Character Development

You can’t tell the assholes from the bitches from the idiots from the arrogancia without a scorecard

The image below is of a sign at my gym a few days back. My gym routinely posts “Questions of the Day.” I wish they’d keep a list of the responses because some of them are priceless.

And it occurred to me that such a device would be a good tool for character description purposes, much like how the calendar was used to set a scene in Setting Scenes with Props.

click for larger image

 
Let’s say you want to demonstrate a character who wants to portray themselves as an intellectual, someone knowledgeable:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells?”
Lori shook her head. “I don’t know. I just pick the question from a file. I wouldn’t know the difference between…what did you call it? Shells?”
“It makes a difference.”

We can also show that Emerson doesn’t know what they’re talking about:
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells? It makes a difference.”
Lori picked up the sign and read the question. “Not really. It’s asking about atomic mass, not nuclear mass. Even then, the nuclear weights would compare similarly to the atomic weights unless we asked about isotopes for elements side-by-side on the periodic table.”
Emerson’s face flushed. Pam chuckled in the office. She came out and high-fived Lori as Emerson hurried down the stairs.


The above can end with “Emerson’s face flushed.” Adding “Pam chuckled in the office. She came out and high-fived Lori as Emerson hurried down the stairs.” shows us more about the environment, about the players who may be important later on in the story. Is Emerson pitiable? Will Lori or Pam be the one to show pity? Will Emerson ever go to that gym again? Or will Emerson choose different times in the hopes that neither Lori or Pam will be present?

What are your feelings towards Lori and Pam in the second example? Notice that I’ve not indicated Emerson’s gender yet? How many think Emerson’s male? How many think Emerson’s female? Does your attitude towards Lori and Pam change when Emerson’s gender is stated?
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells? It makes a difference.”
Lori picked up the sign and read the question. “Not really. It’s asking about atomic mass, not nuclear mass. Even then, the nuclear weights would compare similarly to the atomic weights unless we asked about isotopes for elements side-by-side on the periodic table.”
Emerson’s face flushed. She hurried down the stairs as Pam stood in the doorway and high-fived Lori.

Do your attitudes towards Emerson, Lori, and Pam change?

And if Emerson is clearly stated as male?
Emerson read the Question of the Day. “Are you talking just the nucleus or are we including the electron shells? It makes a difference.”
Lori picked up the sign and read the question. “Not really. It’s asking about atomic mass, not nuclear mass. Even then, the nuclear weights would compare similarly to the atomic weights unless we asked about isotopes for elements side-by-side on the periodic table.”
Emerson’s face flushed. He hurried down the stairs as Pam stood in the doorway and high-fived Lori.

Same question. And ask different gender friends, too. Which examples above have catty women? Which has an asshole male? Which has bitches and who are they? Which has an idiot and who is it?

The above is an example of character development through events and interactions. It’s external to the characters involved. We learn about them via their actions and interactions.

Emerson is logical and compassionate. A great way to introduce a detective who cares about her clients.

 
Let’s go internal: Emerson read the Question of the Day and remembered a periodic table she’d seen in fifth grade. “Neon.”
Lori laughed. “Good guess. It’s really for the kids. You want a healthy snack? That’s what we give them when they get a right answer.”
Emerson watched a parade of toddlers holding hands as they went from the playroom to the naproom. One looked over at the food and pursed her lips. “Give it to that kid, there.”
“I will. Thanks.”

Emerson’s got a darn good memory to recall a periodic table and correctly place the elements on it. She’s also compassionate; she sees a child looking at food and offers it. Both can foreshadow plot developments.

Let’s do one more: Emerson read the Question of the Day and reasoned, Neon’s the only one gaseous at room temperature, therefore it must have the smallest atomic mass, all things else being equal. “Neon?”
Lori laughed. “Good guess. It’s really for the kids. You want a healthy snack? That’s what we give them when they get a right answer.”
Emerson watched a parade of toddlers holding hands as they went from the playroom to the naproom. One looked over at the food and pursed her lips. “Give it to that kid, there.”
“I will. Thanks.”

Now Emerson is logical and compassionate. A great way to introduce a detective who cares about her clients.

Okay, one more for kicks: Emerson read the Question of the Day and reasoned, Neon’s the only one gaseous at room temperature, therefore it must have the smallest atomic mass, all things else being equal. “Neon.”
Lori laughed. “Good guess. It’s really for the kids. You want a healthy snack? That’s what we give them when they get a right answer.”
Emerson watched a parade of toddlers holding hands as they went from the playroom to the naproom. One looked over at the food and pursed her lips.
Lori smiled. “Shall I give it to that one?”
Emerson shook her head, her blonde curls bouncing like spring-loaded cans. “What? Hell no. I got the right answer, not that kid. Gimme my prize.”

Wow, huh?

(ps: a first reader said they knew Emerson was male in the first example without reading further, and cheered when Pam and Lori high-fived each other in the second example.

Question for you: Is the first reader male or female?