putting together characters

Buckle up, friends. This is a long one. Mostly to help me remember/collect some tools I’ve found.

I find these tools for building character much more useful than things like “the character interview” — where you ask things about favorite colors or food or whatever — because really, who cares? Those things are just trivia. Just like your knowing that my favorite color is green or my favorite food is scallion pancakes* doesn’t mean that you actually understand anything about me.

Pieces of trivia don’t reveal character motivation and drive and desire and limitation,** which are the things you need to consider when figuring out what a character’s Problem is and what they’re Going to Do About It.

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well then.

And, of course, it was fine.

Not that having foreknowledge of that did anything for the nerves. Is there some number of times I have to prove myself right before I’ll actually believe myself?

Tuesday night was my first time at any sort of writing group. As it was my first attendance, I mostly sat quietly and observed. Though really, I’ll probably do that for my second and third times as well. (Maybe fourth or fifth. Although at some point my impatience may outweigh my reticence.) As with any larger group (there were about 30 people in attendance), the levels of discussion varied quite a bit. And everyone wrote different things, though speculative fiction was in the majority.

We spent about an hour discussing humor, its function in writing, how to approach it. Here are some things I wrote down about it:

  • Re: using a sense of humor to convey instability or opposition to social norms — does humor have to be funny?
  • Humorous things:
    • Rapid recontextualization
    • Punching down (is this actually humorous?) vs punching up
    • Comic drops
    • Juxtaposition of dissimilar things
    • Call outs (references)
    • Call backs e.g. running jokes
    • Anti-humor – the joke is that it’s not funny.
    • Meta-humor
  • Don’t try to write jokes. Write a character with a particular view of the world and let them loose.
  • A great joke that undermines the character weakens the story.
  • Humor vs comedy: Robert Mankoff – “All comedy has humor, but not all humor is comedy.”
    • Humor is broad – whatever makes us laugh. But the laughter can make or reinforce a point you are making. It can be used to control tension.
    • Comedy is intentional. The laughter is the point of comedy.

After the discussion, we split off into groups to do critiques. I won’t detail that bit as much here, but let’s just say that if you ever needed an example of highly differing tastes…

Another point that just got reinforced for me was this: most people don’t actually know how to give good feedback. It’s one of those things that people take for granted as easy or natural to do, but is a difficult skill that needs to be learned and practiced (just like everything else). But since you can’t make people be better at stuff, you can shift focus to the way that you receive and interpret feedback instead. Hence, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen should be required reading.

All in all though, I had a good time. It was nice to be around people who had similar interests, particularly since my day to day is very much solitary now. There are a few kindred spirits there, I think, and I’m curious to see how this building community thing will go. I’ve never actually had to do it in such a deliberate way before; I’ve always had a cohort of people around me, and we were always just thrown together without much planning (At least on my part. I imagine there was a lot of planning i.e. scheduling on someone else’s part, though probably not with the aim of forming friendships.). So I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to go about this, though I guess like any other relationship, it’ll be about listening and showing up. And I can do that.