Friday, November 25, 2011

Characters and Holidays

Frankie here. I've been thinking about holidays. Several times a year, on holidays, we come face-to-face with our lives. Like it or not, it is hard to avoid thinking about our relationships with other people. We can try to ignore a minor holiday like Valentine's Day -- stores are open, people are working, no one will really notice if you don't receive a Valentine's Day card or gift and go home to eat dinner at a table for one. Only the insensitive will inquire about your plans -- or lack of them -- for the day. But Thanksgiving is a different matter entirely. People will express concern that you might be spending this "family holiday" alone and invite you to join their family. Managing to avoid such invitations may require creative excuses -- lies -- about ones plans.

Yesterday, as I was stuffing myself with turkey, it occurred to me that the next time I sit down to create a character, I am going to start with a holiday -- Thanksgiving. Although Christmas would also work. But let's say Thanksgiving.

The exercise would go something like this: I have a character, let's call him "Paul." Paul is going home for Thanksgiving.

1. Is he packing with one eye on the clock, worried that he might miss his plane or get caught in traffic when he can't wait to walk through the door and see his family?

2. Is he wishing that the slight cold he has would turning into raging stomach flu so he can call and explain with no sense of guilt that he can't come home this year?

3. Is Paul taking along a new lover, knowing that this person will be welcomed by his family? Or, is he already rehearsing his answers to questions about his personal life because he doesn't want his family to know that he is dating someone of whom they would disapprove? Has he had an argument with this person who wants to meet his family?

4. Paul finally makes it home. Who is there? Father, mother, sibling? How does Paul feel about these people? Does he go out into the yard to toss a football with his kid brother? Does he sit in the kitchen talking to his mother while she makes a pie for tomorrow's dinner?

5. Does Paul still have friends in his hometown? Does he go to catch up with them that evening? Where do they go? Does he tell them about the person he's dating or lie to them too?

6. How does Paul feel about his hometown? What does he notice about the place when he compares his small town to life in the city?

7. Then comes dinner the next day. Do other people join Paul and his nuclear family? A boisterous group of relatives? How does Paul react to the jokes and family stories?

8. Does Paul spend the weekend or make an excuse to leave the next morning?

9. How does Paul feel walking back into his apartment after having been at home with his family?

10. Or, Paul might never have left the city. Maybe he has no family or never goes to see them. Maybe he spends the holiday with his lover or alone watching football and eating pizza.

11. What does he tell his colleagues at work about how he spent his Thanksgiving holiday?

I haven't tried this method of learning about a character yet. But already I think this could be much more fun then writing a bio stripped of context. A character who spends Thanksgiving eating pizza alone in his apartment may or may not be lonely. A character who goes home to his happy, loving family may be miserable. Either scenario could be the starting point for a character who immediately springs to life with thoughts and opinions.

I think I'll see what's going on with the guy who spent the holiday alone eating pizza. I think he's a bit older than Paul. In fact, he's beginning to look like a character in a book I'm working on. He has friends, so why did he prefer to spend Thanksgiving alone?

I'll let you know if this works.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Frankie, I loved this! What a great way to peek inside a character's mind. Holidays are often loaded for a number of reasons.