character building

you can learn a lot about someone by what they say, but you can learn even more by what they don’t say or even just by the tone of their voice.

for instance:

bria: i’d love to find a good chicken salad recipe.

me: that’s so labor intensive. you have to boil the chicken, cut it into cube sizes pieces, and then make the sauce.

bria: you don’t cook much, do you?

me: *startled expression*

bria: you listed three steps. *laughs*

she’s right. i don’t cook much. i don’t particularly enjoy it plus cooking for one means i only need to cook once a week because a recipe yields plenty of leftovers, but that wasn’t the point i set out to make when i made that statement.

which got me thinking about writing. it’s the age old rule of SHOW, DON’T TELL, but to see it so clearly…

i said one thing, but the audience read (the truth) between the lines. chicken salad really isn’t that difficult to make and even with my limited culinary skills i could do so myself.

but again, not my point.

the point is that there are so many ways we get to know people – by talking, listening, watching – and it’s important to incorporate tidbits about the characters in a variety of ways because it’s not only more interesting, but it reflects reality and what’s fiction if not an exaggerated form of the truth?

what’s the sneakiest way you ever learned something about someone? (in real life OR a book.)

4 thoughts on “character building”

  1. Great post! I dare you to make chicken salad now :)

    I can’t think of the sneakiest way I ever learned something, but while I was reading The Scorpio Races, I was noticing something similar to what you’re talking about — how we get to know the characters in many different ways. “Reaction” is the key word — I was constantly noticing how the way that characters reacted to situations taught us about those characters. Like how Puck was often short-tempered or Finn when he was cleaning because he was worried.

    I’m just rambling, don’t mind me. But while I’m rambling, one more thing. One of my journalism teachers used to say that every time you interview someone, no matter what the story is about, you’re basically asking them only one question: “How does it feel to be you.” So with your chicken salad, and so with characters reacting differently.

    I’m shutting up now :)

    1. we can eat my chicken salad and then your november cakes.

      i am ready to re-read SCORPIO RACES from a writerly standpoint and take notes on how she created something so awesome.

      also, after i finished this post, i got to the part in ON WRITING where stephen king talks about characters and getting to know them and tone of voice, etc. it was interesting to read how he worded it vs. how i did vs. how you did (with the point about reaction).

  2. Start with one of those pre-cooked chickens you can buy at the grocery store. Easy-peasy.

    (There. What does that show you about what kind of cook I am? *grin*)

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