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Prominent on my list of storytelling pet peeves is the Reasonless Revelation: wherein characters, unbidden or with only the slightest hint of prompting, share highly intimate details about their lives. It’s not credible! No one does that! I have been known to rant.

So today we’re in the airport waiting for our flight home, and a diffident soldier, foot in a cast, approaches. We offer him our seats, but he doesn’t need to sit down. He’d like to use one of our phones to call his wife.

As we fumble in our bags, he talks. It’s been, he guesses, the worst and best week of his life. He just had this surgery, paid for by the U.S. government thank you very much, for the plantar fasciitis that he got when the Army switched to suede boots. Didn’t look like much on the outside, just a little lump on the heel, but you step on a stone or a pecan (he emphasized the first syllable) and it’s so painful.

Yeah, it’d been bad. He’s just been realizing how much the PTSD and depression was affecting him. In fact he had an attempted suicide situation, and he was in a treatment facility for five days and they put him on antidepressants, he can’t believe the difference. He’s really glad we’re going to let him use the phone, it means a lot to make this call to his wife. Well, fiance, actually — they’ve been together five years, they have a three year old. When he had that mental breakdown, well, there was a gun involved, and the sheriff wanted to know if she wanted to press charges for attempted murder and aggravated assault, and she said Hell no! He had to go, though, they were living in a house her parents owned and her parents aren’t really supportive. He wants to get out of the Army. He’s gonna move back in with his parents, find a job doing something calm. Peaceful.

All this in about ten minutes.

Steve locates his phone and hands it over. The call is short, with a lot of I love yous. Then they’re calling us to board. He’s in first class. Gotta use those benefits while he’s got ’em, he figures.

A short while later, we walk past him on the way to our non-first-class seats. He’s talking to his seatmate, and we can’t help but wonder if he’ll tell the whole story again.

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  • Ann
    November 28, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Actually, a lot of people do that. Or at least, they do it to me. More people don’t than do, but every now and then someone will end up next to me on the bus or an airplane or start chatting in line at the grocery store. Interestingly, it feels just as incredible in real life as it does in a story – even as the person’s talking to me, I often think, ‘Wow, this doesn’t seem realistic.’

  • Sara
    November 29, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Ann, other folks reading the post elsewhere are saying similar things — apparently both L.A. and Pittsburgh are hotbeds of Reasonless Revelations, for instance — and it’s making me think that the revelations that seem reasonless are all perfectly reasonable, as far as the revelators (did I just make that word up?) are concerned.

    So maybe a more interesting task for the writer would be to provide credible narrative rationales for sudden, seemingly inexplicable confidences from strangers.

  • Jodie
    December 4, 2009 at 2:26 am

    It seems I am always meeting people like this – gah please stop! I think there are these kind of people (usually it turns out they’ve been through some pretty intese therapy due to having had a mental breakdown/severe personal trauma – at least the ones I meet seem to mention this a lot) but it seems that in books people who have been described as closed off, uptight, intensely secretive etc will just start blurting their whole personal history. That’s not realistic. So yes fiction could do with credible blurters like you say.