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.
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?

Characters complications Luck of the Bodkins P.G. Wodehouse

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Sounds great to me – I wish I could play with settings and moods and circumstances the way he does. Just finished reading the Man With Two Left Feet collection the other day, and loved it.
    My story lines only get complicated organically, I'm afraid. Though I did come close the other day when I realised I had nothing much happening between the time the lovers first sleep together and the time they get married – no real inciting incident, as it were. Letting it bubble away in the back of my mind for a few days produced one great scene…

  2. Organic + percolation is pretty much what I do too. (Sounds like some weird coffee mix, doesn't it?)

    Oh! But maybe if you introduced an alligator into the romantic mix there could be some kind of inciting event between the first time and the marriage….I'm going to go percolate on that for a moment….=)

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