Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Selection, selection, selection

Events matter. The right event can really focus your story.

Okay, enough preamble, because I don't know how to introduce this except by saying: Select the right event, and the right VERSION of the event.

Let's say you want to show that your hero doesn't trust in the future. (What conflict would cause that?) And you know -- just know -- that you can show the effect this has on his life by suggesting the perfect symbol for the future-- a baby.

But you want to save the actual baby decision for the end of the story, to show hero triumphing over his despair and cynicism. You want to show earlier in the story how he refuses to take this route to the future, so when his wife wants to have a baby, he refuses, even to the point that she leaves him.

Now my question for you is, under what circumstances would you have it be that she wants to conceive with him? And in what case would you want it to be that she wants to adopt a baby (let's say, in this case, she can't conceive)?

Do you see what I mean? Both scenarios will bring a baby into their lives, that wonderful symbol of the future, that distraction from despair, that source of joy.

What difference would it make what the delivery method is? Well, you tell me. There is no right answer here-- it all depends on what you want for him-- what sort of conflict, what sort of resolution, and also, I think, it might depend on how major a character she is. (That is, if she's another protagonist, you might want the infertility conflict so that she too has a journey.)

So what implications does it have if what he refuses is to conceive a child (that is, a more passive resistance), and what if he refuses to adopt? What message does each send about his attitude and conflict? What does each symbolize for him? What in fact is he refusing with each?

That is, there's a difference in what precise conflict or attitude would best be explored with refusal to conceive and which with refusal to adopt. Since you're the one in charge of selecting events, in what case would you choose which?

What I'm trying to get at so awkwardly is that nuance matters-- we should use a scalpel, not a butcher knife, to carve this sculpture of story. So your turn-- you're in charge in comments. Give us a scenario where the right "babymaking" event that he refuses (and then in the end, presumably, accepts) is conception with his wife, and one where the right event is adoption. I have some ideas, of course, but don't know... I just know which one will make a difference.



Wes said...

I have one of each. Daughters that is. One is adopted and one is home grown, except I can't remember which is which.

Neither of these situations apply to me, since I have a child from each source, but here goes.

Objection to conceiving: The husband is a cynic, despondent, and bitter about the world. He doesn't want to conceive because he doesn't want to bring a child into the world where he/she will have an unhappy life.

Objection to adoption: The husband is egotistical and proud of his superior genes which contributed to his looks, athletic skill, and intelligence. He is worried about being saddled with a child who does not have his exceptional physical and intellectual characteristics. Furthermore, he is apprehensive of possibly adopting an infant damaged by the birth-mother's use of drugs and alcohol.

Edittorrent said...

I can see that the "I don't want to bring a child into this stupid world" won't work in adoption, because the child is already brought!

In a weird way, because adoption is pro-active, maybe it's more of a commitment? You can definitely conceive a baby by accident, but you have to decide to adopt. So maybe the conflict might be fear of commitment of some sort, maybe because he almost doesn't trust himself to stick around and fulfill the commitment?

Wes said...

Fear of commitment works too. But it works in each situation, assuming a conscious decision is being made about trying to conceive or not.

Riley Murphy said...

I hope you aren’t ready to kill me on this one (sorry it's so long) - but here goes:

Hero’s conflict is that he has grown up with a single mother who resents him, as he represents her unsuccessful attempt of ‘ parental blackmail’- when the guy she had hoped to keep, by getting pregnant - leaves her high and dry. Subconsciously the hero has come to believe that a child signifies the end of hopes and dreams - hadn’t all his Mother’s dreams ended the day he was born? This is why he has decided not to have children and concentrate on his career and by doing so, he thinks he will keep his hopes and his dreams alive.
He meets a woman who is willing to sacrifice her desire for children (because he is up-front with her about not wanting kids) - her motivation could be...I don’t know, maybe that she feels that his work ethic and ability to provide for her - after she has spent most of her life in abject poverty is worth the price? Only after several years of marriage she begins to see that all the money in the world can’t replace her ultimate dream of having children.
And when she tells the hero this? Well, the fact that she actually uses the term - her dream - is enough for the hero to NOT just say, no – BUT HELL NO!
(This is where your are going to kill me)...
Because I would have the heroine leave the hero - on good terms cause they do love one another and although she is devastated she does realize that she knew this coming in. She makes a choice just as he had made a choice which gets him to thinking about women and the choices that they must make in life. They are the vessel of life, so to speak, and here was the woman he loved willing to give up the man she cherishes above others, to realize her dream of having children. This causes him to reevaluate his mother’s motives. She had the same opportunity of ‘choice’ and when she chose the less noble path and it burned her, she blamed it on the only one in the equation who didn’t have a choice - him. Which gets him thinking about all the children who didn’t have a say in how they got here – so he begs his wife to come back to him, telling her that he wants them to adopt a child who needs them. One who, by the sheer act of choosing them as parents - will have been given the choice, that he wasn’t.

