Next week, my husband, David, and I will travel to Quebec City. For my vacation book, I will re-read Louise Penny’s acclaimed mystery, Bury Your Dead, set in Quebec City.
I plan to explore some of the marvelous streets, parks and cafés visited by her protagonist, Chief Inspector Gamache. Like Gamache, I want to drink café au lait and eat croissants at Chez Temporel and walk through the library of the Literary and Historic Society.
But the more important reason I want to revisit this book is to do some self-directed study. A while back, a writing-group friend and screen writer, Joan Sawyer, put me on to the teachings of John Truby, the respected Hollywood story consultant who wrote, The Anatomy of Story.
Truby believes the best stories begin with a protagonist with a moral dilemma that must be addressed for good or for bad by story’s end. He cites the movie, “The Verdict,” where a lawyer learns to care more about justice for victims than he does about money.
Louise Penny brings this clear moral dimension to Bury Your Dead, in which Gamache struggles with his guilt for not preventing the death of a young police officer under his command. For much of the story, he struggles alone with this pain. By story’s end, he accepts absolution from a murderer, yes, a murderer, finds a measure of acceptance and returns home to Montreal and his wife.
By traveling through Quebec City with Gamache this summer and studying Louise Penny, I hope to sharpen the moral dilemma my novel’s protagonist faces. If not, at least David and I will have shared a delicious croissant or two.
Have you read stories that succeeded because of a moral struggle? Have you read stories that failed because they did not have one?