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JamesSavik

Characterization

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I was thinking about how to present characters. I think that their actions and words should define them.

Ok- let's try this one:

==============

I hated summer school. What a terrible waste of available time too waste. Sure, I would graduate early but sometimes I wondered if I that was really the best thing for me. I had no burning desire to join the rat races but I did want to be independent. Dad's constant criticisms and demands were enough of a pain in the ass for motivation.

Mrs. Brown gave us our next composition assignment sheets and told us that we had until Thursday to get them done. Thankfully the old hagis let us go just after 10:00 and didn't keep us until 11:30 as usual. Too bad it was raining sideways. Even with an umbrella, I was soaked when I got to my 280ZX in the parking lot.

Driving home was tricky and nerve racking. So much so that I even turned my radio down which was a rarity for me. The wind was blowing hard and the rain was gathering in the road. Even though the Z-car hugged the road very well, it was slow going through the summer storm.

When I topped the big hill on Oak Hill road, I noticed a tall skinny kid walking dejectly in the rain. I instinctly pulled over to see if he needed a ride. This weather wasn't fit for a dog, much less a kid.

I pulled up beside him and let the passenger side window down and yelled, "You need a ride?" The kid looked like a drowned rat. He gave me a look that told me that he wanted a ride but his Mom had told him about the danger of friendly strangers. He considered my offer quickly and apparently decided that the storm was more dangerous that the college kid in the Z car.

He got in the passenger seat and said, "Thanks man, this storm really blows."

I reached behind his seat and handed him a towel. Which he used to dry off his face. I asked, "Where are you headed?", as I got back on the road.

He replied, "Porter's Chapel Road."

I quickly calculated that was about 10 miles away. I said, "That's a long way on a good day. By the way, my name is Jimmy."

"My name is Conner", he said. "and I really appreciate the ride. You wouldn't happen to have a cell phone would you?"

I handed him my phone. He brightened and said, "Thanks Dude." He dialed a number and paused for an answer.

"Hey Mom..Don't worry. I got a ride.. OK I'll ask him. Hey Jimmy, you wanna have lunch?"

What the heck. Probably beat the sandwich I had waiting back at the house. "Sure."

"Yeah, OK. Thanks Mom." He hung up the phone and handed it back to me.

We drove along for a few minutes in silence and he asked, "Wait a minute. Didn't you go to Oak Hills?"

"Yeah. I graduated a couple of years ago."

He smiled, "Weren't you the guy that beat the shit out of Brandon Farmer?"

I blushed. That wasn't something I was very proud of. "Yeah. That was me", I acknowleged.

"Dude. You were like a hero. That guy was like a major league asshole", Conner said brightly.

-----------------------------------------

What told you more about the characters? Their words or their actions?

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What told you more about the characters? Their words or their actions?

In my opinion the example is distorted because it's first person POV. That means that a lot of the narration can be considered to be the 'words' of the narrator, even when they are describing actions.

Having said that, I think the actions of the narrator told us more about him than his spoken words, but his mental comments (ie. narration) told us more still.

For Conner, it's confused. His actions, as implied by his words, told me the most about him. The request for a cell phone showed a good sense of responsibility, even though he'd gotten into the car with a stranger. However, the action was not described -- that information came from the words he said that implied the action.

Separating words (meaning dialogue) and actions is not always easy. In many cases the two are so interlinked it's hard to say which is having the stronger impact. Often it is the combination of the two that makes it 'work'. One, without the other, will still have an impact, but combining the two creates an even stronger impression.

All my own opinion, as always. Feel free to disagree....

Graeme

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Once Conner figured out who I was, he was all smiles.

I wasn't proud of the incident with Brandon Farmer. Sure, he threw the first punch but he suffered under the mistaken impression that all gay guys were pussies. Truthfully, he was badly outclassed and he learned a hard lesson. I had trained hard in sports for years and had learned how to fight the hard way. Rednecks like Farmer only understood one langauge but I spoke it fluently.

There was a price to pay for having the reputation of a badass. All the dumb fuck wannabe's like Farmer wanted to put your head on their wall. I didn't want Conner to think that beating some jerks ass made you a hero. I did it because I had no choice. I did it because it was all I knew.

"Conner, I know that Farmer was a jackass and he pushed around a lot of kids but in a way tying up with him made me just as big a jackass as he is."

Conner looked shocked, "No way man, Farmer had it coming. I was in eigth grade that year and he was a senior. He stuffed me in a garbage can every time he saw me. It was like a big joke to him but guys like him made me hate school."

I didn't want to leave it there. "Conner, the truth is that I lost control. The truth is that I could have taken that fat fuck with one hand tied behind my back. The truth is I got suspended for three days because I let somebody that wasn't really worth it yank my chain. I didn't do anything to be proud of."

Conner sat thoughtfully for a moment as we passed the country club. The summer storm was losing some of its fury.