On the matter of conceiving, I would probably spin it that the hero has fallen in love with a deeply religious woman - and he has a fear of his child being born with um, cystic fibrosis or some other kind of hereditary disease from his side of the family. He knows the care and commitment it takes to shoulder that kind of a responsibility but, he never had to deal with the issue of worrying about it because he always assumed that a test could be done early on in a pregnancy to find out the status of the fetus –I mean, how was he supposed to know that the woman he chose to eventually marry wouldn’t care what any test had to say? Perfect or not it Wouldn’t matter to her...but what about him? Interesting...

Anonymous said...

I'm not entirely sure I get exactly what you mean here, but I'll give it a go anyway.

In the first instance - conceiving a child, I can see his conflict arising from something more physical/medical that has to do with, perhaps, his wife's health/the risk of bearing a child. Maybe his wife went through cancer treatment or something, and he's so glad she's once again healthy that he doesn't want to risk her health with a pregnancy. Or perhaps the pregnancy (with its hormones and such) puts his wife at a higher risk of return of her cancer. Alternative scenarios here - Maybe his mother died in childbirth, or his sister, or his first wife. Or perhaps they already tried to have a child who was stillborn, and he can't bear to risk the possibility of going through that pain again.

I'm finding the adoption scenario very difficult, for some reason. Perhaps show him to be a man who cannot put faith in 'contracts', who has had promises broken in his life, and who cannot trust that the birth mother won't someday come to "take the baby back" or who cannot trust the legal process that makes the adoption happen. Perhaps he's paralyzed by the 'choice' involved. Perhaps he made a choice in his past that had devastating consequences in his life or someone else's life?
Which would be the 'best' or 'right' child to adopt? What if he makes a mistake and chooses the 'wrong' baby?

Fascinating question. I simply love your blog.

Julie Harrington said...

I could come up with a couple of different options.

He might refuse conceiving a baby if he fears having a quality that he saw in his father and believes has been passed on to him via blood that he views as destructive in a major way. It doesn't mean he actually HAS this issue, just a firmly rooted belief that he *could* which leads to him operating at an extreme to counter via his characterization.

This fear could be anything from alcoholism, to his inability to stay in one place for too long, multiple marriages, anger issues, so-called "selfishness", a violent temper/control issues, heck, maybe his father used to beat his mother and ended up dead in a bar room brawl and people have always told him (because he was a teen constantly in trouble) "You're going to wind up just like your father!"

You never know how children will take things said to them and that kind of thing would/could give them serious pause about having children of their own and passing it on, especially if something that happened to the hero in recent times (of the story, that is) somehow touches on that fear.

For example, if the hero is afraid one day he'll lose control of his temper, snap and hurt someone like his father used to do when he beat his mother, siblings, him, whatever, then I'd have something in the "present" have tapped that fear where he feels he's lost that control or been accused of losing that control.

When the wife approaches him for baby-time, I can totally see him balking and refusing to do it. Who wants to pass on something so potentially harmful and make that child suffer the same self-doubt and loathing the father has been battling all his life? Nobody wants to hurt the ones they love.

Of course he'd have to learn that he's not his father, that the abusive behavior is not in him and that just because he loses control of a situation (because of course he'd have honed himself some iron clad control in every aspect of his life as a result of these fears) he CAN control his temper and not lash out in physical ways, that the wife isn't afraid of him, etc, etc, etc.

Hopefully that made sense.

The second scenario about adoption... Have the husand be an adopted child himself, have him experience that "never knew where he came from" symptomology (is that a word?), always feeling like he was on the outside looking in on his adoptive family before he ever even knew he was adopted.

Heck, that lack of blood tie could be felt in a non-existent relationship with his adoptive mother or father who could either never get over the fact that they couldn't have "real kids" or preferred the blood-related children they were able to have.

This could leave the husband unwilling to adopt in the fear that he (and even his wife) couldn't provide the adopted child with the loving home they really want and deserve and would force the hero to face the truths about his own childhood that have gone unspoken within his own family until this point.

Another option for the adoption scenario is that the hero is from a family where blood is EVERYTHING. Heritage. Lineage. Blue Blood lines running thick and rich... and he's the illegitimate son from an affair. Never quite good enough, basically written off, paid off, and told to get lost. Something to be ashamed of and of course he's thinking better to never have family ties like that because it's always a disappointment and its easier to grow up knowing you can't depend on anybody but yourself.

Someone like that would have a really hard time, I think, raising an adopted child, being nuturing and loving because they'd want to instill independence in the child eventually and teach them that they're basically on their own, which could be construed as "You're not good enough for me, you can't count on me, so don't expect me to be there for you." A tough line to walk.


Edittorrent said...

So maybe the refusal to conceive is a good way to show a deep sense of inadequacy?

Most men I know who don't want to be fathers (which are most, until they are :) would say it's about freedom-- but maybe that's just to cover up inadequacy fears?

Julie Harrington said...

Most men I know who don't want to be fathers (which are most, until they are :) would say it's about freedom-- but maybe that's just to cover up inadequacy fears?

