What I Learned During My Day At The Zoo

CharacterStreetSignThe zoo.  Harmless enough of an outing…a complete lesson in character.  I always wanted kids, but the older I get the less I do, and during this outing I felt my ovaries dry up.

So first off, let me say this, I know parenting is difficult, and this is not meant to be an essay on child rearing, but I have to get this off my chest.  I was surprised to find numerous children screaming at animals, pounding on the glass partitions, and throwing things into the enclosures at the animals (there are even signs posted of things not to do because this is clearly an issue), and parents or supervising adults taking long periods of time to notice or say anything at all.  When I heard children talk back to not only their parents and teachers but to strangers, I cringed.  There was no instruction given, at least at the time, as to why that behavior might be unacceptable.  There was no insight given that if you were in the wild and did that to these creatures, they would eat your face.  But, then I would notice other children standing in awe of the animals, waving at other kids, being helpful, or staring aghast at those misbehaving, and think, well, all is not lost.

As there was a great cross-section of society gathered that day, it was not only a lesson in character, but society and expectations, and the differences between cultures, and it got me thinking.  Not only did I think about character, but also a story idea that the humans walking around were actually the exhibit with the animals watching them.  I could only imagine what they were thinking.

As writers, we usually pay attention to the things around us more than most in order to store it all away to use later in our writing.  Whether our characters fall into the categories of good or bad, hero, anti-hero, rogue, or villain, we want them to be, and they must be likeable.  And I don’t mean we’d want to be friends with them exactly, but there must be something about them we love to hate, or hate to love, something that draws us in.  I’ve talked about this before, those characters that are compelling to watch; the Lokis, the Sherlocks, and the Hannibals – responsible for a little chaos but we love them anyway.  The facets that make up an interesting character are never prevalent in one person we actually know.  They are amalgamations.  The characters we love are bigger than life, are more complex and interesting than available in reality, and some of them we would definitely not want to be friends with, but do want to watch do things.

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I understand that kids are kids, and hopefully, most of them will grow out of some of those less than acceptable behaviors, but I gained a little insight while watching them – I was reminded that in order make our characters more interesting, we have to know more about them in order to flesh them out, whether we use it in the writing or not.  We need to know the childhoods of our characters, the type of kids they might have been.  Most of the time, it’s those early days that influence the people we become.  Most creatives have had difficult childhoods, endured bullying, and overcome a variety of obstacles, a reason they choose to express themselves creatively whether through writing, song, art, comedy…We need to take into consideration where our characters are from, the religious and cultural impact on their lives, the types of parents they had, their social standing, their education, and what type of friends they had – all of these make a character more complete.  All of these factors then help you understand how your character will respond in any given situation; their dialogue, how they handle stress, relationships, confrontation, etc.

I’ve read that a helpful trick to get to know your character better could be something like going on a date or interviewing the character.  What are the things you like to know about someone you’ve just started dating?  What questions would you ask someone you were interviewing to understand them better?  One of the first questions is always, “So where did you grow up?”  It tells you a lot about someone right off the bat.  And this is another way to give your character a unique voice.  I’ve heard it many times that writing dialogue is complicated, even though we all talk everyday, but writing it down is a much more difficult feat; there is nuance and subtext.  So if we know more about who are characters are, then that might make our writing flow that much easier.  And who doesn’t want that?!

On a side note, I hope you all are doing well!  I’ve noticed a lot of fellow bloggers have been struggling, so maybe this writing trick will be a fun exercise and a way to get out of your head.  Have a great week everyone and keep up the good work!

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