Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Okay, Davin and I must have been having a psychic moment. You see, I was driving to work Monday morning and came to the stoplight by Starbucks. I happened to glance over and there were three men sitting at an outside table drinking their coffee and chatting. My first impression: well, that looks like an odd group of people. I mean, they just didn't seem like they would be friends.

Well, that lovely thought started the brain cells (without any coffee) working. I thought: what are the dynamics of that group. What brought those three together? What's the connection between them?

Now, Davin wrote a post at The Literary Lab on Monday about Character First Impressions. It kind of freaked me out since I was pretty much thinking along similar lines about the characters. In the end, what the characters do has to make sense, and the connection between them should make sense as well.

Question: What is the connection between your characters?

Question: What are the dynamics that brought the characters together?

Question: Does it make sense that the characters are friends?

I hang out with a varied group of people, but there are little connections between us, just as their are disparities between us. We have a sort of symbiotic relationship, ying/yang and all that jazz. For the most part though, I know the connection between us.

Now, back to the three men sitting outside of Starbucks: one very overweight, one kind of quirky but skinny, and one just sort of there and also skinny. The one just kind of there pretty much blended into the background. Mr. Quirky with his hat on was talking animatedly. Mr. Overweight was nodding his head and smiling, but really not saying much. The dynamics of the group were, at least in my one minute impression like this . . . Mr. Quirky is the leader of the group, Mr. Just There is a part of a group, but seems outside of the group, and Mr. Overweight is just grateful to be considered part of the group.

Okay, those are surface impressions only and I could be totally wrong with my observations. Then again, I could be totally right.

When I was in high school, all the football jocks hung together, and all the cheerleaders hung together. You could place money on the fact that the cheerleaders would date the football jocks. You could also understand why they hung out together. Like attracts like. I can guarantee you that the cheerleaders didn't hang out with the overweight girls in high school. It just didn't happen. The braniacs from high school didn't hang out with the football jocks either. Like attracts like.

So, does it make sense that your characters are hanging out together? Are there similarities between them (like attracts like) that would draw them together? Is one character the leader? Does one character sort of fade into the background? Does one character always, always, always agree with what the leader says, and never dares to voice a differing opinion? If you were to see three of your characters having coffee at Starbucks, would you think gee, why are those three together or would you think well, it makes sense that their hanging together?

If you responded with the first answer, you may need to look back at the beginnings of your characters and tweak it just a bit. If it doesn't make sense, if you're going huh, then there's an issue!

Well, that's it for this lovely Monday . . . oh, but the post won't post until Tuesday!!!



Marybeth Poppins said...

I like to make unlikely characters become friends. But I'm a rebel like that ;)

Michelle said...

I like it when I see things or people that on the surface don't appear to be connected in a logical way. There's more of a story there. I tend to remember them better for later.

My favorite example was a biker dude in Wal-mart. All decked out in the leather and what have you, he was opening bottles of laundry detergent and sniffing each one, deciding which to buy. Priceless character moment.

Davin Malasarn said...

I love it when I find strange groups like that! They really get me inspired too. Once I was eating in a greasy spoon, and in the booth next to me was a father and two twenty-something siblings. The siblings were sobbing the entire time, and the father was listening very attentively. To this day I think back on that and try to make sense of what I was witnessing. I like it when the people grouped together are initially a mismatch, or at least they seem to be so until you get to know them better.

Scott said...

Marybeth - as long as there is something that connects them.

Michelle - I think it was the surface view that struck me as odd. For all I know, they could have tons in common. It was also interesting that I could pick out the leader of the group.

Davin - I think the mismatch works thingy works, as long as the connection between the characters is established, and the dynamics of the relationship as well.

I guess pretty much what I was trying to say with this post is, if the connections don't make sense to the writer, they're not going to make sense to the reader. When I did my character spreadsheet for one project, I made sure to list how long the different members of the group had been friends, as well as how each member fit into the group. I made sure to mention this somewhere in the project as well. Sometimes, disparate individuals come together and form an unlikely friendship! ; )


ElanaJ said...

Very true. How many people are you friends with that upon first impression you thought you'd never like? It happens to me all the time. With writing, we just need to make sure we give our characters reasons to become friends--especially if they're unlikely to become friends without certain experiences, etc.