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:~: Wednesday, January 03, 2007 :~:

Random Musings on Character...

Looks like the topic of resolutions and goals has been covered, (check out E's Monday post and add your goals for 2007) so I'm going to ramble about something that's been on my mind recently.

It might be the less-than-pleasant holiday I had this year, but I've been noticing for a while now that whatever little...habits...a person has, intensifies with age. I've also noticed that people rarely change.

But on the lighter side...I've been doing a lot of people watching, and thought I'd share some general observations I've made that you might be able to incorporate your characters to give them that "real" feel.

Kids never hold still. Never. Boys are especially jittery. All kids play with whatever is close at hand. If nothing is close, they search things out. They pop their gum, crunch their water bottles and twirl the tops. They tap their feet, drum their fingers, hum to themselves, squirm in their chairs. I know, because it drives me insane. Makes me crawl out of my skin. That's one of those little quirks of mine that has gotten worse with age--I'm easily irritated.

Old people love to talk. Oh, man, do they love to talk. And most of them are very, very sweet. Even the arnery ones soften right up when you actually listen to them and ask them about their lives and their family. And they worry a lot. About their kids, their grandkids, and their health. I've never had anyone over 65 talk to me in concern about their careers, even if they still have one. Lends something to the addage that in the end your gravestone won't comment about how many hours you spent at the office.

Women, in general, still (even in 2007, decades after the femininst movement) are the real shoulders of a family. They still work, do the majority of the housework, taxi the kids, do homework with the kids, discipline the kids, pay the bills (or at least worry about them)...need I go on? And I believe this holds true even when women have great guys who pitch in.

Okay, a few other funny little things I've observed (on other people--I, in no way, shape or form resemble any of the remarks listed below...a hem):

Most people are better talkers than listeners and would rather tell you about their life than hear about yours.

Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason--those "types" of people do exist.

People repeat themselves...A LOT.

People are creatures of habit, ritual and comfort.

Few people enjoy taking risks.

Many people have creative complexes--that is they don't think they're the creative type...whatever that is.

People don't usually say what they mean directly. They also often lose their train of thought.

A lot of people talk to themselves.

Most people have lousy posture.

Everyone has some habit, for men it's often a gross one. Some of those habits that occur on a cross-gender basis (I'll spare you the gross ones, you probably all know them anyway) are scratching their head, rubbing their chin, nose, eyes, picking their nails, pushing their glasses up, whistling, jiggling their knee, licking their lips, talking with their hands, looking away when they talk.

There are one hell of a lot of lousy parents out there. In fact, I've seen my share of verbally and/or physically abusive parents just during regular day-to-day observation. On the flip side, are the parents who are such noodles when it comes to discipline or follow-through, their kids run them.

Oh, this has to be my favorite...people often criticize others for things they themselves do. Very few people look at themselves objectively, critically in an effort to better themselves.

Well...those are my observations for the moment. I'm sure others will come to me, especially as you all post your observations.

In some future book I'm going to create a Monk-like fireman -- that will be fun. I can see him now, counting hoses, adjusting knobs just so, making the other guys in the house crazy with it. And in another, and OCD victim with an anxiety disorder -- talk about internal havoc.

Share your observations of people of this world and share how you have or plan to incorporate their traits into your characters.



Blogger Linda Winfree said...

I love this post . . . probably because I love people watching. I spend a lot of time around teenagers, b/c I teach high school English, and one thing I hate is books with teenage characters who are obviously stereotypes written by people who don't know the teen world (not that I'm privy to a lot, LOL).

Some things I've noticed from ten years of torturing, er, teaching teens:

1) Teen boys are always looking for approval from their peers. One of them will say something stupid and and then turn to see what his buddies thought.
2) That thing about mean girls? Totally true. Girls are very subtle about ostracizing, while appearing sweet and innocent.
3) Appearance is everything.

