Being a writer, I have all kinds of characters living in my head. I always find it fascinating to look at the characters of people in real life, especially when I first meet them. Have you ever notice sometimes people charge, or are not what you thought they were after you know them a little more? I’m sure you have, and that is what I will be trying to explore a little more in this article.
Recently I was on a long 4 hour bus ride to the college campus, for a summer workshop. I spent some time writing, but also observing out of the corner of my eye. And I got an idea of what my fellow bus mates were like. Were they quite? Were they obnoxious? Were they loud? What did they talk about? What did they wear? Who did they hangout with? How did they act? Just curious observation really. Because it’s these things that tell you about a person.
I did the same as more people came into the bus, as well as when I met people on campus. None of it was done in a scrutinizing manner, it’s just something interesting to watch and observe in how people act. When I’m not talking their ear off, that is. As I got to know some and continued to observe others, I could piece together a bit of their character. In the ones I talked to, a lot of my questions were answered by what they said. While in others I watched how they acted, and how they acted to others. In the end I compared my first impression, to what I thought after I knew more about them.
Some stay the same, some changed, and others I didn’t see enough of. Some who were loud and obnoxious, stayed that way. Ones who I thought were pretty cool, turned out they were.
The ones I meet once or twice stayed the same as well. But that’s because I hadn’t had time to uncover their character, and so they stayed flat.
Over all, most seemed to have changed, at least a little. Ones who seemed a bit freaky at first glance, turned out to be awesome. Others who I don’t know what to think about, were fun to hangout with. Some who I thought might be nice… er, not some much.
In fiction it is much the same. First impressions may be important, but they are hardly every right. I can think of many examples in stories: the princess seems cold and stingy, but is energetic and passionate, The boy seems really nice, but has outside motives. The girl who never says anything and seems shy, is actually very smart and very confident and only acts timid because she’s undercover. And maybe she’s also an ancient princess fighting against her evil aunt in modern-day to reclaim her throne. (I just made that one up, story idea anyone?)
I’m not exactly talking about character development, which is the characters growing from who they were to something more. This is more of getting the wrong idea about them at first, sometimes on purpose. (us sneaky authors.) One thing you can do with that though, is have them get a bad first impression that maybe hinders or complicates things, and isn’t resolved until much later. Adding all that juicy conflict!
There was more I’m sure, and probably more subtle, but that’s what I remember from my back seat observation. I don’t think I’m the only one does something of the sort. For example, one poor fool thought that I would be shy. Then I talked about who-knows-what all the way to the dinning hall, and that showed him!
And even when they aren’t being manipulated for the story, the first impression is only the surface. Their thoughts, actions, words, how they behave and what they say is how we get an idea and discover who they are, and later get to know and understand them.
A lot of this goes for secondary characters. Especially if your story is first person point of view, and you don’t get to be in other head all the time. Just as in real life when we judge how people act, and make decision on that, (and not talking about HATE! JUDGING! HATERS! that society likes to play up and throw in your face).
Also, have you ever read a book and you go to re-read it or just look back at something; you read some of a character and you realize how different they are, or how different you see them, compared to the first time? That has a little bit more to do with character development, but it’s still under the same umbrella.
Point is, if we can do it, why not our imaginary friends?