Thursday, December 07, 2006

Characterisation - A starting point

Knowing a character's background helps you figure out their voice.

That's because the way a person speaks reflects their interests. The metaphors they use, the subjects they talk about, and the grammatical structure of how they talk about them.

Examples ... A journalist who asks incisive questions, likes finding out facts, and enjoys talking about current events. A computer programmer whose sentences are logical and precise. In real-life, I've recently noticed how much I use television shows and script-writing techniques in conversation. I compared a job situation to working on a 'West Wing' election campaign; if I want to know about someone's past, I ask "What's their backstory?" Frankly, it's begun to irritate me.

Conclusion: if a person's focused (or obsessive) about what they're interested in, their speech becomes more one-dimensional. Which is great, because it makes them easier to characterise, ... and not so good if you're a real person.

What else affects speech patterns? Class, education, temperament, ethnicity, friends. There's a whole bunch of continuums that are useful to think about - does this person have high or low self-esteem? How certain or ambivalent are they? Where do they fit on continuums like:

- caring/selfish
- honest/deceitful
- ambitious/contented
- direct/passive-aggressive
- clear thinking/fuzzy thinking
- practical/dreamer?


When two people meet, they also talk about the things they have in common - which can be their social group or it can be shared interests. And what they talk about can be the thing they care most about at that moment. That's possibly not so useful for creating conflict in a scene, but it gives me two good questions for figuring out a scene's starting point, to create a sense of reality.

What do these people have in common?
What do they care about most, right now?


Filed in:
Post a Comment