Another thought to explore is the socio-economic status of your characters. If you are writing characters from generational poverty, they are not going to react as someone who has not grown up in that situation -- there will be lots of nonverbal communication, the syntax and cadence of words will be different (the vocabulary will be smaller, too). These are generalities, but Ruby Payne did some great research in terms of lifestyle of people from generational poverty.

Can't wait to see what everyone else thinks!

5:29 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

LOL, great post, J. I second the whole "kids can't sit still" thing. And since I have two young boys, the part about boys being especially jittery is soooo true. (Save me. NOW.)

You're also right when you say people love to talk about themselves. Always. Doesn't matter what it is. Isn't it enlightening when you're in a conversation with someone and all you contribute is "mm hmm, and oh, yeah?" It always makes me think about how much I talk about myself and how I shouldn't.

Habits make characters come to life in books for me, because real people have habits. Mine happens to be twirling my hair when I'm bored and picking at my fingers when I'm stressed. I had a girlfriend in HS who used to pull her eyelashes out during finals week. Imagine if your heroine did that! (Might not make her look all sexy though. ROFL)

Lin, you're right on with your teen observations. And from my 9 yrs teaching, I can tell you the three points you listed are all true at the junior high level, too. Esp. the mean girls part. But for every lousy kid out there, there's one really great one, and that's something most people don't remember when they hear the word "teenager".

I would add to the list that:

1) Boys and girls (if you're observing kids) are NOT the same. I have both - one girl and two boys - and I can tell you it's definitely NOT nurture. Nature plays a big role in how the different sexes act and react right from the very beginning.
2) When men are together in a room, the collective IQ drops. Even the most sensitive man is influenced by his peers - no matter what his age.
3) Women can (sometimes) be as mean and juvenile as teenage girls.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Linda Winfree said...

E, you're definitely right. I always tell my students that appearances can be deceiving -- that the best student I ever had, a very smart, polite, wonderful young man -- had green and purple spiked hair, multiple piercings, and did the all-black-things. He was huge and I'd see kids who didn't know him go out of the way to avoid him in the hall. I like the layers of that appearance vs. reality thing.

The majority of teens I've taught have a strong altruistic streak -- they like the concepts of truth and justice and they genuinely want to help others.

I think what we all want as writers is to have our characters come alive as "real people" -- and each one to be as different and unique as possible to achieve that goal.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

I know about the mean girls--I lived it as the plump kid, plus my daughters are both going through it.

Interesting info on the boys. Can really use that in The Art of Danger where my heroine's 16 yo son is a POV character.

Your comments of socio-economic status really speaks to something I learned in another book--non-fiction writen by a professional jury consultant on body language and how to read people. A key factor of reading people is taking their socio-economic roots into account. Very interesting subject.

And E, that's so funny about the twirling hair, because it was my niece who was twirling her hair the other day -- a very strong, constant habit of hers -- that made me think of writing on this topic.

Your eyelash comment made me think of other habits that can and are painful, but people do them anyway. I have a friend who picks at her cuticles until she bleeds. I myself have a nervous problem that makes the back of my hands itch. The only thing that controls it is steroid cream. But when the itching starts and I don't have it with me, I scratch until I've broken through the skin. My dad always said -- I'd rather hurt than itch -- and that's why I do it, because I can stand the discomfort, but not the itch.

We're all so interesting, aren't we? Now, getting a few perfect fits into a character...that's one hell of a lot more work than it sounds.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

That's too weird, J. I'm the same way. I'd rather hurt than itch, and when I get a bug bite I'll scratch until I bleed. I have scars on my legs from our trip to Mexico where I was eaten alive by some very nasty bugs and didn't stop scratching.

Oh, and yeah, I pick at my cuticles until they bleed when I'm stressed as well. The last month has been horrid on my fingers. The only time I didn't do that was when I had acrylic nails because they were too thick to pick with (yeah, I have a lot of weird quirks. Maybe I shouldn't be confessing all this!). But long nails aren't good for writing, so I guess I'm doomed.

10:34 AM  

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