Wodehouse’s Traps: How he hints at the complications to come

On Monday I chatted about complications and, because Wodehouse is such a complication-y dude, there’s more to talk about.

As I read more Wodehouse, I find it’s pretty easy to spot what’s going to be a trap for the characters. (Sure, there’re one or two surprises that you can’t see coming–like Monty’s tattoo in The Luck of the Bodkins–but those are few and far between, and almost always serve to create laughter rather than “What the–?”)

I thought about it. Then I figured out why the traps were sorta easy to spot: he couches them in the wide-open world of the characters. Going along with the character-flaws-leading-complications theory of Monday, a person reading Wodehouse must pay attention to clues like these:

And she says: ‘Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you. That’s my alligator.’ There in a nutshell, sir, you have the young lady next door.'” ~PGW, The Luck of the Bodkins, the character of Albert Peasemarch describing his encounter with the actress Lotus Blossom

So, we’ve got Crazy Actress With An Alligator. And, strangely enough, the alligator is not a problem at the moment; the actress is. But that gator’s gonna be. Oh, yes. Wodehouse tucked this tiny bit of fauna in the dialogue of a talkative manservant, almost as a throwaway line, but he has definitely introduced an alligator on board the close-quarters of a ship crossing the Atlantic.

Plus, in a nutshell, he’s also introduced the character of Lotus Blossom–because, as we know, complication comes through the character’s personality goofs.
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It seems to me that Wodehouse either plots super-carefully, or he pays real attention to his characters.

I vote for the latter (obviously). Mostly because the characters are so full of vim, vigor, and troublesome character foibles.

My guess is that Wodehouse creates the characters, saying something along the lines of: “Well, this guy’s gonna have a dog phobia, this woman’s gonna have an obsession with ceramic figurines, and this dude’s gonna be a thief. Let’s see what happens!” Then he picks a setting, throws them all in it, and says “Let’s see if we can sort this out?”

Any takers for the close plotting of complications?

How do you decide to complicate a storyline–or does it happen more organically?

Trouble on Your Hands: Complications

You know how they tell you creating complications is a good thing in writing a story? Challenge your characters? Well, Wodehouse is The Master.

I remember thinking this way back when I read The Code of the Woosters. Now I’m reminded of his skill in The Luck of the Bodkins.

In this funky love larger-than-triangular-geometric-pattern, Wodehouse creates a mess and half. You’ve got Monty Bodkin who loves Gertrude. Gertrude thinks he’s a cheating rascal, due to a misunderstanding. Just when he’s convinced her otherwise (because he’s truly a gentleman) his buddy Reggie, who mistakenly thinks Gertrude has lost her “spark” for Monty, tells her Monty’s a true catch–just look at all the girls who hang around him! Then, right after Monty learns of his friend’s blunder, Monty is (through a convaluted series of events) comforting the hottest movie star in town when Gertrude shows up to confront him. Sparks ensue.

And I didn’t even tell you about the movie producer who’s scared of customs agents mistaking Monty for a Customs Spy. I’m only a quarter of the way through the book but I know somewhere that’s gonna cause a big load of hassle.

What I really enjoy about these complications is the human-ness of them. Each fear and complication hinges on something in the character. Monty, for example, is a sexy, rich, young man. He doesn’t have to work. His whole trouble with Gertrude starts when he sends her photographs of himself on the beach in the Riviera–hence she thinks that this sexy, rich, young, bored man would of course be a cheater. Which tells us about her insecurities as well as Monty’s flaws.

Then those flaws feed off of each other.

From my experience with The Code of the Woosters, I know Wodehouse is capable not only of complicating matters, but complicating matters right until the very end. Literally, I was on the last two pages of that book before he started to resolve anything. And VOILA! It was delivered with a tidy little bow.

Still not quite sure how he does it. I’m working to see how that all comes about. I have only caught that the flaws feed each other.

So, Mental Note: character flaws must feed the plot complication.