I’m so encouraged by the interest people are showing in my book in progress Women Can Renew the World IF…and So Can You. I previously posted a sneak preview excerpt to my blog, and got favorable reactions. So here’s another sneak peek for you. This is one of the exercises in the book. It features one of my favorite books/movies, The Lord of the Rings–The Two Towers.
Be sure to actually try the exercise! And let me know how you do.
Exercise: What Happens When People Don’t Talk about Interests
Think of touchy conversations you have witnessed, but in which neither you nor anyone close to you has been involved. A good way to come up with these is to consider fictional works such as novels, movies or TV shows.
Put yourself in the shoes of each of the two characters, in turn. Ask yourself what interests each character had but did not express to the other. Then think about what each of the characters might have said to clarify their own interests or might have asked to clarify the other party’s interests. How differently might things have turned out if these characters had discussed interests?
Here’s my example from the movie The Lord of the Rings—The Two Towers. The hobbit, Frodo, takes on a dangerous quest to destroy an evil Ring. Another hobbit, Sam, travels with him. Along the way, they meet Gollum, a hobbit-like creature who once possessed the Ring. Corrupted by the Ring, Gollum transformed into a treacherous but pitiful little monster.
The hobbits are justifiably suspicious of Gollum, who views them as having stolen his Ring and would do anything to get it back. Gollum, in turn, hates the hobbits. Still, they need one another, and so, join forces.
Tensions between Frodo and Gollum begin to ease when Frodo calls Gollum by his real name, Smeagol, which Gollum has not heard in centuries. Smeagol joyfully banishes Gollum, the nasty half of his split personality. All turns sour, however, after a ranger, Faramir, captures Frodo and Sam.
Drawn by the Ring, Smeagol follows them to Faramir’s cave and enters a pool, not knowing the water is forbidden. When Faramir discovers Smeagol, he fetches Frodo to the pool to see archers with bows drawn, aimed at Smeagol. They will shoot unless Frodo gets Smeagol out of the water. Frodo coaxes Smeagol from the pool, but Smeagol only knows that Frodo, his “master,” called him, and he went. Then, full-sized men beat and kicked him during interrogation.
When Faramir releases the three, they remain together because they still need one another, but all trust between Frodo and Smeagol is lost. Gollum has returned.
This type of situation often arises in fiction, and always frustrates me. If either character had asked or answered the magic question, “Why?” everything could have been different.
I’m a well-trained fiction writer myself. My book Love on the Rocks with a Twist is based on a series of stories I wrote, each followed by study notes on what the characters did well or could have done better in terms of communication skills. I know that conflict keeps readers turning pages and viewers from changing channels. Yet, I find conflict from failure to communicate particularly aggravating because it’s so unnecessary.
My dear old English professor would remind me that this is what makes tragedies tragic; the characters cause their own problems. Yet, the persuasion coach in me can’t help wanting Frodo to appeal to Smeagol’s interests and explain his own interests.
If Smeagol had simply asked Frodo why he betrayed him, Frodo would have explained how it was the only way that he could save Smeagol’s life. It was unlikely, though, that Smeagol would make the first move. His trust, his separation from Gollum, was still so embryonic, that all the old suspicions, fears and hatred returned in greater force after his capture and beating.
Frodo, however, stood in a better position to explain his interests to Gollum. Gollum would only be released from Faramir’s custody in the company of Frodo and Sam. Thus, Frodo could have commanded Gollum’s attention while he explained:
Frodo: There were half a dozen archers all aiming their arrows at you. I was a prisoner already. They would spare your life only if I got you out of the forbidden pool.
Gollum: Why didn’t you shout at me to run? Why didn’t you help me escape, Precious? (Gollum calls the Ring, himself, and everyone else “Precious.”)
Frodo: Because if I had, you would have had six arrows in your body before you could take one step.
Gollum: I don’t believe you. You wanted them to capture me because you wanted to keep the Ring.
Frodo: If I wanted them to capture you, I would have told them about you as soon as they captured me. They had spotted you and asked me about you. I lied for you, Smeagol, I told them there was no one else with Sam and me.
It wouldn’t make for such compelling fiction, but if these characters had been real people, it would have been a better approach.
Gollum might not have come around immediately, but he might have thought about what Frodo said. He might have suspended judgment and waited to see how things developed. Frodo could have kept the doors to trust open.
Can you think of a real life situation in which clarifying your interests might have led to a better result?