ENG 162 Fall 2013

ENG 162 at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor ME, taught by John A. (Don't ever, ever ask!) Goldfine johngoldfine@gmail.com

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Week 7. Character

Week Seven Theme--character

Write a theme, write about a person as the assignment directs, on your own blog.

Most people find people more interesting than things, though an interesting thing may be more interesting on any given day than an uninteresting person, though, for my money, understanding why someone is uninteresting is probably more interesting than reading about even a thing that interests me, things like knives, pistols, motorcycles, antique tools, canoes, books, writing, dogs, gardens, horses, and so on.

But this week, the focus is on people (or, maybe better, a person): real people, people you know, people who worry you or make you laugh and cry, people who piss you off, people who are the reason you live.That's one possibility.

The downside of writing about this kind of person is that strong emotions, raw strong emotions, don't usually help the writer out: putting that stuff on the page may be therapeutic for the writer, but making it accessible to the reader, making it more than a rant, is tough. "My ex is the cheatingest, no-good person in the universe. I'd rather sleep in a dirty kitty litter box than ever see his nasty-ass face again."

Does that have potential? Maybe.

It might also just lead to a gloomy rehash of what a mess you made of your life when you hooked up with him. You probably don't want to write it and we probably don't want to read it--not because the material is uninteresting, but because keeping the tone right is so hard. Your reader does not want to be wishing you weren't telling us all this embarrassing material--so you're on a tightrope between dishing the dirt and overdoing it.


Possibly very worthwhile.Or it might be easier to write about a lower-impact person, if they still have some juice in your life.

You can be as ambitious as you like and go in any direction you choose, but at a minimum, be thinking about character studies and how you get at character, what shows character, what techniques might help to describe a person, make the person come alive: stories, speech, adjectives?

Sometimes people have fooled around with oddball ideas: clinical descriptions, police descriptions, pigeon's eye views, husband's-eye views, and so on. Nothing says this piece on a person has to start: "There is a very important person in my life named Harry. He stands five foot ten and has a big smile. He's very nice and would do anything for anybody." In fact, I'm sitting here suggesting you absolutely do not start that way or any way even distantly related to that way!

Try one character study at least, several if you feel ambitious, on your own blog.

And here are a couple of superb ministudies of people, just to intimidate you: http://carpundit.typepad.com/carpundit/2006/03/moving_man_murd.html

Late note (Feb. 6, 2009): the oldest truism and formula for Hollywood movies is that character=action=conflict.

Which is to say that if a camera shows a man walking down the street, we know nothing of his character. But when he acts (let's say he kicks a dog; or, if you prefer, let's say he dives in front of a car to rescue a dog from getting hit), then we find out about character. Diiferent actions, different characters. It's the action that tips us.

And almost any action implies a conflict. If he kicks that dog, why, what's his motivation, what will the dog or the dog's owner do? What's next? Pretty soon, character which shows itself as action which implies conflict winds up as narrative!

Even later update March 12, 2009: A lot of people are writing character studies that read like this: "Bill is a truly wonderful person, the most unique man I know, always ready to do anything for you, always there when you need him, just a great man who always has a smile or a big laugh. Nothing is too much for him to handle, and he has made a huge impression on my life because of his kindness and happy personality. Bill is always there for me when things go bad and always has a cheerful comment to pick me up. Etc etc."

Please understand that that is terrible: one cliche, one greeting card remark, piled on another. There is nothing--NOTHING!--here at all. We want a story. Without it, this remains nothing. It's all packaging, nothing inside....

And, last thought: 'character' is being used here as a synonym for 'person.' You can write about any type of person. It does not have to be a person with 'character'--someone noble, brave, stronghearted, and decent. It does not have to be a person who is a 'character'--eccentric, weird, self-infatuated.
Any person will do, whether the person has character or not, is a character or not.


Blogger Jordan Larrabee said...

I found that writing these pieces especially a few specific ones was kind of a release. I found myself venting a little bit, but it made me look deeper into some things that are going on and that I've been through, it was nice.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012 6:15:00 PM  

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