Why characters don’t always do what you want them to – Amulya Malladi
By Amulya Malladi
I have always wanted to write a love story, a grand one, albeit, with a happy ending. I’m a sucker for happy endings.♥
When I started to write my fifth novel, The Sound of Language, the story of a relationship between an old Danish keeper, Gunnar and a young Afghan refugee, Raihana – I was convinced that Gunnar and Raihana would fall in love.
Gunnar was modeled after my father-in-law as I imagined he would be if his wife passed away – grumpy, uncommunicative and lost, but essentially an honest and good man. Raihana was an Afghan refugee studying in a Danish language class, which is a legal requirement for refugees in Denmark. Through the language school, Raihana works for Gunnar who is a hobby beekeeper.
I thought buzzing bees, honey, working in close quarters – Gunnar and Raihana would have no choice. I told my husband I was finally doing it. I was writing a love story. And it would be a scandalous one where an older Danish man fell in love with a younger Afghan refugee.
When I wrote the book, I was myself going to a Danish language school. For research I spoke to one of my classmates who was from Afghanistan and her husband, Abdullah. When I asked them if Raihana would fall in love with Gunnar, Abdullah emphatically said, “No. That would never happen. An Afghan would not fall in love with a Dane.” He thought it was a completely absurd idea.
Raihana had lost her husband in Afghanistan and was still struggling with the loss of her husband, her homeland and her identity. Gunnar had lost his wife of forty plus years. She managed him and his life. She ran the house, made sure everyone received a Christmas present, managed the social calendar. Since her death he had become uncommunicative and antisocial, mourning her loss. Two characters from different parts of the world, one old and retired, another young and brave – they would help each other recover and heal.
They did. They did it by becoming friends.
However many times I tried to make them fall in love, they stubbornly refused. I wrote scenes where a hand grazed another, a feeling burst inside one of them – but they refused to go for it. I wrote these pages of a blooming romance and found that I needed to delete them the day after because they were not authentic; they were not true to these people I had conjured.
This is a lesson, I learn over and over again. In the past years I have learnt to trust my characters and ultimately myself – but sometimes I wish that someone in my book world would do something I want them to do, even if it’s out of character and that’s where I go wrong. But then I delete those pages, wipe that slate clean and let my characters tell their story, after all, they do it so much better.
Amulya Malladi is the author of six novels, including The Mango Season and Serving Crazy with Curry. Her books have been translated into several languages, including Dutch, German, Spanish, Danish, Romanian, Serbian, and Tamil. Her sixth novel, A House for Happy Mothers, will be released by Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing in June 2016. She lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two sons.