying goes. I would want him to say it enough times that the audience wondered why he kept having to say it. Another character (best friend or coworker) might be useful here, so that the protag can keep telling someone that he is so much in love.

But as others mentioned, I'd want the actual interactions between the "romantic" leads to not live up to the protag's expectations. Long silences, awkwardness, no chemistry between them. (Intentionally) stilted dialog that doesn't go very deep. Hopefully, this would set up a disconnect for the reader, enough for them to eventually begin questioning why this guy thinks that this woman is so perfect.

I might make her character a teeny bit annoying, as well, or have her do something that shows she isn't in to him the same way he's into her.

If the characters are meant to be in love, the protag shouldn't have to keep talking about it. Instead, he would rave to his friend about how cute/funny/awesome the woman is. The FRIEND could use the word love, instead of the protag.

"Wow, you really love her, don't you?" Gary said. John felt the grin widening on his face. Man, it was like he couldn't stop smiling.

That's a bit cliche, but you get the picture. When two people are in love, it is obvious to everyone around them. When the romantic leads are together, they are physically close and affectionate. They finish each others' sentences. They notice little things about the other person, both emotionally and physically.

Joan Leacott said...

I'd introduce another female character for compare and contrast purposes. She challenges his commitment to his self-deception, creating internal conflict to the point where he has to choose between his false love and his true love. He won't run around proclaiming "I love her" to all of his friends, but say quietly "I love you" to her face. To tell others doesn't have as much risk as to tell the loved one, who might reject him.

Wes said...

T,

What I wrote above is what I tried to do by having Kincaid deceive himself about Maria. Now that you have the final chapters I look forward to your assessment of whether or not I pulled it off.

Edittorrent said...

Now I'm 3/4 of the way through, and I'm realizing the author actually did something interesting. The issue isn't so much "does he love her" but "what does that mean". They get engaged, and only then does her latent (treated) mental illness start coming out. And he has to think, hey, wait a minute. I signed on for great sex and plenty of nostalgia. Do I want to deal with a crazy person for the rest of my life, even if I really DO love her?

Interesting. Interesting enough that I really don't know what the right answer is, the moral answer, I mean.

Alicia