Compromise

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Hubby closed his eyes and moaned over the chocolate frosting he’d just put in his mouth.

“So it’s good?” I asked.

“Oh yes.”

“Does it need more cocoa?”

“Nope.”

I grinned and took the spoon from him, then headed back into the kitchen to frost the cake. Hubby is the final taste-tester around here, since my tastes tend to be a little different from the rest of the family. He is the safe bet when I’m making something to present to others, like the birthday cake I’m bringing to the in-laws tonight. His mom had requested a healthy cake, but obviously I still wanted it to be as yummy as possible.

As I returned the cocoa and honey to the pantry, a bag of pecans caught my eye and made my mouth water with an idea.

“How do you feel about nuts on a cake?” I asked Hubby.

“On a chocolate cake?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Blasphemy.”

I laughed — and ten minutes later decided to do it anyway. While it’s a joint celebration tonight, one of the birthdays is my own, and I adore pecans.

My first thought was to put them on half the cake, but I thought that would look silly. So instead, I lined the cake with pecans and figured all those nut-haters out there can have the middle pieces.

While I’m too chicken to have shown it to Hubby yet (it’ll be a surprise!), it seems like a pretty good compromise to me.

And it got me thinking about compromises in general — and specifically, compromises in writing.

Last night we went and saw the new silent film The Artist. I had no idea what the story was, and all along the way I found myself guessing where it would head next: oh, he just bumped into the main actress, so now they’re going to hook up, but oh wait, he has a wife, but his wife doesn’t seem to like him, so maybe . . . but wait . . .

I thought about how much the main character’s pride affected the twists of the movie — which was obviously what I was meant to think about, since his pride was showcased as a big element of the story from the beginning. He wouldn’t have had to struggle so much if he could have worked past that hubris sooner, right?

As a fiction writer, I thought about the compromises we make with our characters. We naturally want what’s best for them. They’re like our kids. We want them to be wise and kind and make good choices.

But the trouble in fiction is that we need to see struggling characters. We need to see them overcome. And often the struggles are from their own making. So it becomes a compromise between allowing the blasphemy of bad choices and steering them toward the good ending we want for them.

And of course the resolutions themselves are usually compromises. George Valentin struggled not just because of hubris; it was also that he couldn’t think of a compromise that would work. His initial idea was a bust. Sometimes compromises occur to us quickly, like putting the pecans on only the rim of the cake, but with bigger issues it often takes much longer to see how the good ending can possibly happen. So another compromise for a writer is trading off between letting the character fail and succeed.

Ha, maybe this whole metaphor is a little crazy — as usual. After all, I do like nuts. But The Artist makes me want to consider the fatal flaws in my characters a little deeper this week and make sure that I’ve made the necessary compromises in my story, so that the characters can make mistakes and struggle and yet still arrive at the resolutions readers will hope for.

I want characters who are fundamentally good in the center — so delicious that we’ll react the way Hubby did to the frosting and forgive them for being a little nuts around the edges. ;)

(The frosting, by the way, is simple: 1 cup cream cheese, 3/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. No need for compromising there! Healthy = real food around here, so butter and cream cheese totally count.)

What are your thoughts on compromise? What character examples can you think of who manage a good balance between successes and failures?

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5 responses »

  1. Nuts are on LOTS of chocolate cakes. It would be blasphemous if they were on most other cakes though. They belong on chocolate cakes – especially pecans and walnuts in my opinion. Wish I was eating some with you. ;)

    • Haha, I agree. I’m not sure what the point was of clarifying about chocolate cake unless maybe he only likes nuts on a carrot cake or something. I’ll have to make this cake again some time when you can sample it! It was yummy. :)

  2. Oh, that cake looks so yummy!! Thanks for the recipe :-) I’m intrigued that you watched The Artist, and that is actually something I’d like to see someday.

    But overall, I think compromises are important in stories, and in characters. Whether they DO them or DON’T, it will alter a story significantly (and says a lot about the characters). I’m trying to think of a story that has that, and the only one I can really think of is Nancy Werlin’s IMPOSSIBLE, where I think both characters are excellent at compromising to create common goals. Love!

    • I love IMPOSSIBLE. Such a great story. I struggled with this post because I was thinking as much about the author compromising as the characters. I kept thinking, “Do I succumb too often to what I WANT to have happen instead of letting the characters make mistakes and go the wrong way?” I love characters who know how to approach compromise well, but I’m even more intrigued by the ones who require more compromise from the author, if that makes any sense.

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