Thursday, June 23, 2005

Characterization and What Makes You Angry?

I was going over a couple things in my life and examining them. A question came up about characterization on one of the boards: Are characters a reflection of you. Do dull people write dull characters.

Define dull.

My answer:

OK this is tricky. Yes and no, not necessarily.

A writer bases their characters on their observations of life. Therefore, your observations combined with your imagination will color every character. So your brightness or dullness will influence, but it doesn't necessarily control. The broader your experience base, the better your chances of having characters that are not just echoes of you, or your first boss, or other real people you've run into.

I will admit that sometimes I have to fight an ongoing prejudice that comes from my own personal experience. For example, my high school days were NOT ecstatically happy. Prom Queen? Not so much. So, I have to be careful not to make the football hero jock guy into the ultimate jerk EVERY time. Yes, some are. Some aren't. There are layer and levels of jerkdom as well. But my first inclination, when writing a jock is to write a world class jerk. But the characters are BETTER if you can get past the surface impressions and prejudices, so that's what I try to do. FINE he's a jerk. Why? Is he being pressured from outside, etc.

Does this make any sense?

My life has taken a turn in adulthood I wouldn't have expected. I have met two SERIOUSLY COOL great guys who were football heroes. One played professionally. The other was just the Prom King in High School kind of football hero. They are two of the best human beings I have ever met. Which has helped me to get past the prejudice somewhat. But like many an old wound, the scar remains, and if you prod it too hard the memory of the pain is almost as intense as the pain itself.

What makes you angry? Here are a couple of mine:

1) Deliberate cruelty. People accidentally hurt each other all the time. It's hard, but it's forgivable. People who deliberately are cruel just to get their jollies chap my hide.

2) Prejudice. Alas, this is mostly unavoidable. Humans are "us and them" kind of creatures. It's how we sort our world. Still, I believe you should TRY to overcome the limits of prejudice.

3) Laziness. OK I'm not talking the "I'm pooped, I need a vacation" laziness that means you sleep in for a weekend or go on a trip. I'm talking the "God did not put me on this earth to work." level of laziness. (Seriously somebody told me that once. I looked at him and said. "Glad to know you know God's plans. So, you're not here to work, why ARE you here? And while you're at it, you might check and see what his purpose for me is." For some reason he wasn't amused. "Well work is fine for YOU.")

4) I'm better than you are attitudes. (See the tail end of the description of #3) OK guys, at times I've worked up to four jobs at a time to support myself and my son. I've cleaned houses, scrubbed toilets, taken care of people's animals, etc. Mostly I've typed. I'm good at it. But my personal take is, if it's honest labor, isn't illegal, immoral, and doesn't hurt anybody, you shouldn't look down on it. No, I personally don't particularly WANT to be a plumber, but I'm damned glad there ARE plumbers, and I expect they make a he** of a lot more money than I do -- AND EARN EVERY PENNY. Ditto trash collectors. I am no better than they just because they chose a different career path.

There was a guy on The Contender: a boxer from East LA, by the name of Sergio Mora. He was talking about how he was trying to change the perception of boxers. He was also talking about the books he's read, things he's learned, etc. The man had a BRAIN. OhmiGOD what a mind! It shone through despite television editing. OK he's a boxer. I'm a writer (and a legal secretary -- whoo hoo). Standard prejudice would make people think I'd be the intellectual. Wrongo. I get the distinct impression I'm not even in this guys class.

Which is why I get pissed by people who do the: "I'd never!" about working at a burger joint or cleaning houses, etc. What you do does not necessarily reflect who you are. Frequently it just reflects your current level of necessity. I have a lot more respect for people who are willing to work hard at a minimum wage job than the people who whine and expect assistance because they can't get that executive position they feel they're entitled to and they think they're too good for anything less. It may put me in the minority, but it's the truth.

Does this reflect in the characters I write? I expect so. Just as my belief that when he said "Judge not lest ye shall be judged." he meant it.

OK I've rambled on long enough. Bored you to tears no doubt. Have a good day anyway. If you feel like it, drop me a comment about what ticks YOU off. I'd really like to know. And, as always, all comments I blog are mine, not Cathy's and may not reflect her views... yadadadadada.


David Tellez said...

I dont think dull people write dull characters. I mean, it is true that some of the best stories are stories taken from true life, but arent there also some great stories that come from the imagination?

For myself, I know that some of my best writings come from my every day life. My 6th grade English teacher used to tell us that if we wrote about what we knew, then our writing would improve because we would try to word out our thoughts and stories in a perfect way. Ok, that confused me a little, and its not exactly what she said, but do you get what I mean?

But then, I once read somewhere that L. Frank Baum made up The Wizard of Oz story has a bedtime story for a family friend named Dorothy. He came up with the characters and the story out of nowhere and created one of the best loved fairy tales of all time.

So I guess characters can come from both worlds...real life and imagination. But I think what makes a great character is someone who we can relate to. Someone who isnt so perfect, yet has a heart and is willing to correct their mistakes and try to do better...someone who can be predictible at times, but when we least expect it, someone who can surprise and change us for the better.

Yolanda Sfetsos said...

Cool post Cie! :)

I don't think dull people neccessarily write dull characters. I mean, writing is such a liberating imaginative experience that it actually encourages otherwise 'dull' people to create fascinating, interesting characters and stories.

As to what makes me angry, I can't stand prejudice and racism. Whether it's because of colour of the skin, or ethnic background or even disability. Everyone should be treated equal. No one's better than anyone else.

Governments annoy me and make me angry because decisions that affect the majority of us are usually made by politicians for their own selfish reasons. Sure, I know it must be hard to run a country but I still think most of the time presidents and prime ministers don't really do what's best for the population as a whole.

There are OTHER things that upset me or make me angry, but I'll be making this reply super huge otherwise...

Thanks for giving us a chance to have our own little say in this thread Cie!

Have a NICE day!


Anonymous said...

Great post Cie!
I have a million things I could say on all the things you brought up, but I am going to say just one thing, so as to be kind of profound. I wanted to say that I don't know anyone who is dull, because the more and more I talk to a person the more I find out about them and the more interesting they are to me, some people just don't start the talking, so I ask questions and find out all kinds of interesting things about them or that they are into doing.

On a side note, I don't like people who lie, it's a huge pet peeve of mine, and I have met many people who lie, I think that people who lie aren't honest about who they are themselves and need to grow up and change the bad behavior patterns they have. I don't like being the victim of a person who lies, it's just wrong, but I know life isn't fair. So I guess I don'rt believe tat all peope are equal as I base people by their actions, I believe that a person who doesn't lie is a much better person than a person who does lie, I want to surround myself with honest people I can trust.