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Memories of the 28th Century

Characterization, Again

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One of the ways that I annoy humans is to refuse to ask or answer the question ďHow are you?Ē It isnít that I treat the question as some Germans, who will answer the question in extreme detail, which is why they usually just say ďHi.Ē No, I regard the potential answers to be inaccurate in some significant way, because people are horrible at self-characterization. Of course, many people just automatically say ďFine and you,Ē which is close to no answer. Fundamentally, humans arenít very good at describing themselves. I find this true with face-to-face real humans and with fictional characters.

Some time ago I wrote about the pitfalls of characterization and self-characterization, but it came up again, and I decided to think it through some more. Writers of fiction have to imagine what it is to be a given character in order for that character to seem at all like a human, and the relevant characteristics are from within writerís mind from observation, memory, and reasoning. There are potential problems with that, because such impressions of people are rather subjective.

It has been my experience that people usually show what they are like in personality through unconscious signs, but they say what they would like to be true. If you want to learn about someone, then ignore what he or she says about himself and pay attention to how the person acts. Thatís pretty simple, but applying it to writing a piece of fiction is another matter.

Creating characters that people can understand without making it come off like they are lying is difficult, and there are some people who do not have the ability to read people by their actions whether in fiction or reality (That is one of the symptoms of Aspergerís Syndrome). I havenít found a good way around it, except that I try to avoid make comments about myself, and I usually give that habit to characters when I use a first person narrator.

Whether first or third person, it is difficult to create characters without using methods that are suspect; at least I am dubious about any direct description of characters, especially by first person narrators. Any such comments remind me of the lies that Umberto Umberto made about himself and the comments that Harry Flashman made about himself. It is possible that Harry was lying, or he may have truly believed that he was a coward, but it seems clear that Umberto was a liar. On the other hand it is difficult to completely describe a characterís attitudes through action and dialogue; there are matters about which one might have an attitude that simply donít come up in ordinary situations.

And physical descriptions at the level of detail that would tell a reader much that would be useful is boring, because it has to go into pouchy eyelids, crowís feet, the lines on foreheads, etc. I donít know about anyone else, but I get bored with reading tiny descriptions, and the information is usually provided at a time that is convenient, rather than when the information is needed; maybe thatís where hypertext could be handy. And it isnít really the tiny detail that tells us about people; it is the total package, and sometimes the same detail could mean different things depending on what else is there.

Then there is the matter of the many ways in which humans communicate. I donít want to go into the matter deeply, but there are several ways in which humans communicate, and not all of those are conscious. People are constantly expressing how they are and what they are. In writing it is impossible to show readers all of those little items of gesture, posture, and so on that we have available in face-to-face meetings. Thus, even well written fiction lacks a lot that we have in the real world, and almost surprisingly, Video fiction (TV and Movies) arenít much better than words on paper. The actors and actresses seldom even come near to capturing the spirit of the characters that they are trying to portray. A few times characters have told me exactly what to write, and those bits are excellent, but that only works for things that they see.

I started this because I was trying to start a story, but the characters werenít expressing themselves to me, and one (who may be the main character) is a complicated person, and I have to think that way that she does. It is interesting.

Updated 08-24-2013 at 10:19 AM by PeterL

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  1. hannah_arendt's Avatar
    You are right If somebody asks me: "how are you", I always answer: "Fine, thank you", no matter whether it is true or not because it`s simple a code. If somebody knows me , sees how I am. I think that it`s much more difficult to control body language than a word language and it`s the reason that if you see somebody you can read from his body.
  2. PeterL's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by hannah_arendt
    You are right If somebody asks me: "how are you", I always answer: "Fine, thank you", no matter whether it is true or not because it`s simple a code. If somebody knows me , sees how I am. I think that it`s much more difficult to control body language than a word language and it`s the reason that if you see somebody you can read from his body.
    I used to use that method, but I have become more hardened in my middle age.

    It isn't just more difficult to control body language, but people have no control at all over some of the other sets of signs that communicate, that is especially true of scent, which is one reason why many people overwhelm natural scent with perfumes.
  3. hannah_arendt's Avatar
    During my studies, drama course, I was taught how to control myself better but I am not so good at it now However I am not shy now
  4. PeterL's Avatar
    In my experience actors are horrible at putting on different personalities; they may get the speech and bady language ebout right, but the whole [ackage is not. But that's just my observation. Comedians use the mismatch to be humorous.
  5. hannah_arendt's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by PeterL
    In my experience actors are horrible at putting on different personalities; they may get the speech and bady language ebout right, but the whole [ackage is not. But that's just my observation. Comedians use the mismatch to be humorous.
    As far as I know three of my relatives, graduated from drama school. I had also some experience in it, but I haven`t decided (up to now) yet to do something more with it. My husband says that majority of actors (and artists in general) are mad people who shouldn`t be taken serious and useless for society.
  6. PeterL's Avatar
    I think your husband's opinion is a little stronger than I could agree with, but in my limited experience with actors some are very strange people. But I do agree with the idea that most artists are useless to society, but there hare some who are quite important to society, but that's just my opinion.
  7. hannah_arendt's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by PeterL
    I think your husband's opinion is a little stronger than I could agree with, but in my limited experience with actors some are very strange people. But I do agree with the idea that most artists are useless to society, but there hare some who are quite important to society, but that's just my opinion.
    Adam`s opinions are mostly very strong. Sometimes I don`t agree with him. I met many people being actors and they were quite normal. By the way, I don`t think that I am normal in 100 %
  8. PeterL's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by hannah_arendt
    Adam`s opinions are mostly very strong. Sometimes I don`t agree with him. I met many people being actors and they were quite normal. By the way, I don`t think that I am normal in 100 %
    Maybe not 100%, but I think that you are well within the range.
  9. hannah_arendt's Avatar
    I do my best