Thursday, January 14, 2010

Character Perceptions


Thursday, January 14

What I like to do is write and as an aspiring author, I think about my characters all the time. A situation occurred yesterday with my nephew. He had asked the manager of a local McDonald’s for a job and she said they had a position open. Then the ‘but’ came into play. He had to fill out the application on the McDonald’s web site.

I had forgotten memories about how I felt when I filled out my first application. The feeling of uncertainty when I came across a blank they expected me to fill out. How can one answer a question that s/he did not know the answer to.

This application had this but then they threw in a 36-question test of sorts. The questions pertained to the applicant’s schooling or previous work experience. Then there were the questions that asked one about how s/he thinks how others perceive her/him in various situations. It also asked questions that have the applicant perceives herself/himself.

On these questions, I noticed that my nephew answered conservatively on them. I have no doubt that he believes his answers matched him.

This is when it hit me that I can do this with my characters to add more depth to them. In the past, I have used character profile sheets that had some of those very questions but have gotten away from them.

I can see how a character could believe one thing and how others around him could believe another. For instance, the character does not believe he is combative but he does not realize how many times he takes offense when his views are challenged.

Another example could be when one character believes he is honest and straightforward. But his actions show that some of the stuff he does is not so honest and straightforward. Making promises but not following through with them. Saying one thing but then doing another. When confronted with the behavior, he does not see what he has done even after being shown proof.

Then the character herself/himself could play a role reversal where s/he seems to be one thing and turns out to be something else. In this scenario, how the character is perceived could be a ruse to catch the reader or other characters off guard.

For instance is a television show years ago called
Spenser, For Hire had a shady character on the sidewalks of New York City selling watches and jewelry from within his trench coat. Everyone that runs into him consider him a seedy character that sells stolen items. Yet, people buy his watches because they believe he is selling expensive items at cheap prices. They also get a thrill out of engaging in an illicit act.

Here we have a man who sells stolen property to people who think they are getting way with something. In reality, the viewers are shown later in the show that he is a businessman. The watches and jewelry he sales come from a wholesaler and he has a city business license. He uses this persona as a man of questionable character to make a living.

These are the types of characters that I like to work with. I want to give the reader the surprise that the character is not whom they believe s/he is. In a way, I like those types of surprises.

When one reads a short story or book, one can rest assured that the lead character will turn out good. Yet, a secondary character that one may think is a bad guy could actually be the good guy.

So, my point is two-fold. One can use how the character sees herself/himself and contrast it with the way others see her/him. Then you can have the character act in one way even though it is contrary to his personality. Both will spice up the author’s writing.

Well, I hope I have not confused anyone too much.

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