by G.M. Malliet
Alexander McCall Smith has written an article for the WSJ that's as engaging as any of his novels. In the article, he talks about how readers can get so caught up in an author's characters they start wanting to dictate "What happens next." I was amazed to learn that one of Smith's characters, Isabel Dalhousie, formed a relationship with a younger character in reaction to a complaint the author received from a journalist. It was this journalist's opinion that it was wrong to deny these characters a romantic attachment, despite the difference in their ages, so this attachment got written into the series.
I was saddened to hear that Mr Smith succumbed, but the pressure on such a popular author must be intense. Everybody "owns" Precious Ramotswe; everybody "owns" Isabel. It is part of Smith's great achievement that he made them seem so real, and endeared them to us. We care what happens to them, in the same way we care what happens to a friend.
I posted a link to the WSJ article on Facebook and someone commented that this was why they couldn't bring themselves to read The Remorseful Day, in which Inspector Morse dies. That is exactly it--Morse (and John Thaw) had become so real to us throughout the series we couldn't bear to say goodbye.
Both Colin Dexter and Alexander McCall Smith have more than earned the right to let their characters do as they choose--or rather, as their authors choose. And surely, that is any author's right. What else are we here for but to either keep our characters in line or let them run wild, only to be reined in later? Someone has to be in charge, and I think it has to be the author. (If anything, I would have preferred that Isabel remain single, but I wouldn't have dreamed of trying to bend the author to my will.)
Have you ever altered the direction of a series because of input from a fan? (And have you lived to regret it?)
Photo from www.telegraph.co.uk