As we approached the four way stop sign at highway 12, Conner said, "Let me tell you a different side of it that you might not have thought of. After you thrashed Farmer, he lost his confidence. People lost their fear of him and started standing up to him. He quit fucking with people. I didn't have to walk around school smelling like garbage."

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I shook my head and laughed. "I'm glad it worked out for you. How far up 12 do we have to go?"

Conner replied sullenly, "First right past the Dairy Queen."

"OK. I know where we're going."

The rain had diminished to a mist. Summer storms here are like that but don't expect it too cool things off. It will just turn steamy.

Conner shifted around in his seat. "Jimmy, can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"You've got this killer rep. Nobody wants to mess with you. You've fought everybody once or twice. Now you're all let's give peace a chance. What's that about?"

I sighed. "Yeah. I've fought a lot. Way too fucking much. Hell, I've got scars on top of scars. It gets in to your head. When I go to sleep at night and dream, do you know what I see?"

He shrugged.

"I'm fighting. All the time- and I mean all the time. I can't get it out of my head. The only way I can get any decent sleep is to get so stoned I'm unconscious. You know how my Mom wakes we up? She shouts at me from across the room. She's afraid to wake me out of a sound sleep. Dude, I'm just 20 and I'm fucked up like I've been in a war."

Conner whispered, "Jesus."

"That's what its about. You seem like a nice kid. I'd just want something better for you than that."

Uncomfortable silence. Dairy Queen. I downshift to take the turn.

Conner said, "Fourth house on the left."

I pull up in the driveway but I don't kill the engine.

Conner looked at me and asked, "Come on in and have a sandwich."

"I don't know. I kinda lost my appetite."

He gave me a hurt look and said, "Please?"

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Awe man. Not with the puppy dog eyes. That always works on me.

"OK." I killed the ignition and set the parking brake.

The houses out on this part of Porter's Chapel were ante-bellum. I was very impressed. It was a two story brick house with white columns and trim. Old roses climbed up trellises and wisteria filled the air with a delicious fragrance.

As I dislodged from the Z car, a guy my size never simply gets out of a Z car, I asked, "Hey Conner, I'm soaked too. Could I change."

Conner said, "Oh sure, no problem."

I grabbed my gym bag off the back seat and followed him up to the house. "Conner, this house is amazing."

"Thanks. I'll let you help me paint it next time."

I laughed as he fiddled with the door lock. "I'm not sure that it's that amazing." The door opened into a beautiful Victorian styled entry hall. "Well, maybe it is after all."

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Presenting characters works best when describing an action that character has done. Actions speak louder than words... most of the time.

Oh I agree completely. You can sit there and write volumes about a persons inner world, ideals, motivations and background. Then have your character DO something crass, hypocritical, insensitive or just plain WRONG.

I think that it boils down to philosophy. Some people think that you are what you are. Others think that you are what you think you are. I am of the opinion that you are what you do.

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You're absolutely right--"You are what you do." You wanna know the truth about someone? Watch what they do and ignore the words. It's like what i like to call "Bar Bios"--the stories that people tell about themselves when they meet someone in a bar, and feel like they'll never meet this person again. Ignore those, and watch how they interact with the bar staff and other people in the bar that they don't know if you wanna see how they really are.

It's the same with characters in a story. If you want to reveal something important about someone, have them act on whatever character trait it is that you want to illustrate. Action is always stronger than exposition.

cheers!

aj

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If you want to reveal something important about someone, have them act on whatever character trait it is that you want to illustrate. Action is always stronger than exposition.

Amen to that! I wish more people would understand that.

Nothing drives me up the wall faster than when I read an amateur net story where the first chapter begins, "let me introduce myself. My name is *blank*, I'm so-so tall, I have this kind of hair, etc." Jesus, totally amateurville.

I think not only do the characters actions help define who they are, you can let the other characters describe your leads so we get at least a little sense of how they look. Have one character actually say, "dude! You changed your hair! What's with the blonde highlights?" That kind of thing. There's a million ways to do that.

I think having a character do something brave, stick his neck out where he didn't need to, or make a controversial stand for something he or she believes in... any of these things is worth 50 pages of dialog. It's the classic "show, don't tell": we need to find out what makes a character tick by what they do, not just by what they say.

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I followed him inside and he pointed to a downstairs bath that where I could change. Conner then excused himself. I grinned as he bounded up the stairs three at a time.

Everything on me was wet so I stripped to the skin started at the bottom with boxers. Luckily I had some good white tennis shorts and my favorite red polo. My shoes were soaked too so I changed into the flip-flops that I had in my bag. My hair was shot. All I could do brush it out. After a quick 3-minute change, I inspected myself in the mirror. Not my best day but presentable.

I packed my wet stuff back in the bag and thought about Conner. I wondered what he knew about me. I figured that everybody at Oak Hill knew that I was gay. It had been an issue for me since the first day of seventh grade. I wondered what was on his mind.

* * * *

Conner bounced up the stairs three at a time. His heart was racing.

Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! I can?t believe that he?s really here! Jimmy Savik himself is in my house! Only the biggest stud ever in history at Oak Hills. Oh my God! Ummmm... he looks like a buff Jim Morrison!

Conner thought back two years. Jimmy was a big hulking senior that all of the jr. high kids respected but he was really nice to everybody. There were rumors that he was gay and had a long time boyfriend but nobody really believed it. Conner had had a crush-of-the-week on Jimmy for a while but he knew that he didn?t really ever stand a chance.

Conner raced into his room. What to do, what to do, what to do?! He wanted to take a shower but he didn?t have time. He stripped off his clothes and stepped into the bathroom to towel off and dried his hair. He splashed some Musk cologne on his bare chest.

What am I thinking? How could he even notice me? He did pick me up but was he interested or just being a nice guy?

Conner?s brain was on autopilot. He picked out some umbro shorts and a nice shirt.

He?s so not at all what I expected him to be. Star linebacker nicknamed the Beast. Legendary badass. He?s huge! His arms look like tree trunks. I thought he would be stuck up but he?s sweet, almost shy... and what he said in the car. He?s really nice.

Don?t blow it Conner! Don?t blow it Conner! Don?t blow it Conner! He thought as he bounded down the stairs three at a time.

* * * *

I finished packing my gym bag, put the towel in a hamper and exited the bathroom just in time to hear Conner bouncing down the stairs. I turned to see him. He was actually pretty cute when he wasn?t half drowned. I couldn?t help smiling when I saw him.

* * * *

Conner, don?t be a dork! He thought when he saw Jimmy at the foot of the stairs. Oh my God! he thought, he smiled at me! His concentration shot, Conner immediately tripped...

* * * *

Bouncing down the stairs, Conner missed one of the steps and stumbled toward the landing. I caught him. I was surprised at how light he was.

Apparently the spill had shaken him up some as he blushed red and looked really unhappy. I didn?t want to embarrass him. I smiled at him and gave him a friendly pat. I casually said, ?Let?s find those sandwiches.?

* * * *

Conner you are such a dork! Now he thinks I?m a spaz.

* * * *

He regained his composure, and looked relieved that I didn?t rag on him about his trip. ?Uhh thanks, the kitchen is this way.?

I followed him into a big bright, sunny kitchen. The kitchen windows overlooked an impressive garden against a background of tall live oaks draped with Spanish moss and wisteria. There was a steamy, fog hanging over the garden as the sun had come out after the storm

Awed by the splendor of the house, I said, ?Damn Conner. This place is Southern Living?s wet dream.?

Conner opened the refrigerator. He looked around inside and said, ?Is barbecue OK??

?Great. I thought your Mom would be home.?

Conner took some buns and a container out of the fridge and preparing our lunch. He said, ?Oh no. When I called her, she was at work. She was grateful that she didn?t have to come get me. She said to make sure that I let you know.?

I noticed that he was preparing my very favorite sandwich from a local redneck joint that really knew how to do barbecue right. ?Dude is that Old Timer?s? Sweet!?

Conner beamed, ?Yeah, my Mom knows the Old Timer himself and gets a batch of the brisket every now and then.?

I thought of Pop?s. I owed him big time. Nobody had been willing to hire me because of the trouble I had been in and my reputation. ?Your Mom knows Pop?s? Now there?s a great Dude if ever there was one. He gave me my first job... Err well, the first job that...? I got a little flustered.

Conner put some sauce on the sandwiches and put them in the microwave. ?Chips OK??

?Yeah sure.?

He got a couple of canned cokes out of the fridge, fixed the plates and set us up at the breakfast table.

Between bites of my favorite barbecue, I said, ?Thanks Conner, this is a lot better than PB&J that I had waiting at the house. The company is better too.?

Conner gave me a look that told me that he didn?t understand.

I explained, ?Nobody is home. My folks work for FEMA and they are down on the coast running a hurricane emergency planning workshop at LSU. ?

He looked impressed. ?That?s really important work.?

?Yeah, right. Real important.? I shook my head.

?What?s wrong Jimmy??

I hated it when I got this way. It always happened when I was around someone that I was comfortable with but it made them uncomfortable with me. Damn. Why did Jeff have to live so far away? I wished that I could talk to him. He always made me feel better. ?Conner, I?m sorry. My folks and I have had a lot of problems and it?s a sore subject for me. They got that job when I was a sophomore and it seems like they have been gone ever since. It has gotten hard for me to be there when the house is empty.?

Conner got a thoughtful crooked smile. ?Sounds like we?ve got a lot in common Jimmy. My dad is a petroleum engineer working in Venezuela and won?t be back until Thanksgiving and my Mom is an attorney. She goes to work at eight in the morning and usually isn?t home until eight at night or later.?

?Sometimes you think what a pain in the ass they are but you sure miss them when they aren?t around.?

We finished our meal quietly, Conner afraid to hit another one of my many sore spots and me trying not to make a complete ass of myself.

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