I think it has a lot to do with fear. Fear that it means they're losing something (maybe it is freedom) is definitely plausible. That whole bachelor thing. But if you're married and already committed... I don't know. They're already in it presumably for the long haul. I think having a baby changes what the current marriage relationship is and (not to get too personal or anything) but when it came to the marriage of my parents, my father seemed to view children as rivals for my mother's attention and affection. I've heard the same type of story from a lot of my friends who have children now. The husband wants the focus and seems to resent that the woman's attention is now more on the baby than him. Sounds weird, but seems to be kind of common.

But yeah, I think the resistence to conceive is a HUGE way to show inadequacy or fear of some kind on the man's part. It represents so much and so much can often be tracked back to their relationships with their fathers and traits that are passed down or they fear will be passed down.


Anonymous said...

The problem with fear of losing freedom,for the specific original question, is that it doesn't (to me) differentiate between resistance to conceive and resistance to adoption, because the end result is the same - the commitment of fatherhood. The same with fear of losing the wife's attention.

Now the adoption scenario that JewelTones described above is excellent, IMO - the one about blood/heritage/lineage having such an importance in his family. I loved that one, especially because of the added layer of his own inadequacies in that area.

Riley Murphy said...

I disagree Alicia, any guy I know, who doesn’t want kids - has a pretty good set-up because he is the kid. More likely, he is less afraid of being inadequate and more afraid of being stuck in second place. I don’t want to go ‘all basic human nature here’ but historically, women have coddled their male children more than the females and well, that creates a monster...I’m thinking the Peter Pan syndrome. A condition that is quickly cured by the arrival of the fruit of one's loins!:)

Edittorrent said...

WEll, we hope it's cured!

Riley Murphy said...

There is always hope. Hey, is that another theme? But at the end of the day, if the 'fruit of his loins' doesn't cause him to grow up and accept adult responsibilities than he will wind up leaving his 'Wendy' and heading back to play in Neverland, right?
I'd like to think that the birth of a child is a powerful enough ‘event’ to cure leftover childhood selfishness - but, I’ve seen firsthand where some guys, just like Peter Pan, remain in the sandbox forever.

(Note: If this blog can be picked up in Neverland - I would remind my brother in-law to brush the sand off his hands before he touches his computer)!!!:D

em said...

LOL Murphy!
So, is it fear of commitment? Fear of adequacy? Fear of growing up? I'm reading a lot of 'fear'. There were only a few examples that gave men the benefit of the doubt and let them make a conscious choice through growth.

Edittorrent said...

Okay, so those are all good "conflict causes"! I'm wondering what would inspire you-- were you writing about this guy-- to choose one version over the other for his wife to demand (conception vs. adoption).
Boy, I sure am inarticulate today. Blame it on three hours of trying to un-jargonize a piece of academic writing.

Anonymous said...

If one of the goals of the story is to make this conflict a significant part of it, then I would choose the adoption version. This is because it seems like a much more detailed and active choice on the part of the man, with a lot of steps involved, where aspects of the conflict can be elucidated, dramatized, illustrated, etc.

In the conception issue, what acts can you use that actually show him going through the process of acceptance? Allowing her to flush "The Pill" down the toilet? Not using his condom? And even then, conception is not guaranteed. It's not immediate. And if he has doubts after she becomes pregnant, then your options are limited to abortion or 'deal with it'. Right?

But in adoption, he has to actively go to the agency, meet with the people there, sign documents, and all of the other many things that must be required in the process (having not done this myself). It just seems like a better opportunity to delve into his conflict/transformation in more detail. It is active, rather than reactive.

My two cents, anyway. This has been a nice diversion, since I'm having a hard time writing this week because my six year old has been home with a nasty virus. Thanks.


Julie Harrington said...

Now see, for me, I'd have said the opposite. For the conflict for the man, I'd have gone with conception over adoption because (and maybe this is sexist or something) to me the adoption angle seems more emotionally affective toward the heroine, who would have more to deal with on the conception side (see, there's that sexism thing, assume the conception issue is hers and not his, which it often is, but then there's invitro options) than the conception angle.

I think the issue of the character's conflict has a lot to do with which option you'd wind up with, so while I could see potential in the adoption conflict and really liked the whole blue blood/family lineage idea mentioned above, my gut keeps leaning toward conception. I think it's because I see the man's final agreement to either option as the end of the journey (and the book) rather than the actual story.

So maybe that's my reasonsing. Adoption seems more like it touches on a female's connection to a character while conception seems more male relevant?

Wow. Not exactly a well-thought out reason but it's what I'd probably wind up with. I'll have to ponder the "why" of it a bit more and hope the intuition become writer's reason. :)


Edittorrent said...

Yes, CE, truth is, uh, a man's active choice isn't necessarily needed for conception... I mean, he doesn't have to think, "Okay, let's have sex and make a baby." Sometimes it's not even an actual choice but... just happens. :)

But adoption really would require his active consent and participation.

Jewel, I also had the idea that going with adoption might come because you have made the woman into another important character-- someone who has her own journey to make and maybe her own decision. (If he refuses to adopt, she has to decide if she will leave him or not.) Anyway, I did think as you did, not sure why, that adoption would be the right choice if you wanted to make the woman have a journey too.