Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mass Hysteria as an Analysis of Character or How to Create Characters with Rich Personalities

The second month of the year is already here and a new Insecure Writer's Support Group meeting knocks on our door. For today, I've decided to talk about how to develop a deep, complex character; or at least, how I do it.

I must start by saying that every author should have a minor in psychology. It'd make things so much easier! But since that's not my case, I do what I can with what I have; and I do have a great sense of style and perfect comedic timing... But that has nothing to do with the title, so I'll just move on.

I've always been very interested in how other people's minds operate and how others perceive reality. Do you remember your mother asking you how you would feel if Tommy would've been the one laughing at you? Well, the question stuck in my mind and there's not one day that I don't ask myself something along those lines. What is that woman thinking? Does she have to go to work or she gets to stay at home? I also look into people's houses when my husband is driving. I think of it as an extension of that same question, and it mesmerizes me to see others go about their usual lives without my presence intervening. Just the fact that they know I'm watching changes their reactions, and don't even get me started on Reality TV, so I settle for this. I guess you could say I love being the proverbial fly on the wall. 

All these exercises make it very natural for me to paint stories where there's a sense of more than one thing going on. Much like in our lives, we are centered in the protagonist's story (ourselves) but it is affected by so many tangent stories (secondary plots, or the fall of your neighbor's huge tree on top of your house) that push the main character to take course of actions he/she had never considered before. That's how real life works and that's how good fiction has to feel like. 

Now, we're all human beings and we are at the mercy of our own experiences from which we derive knowledge that will help us make 'educated guesses'. There's no way on earth that I know exactly what's going on on that woman's head when the Starbucks guy messed up her first caffeine intake of the day. I can only guess based on what other reactions I've seen to the same event (he's a very clumsy guy), and what would be my own reaction (Oh, don't you dare, mister!).

This is how our own philosophy of life trickles down into our fictional worlds and we end up revealing a lot more about us than we ever wanted. In those believes we stand alone, more or less, and that's part of why the same story can be told in a million different ways. 

In my case, I write horror. That's just how my brain works. It's either because I'm exercising a cheap form of therapy, or because my experiences growing up were very much touched by the shadow of the paranormal. I am also a huge believer in the darkness that resides at the core of every human being and that permeates every aspect of my stories. 

Let me explain. It's not that I don't believe humans are good in nature, I do believe in that, but I think we're not indiscriminate lovers. We select carefully those for whom we'd do everything and the rest can fall out of the planet, for all we care. When push comes to shovel, we will always protect our loved ones, our kin. The rest can drop dead.

Imagine we are ants on a park and there's a kid out there having fun and squishing us under his foot. I, for one, would collect my kids and the rest of my family and run back to our anthill. If in our way back the foot's about to come on top of one of my kids, I would not hesitate a nano-second to push someone else under it if that would spare my girl's life. I'm sorry, but that's the truth. And I think 99.99% would do the same.

Mass panic is that moment where every rationalized and civil thought goes out the door and in comes the survival mode. There has been a few well documented cases where mass panic has ensued in large groups of people and it always ends up tragically. So, it's not that I am all 'doom and gloom', facts and even psychologists tend to agree with this theory.

Horror stories are, by definition, the perfect environment to create such a reaction from people. In my stories I create the elements and gather them, so the perfect storm can rise and put my characters into extraordinary situations where most of them will react out of fear and not logic. Given all that I've been telling you about, you know what kinds of endings my stories usually have, don't you?

So, there you go. That's how what I read, what I observe, and what I am sum up and help me to have complex characters that react in one way, think in another, and feel yet in another one.

I entice you to read about human psychology -if your a scientologist, I'm deeply sorry for you- and how we react to motherly love, to violence, to threat, to death... There's not one thing you write about that cannot gain from you understanding human behavior better. 

Observe keenly how your neighbors react to your own mood swings, to your presence, to your words or absence of them. Don't peek directly into their windows, are you crazy? You'll be served a restraining order! Instead go buy a big telescope and mount it on your bedroom's window. Then tell me all about it so I can write a story about the creepy next-door neighbor. =)

Remember to check the rest of the blogs from the group tho get more fantastic advise!

1 comment:

Name: Luana Krause said...

Hi, Gina: I found you at the A to Z challenge. I write horror as well as humor. Great blog. Look forward to reading more.