Character: W is for Worldview

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

W is for Worldview.

A character’s history and experiences shape his view of the world and of his place in it.  It’s more than how he sees himself; it’s his intellectual perception of how the world works and what effect he can have on it.  With this in hand, he can take in stimuli, reason through what is happening and why and eventually take action.

Well, John, my deductive skill tells me that we’ve discovered a robot turkey. 

Well, John, my deductive skill tells me that we’ve discovered a robot turkey.

Image:  tv.com

Perception is cognition of events, etc. as a whole.  We know people have different levels of perception and they all see things differently.  This is a great way to show something about your character.

A number of things can shape a character’s worldview.  Whether they control him and by how much depends on the proportion of their influence in his life.

Culture

Some cultures are isolationist; they believe (and teach their children) that the outside world is full of peril or is at odds with their beliefs.  For example, Amish people prefer to live a certain way in accordance with their religious dictates.  While they do make a conscious choice to join the church as adults, they rarely decide to leave their communities because their upbringing doesn’t support an existence in modern society without a huge adjustment.

A character who is exposed to other worldviews, especially during his formative years, will have more tolerance to different ways of doing things.  If your hero’s viewpoint is at odds with the situation in which he finds himself, he’s going to have a much harder time of it if he hasn’t been raised with open-mindedness.

Or open-pantsedness.

Or open-pantsedness.

Image:  8tracks.com

Religion and spirituality

Many people depend on their faith for answers to the most puzzling questions of life.  Religious belief can be rigid; it doesn’t always allow for alteration and acceptance.

In the 1973 film The Wicker Man, Police Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) comes to the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.  He finds a hedonistic society that is at odds with his own strict moral upbringing.  This dichotomy causes him a great deal of anguish, and it keeps him from seeing the real reason he’s there until it’s too late.

Robin HardyÕs THE WICKER MAN (1973). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal

You’d think the people running around in animal masks would have given him a clue.

Image:  Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal / famousmonsters.com

Education

What are some of the things we learn at school?  Besides reading, writing, history, and computer sciences, we learn socialization and cooperation.  We also learn about bullying, abuse, and cruelty.  A character who went through this in school could view people in his adult life with suspicion.  If they try to befriend him, he might think they have an agenda and avoid them.

Think about this from the bully’s point of view, too.  Your character may not be a pleasant person if he’s used to taking what he wants and getting his own way.

Media

News and popular opinion gleaned through television, radio, and internet influence people all the time.  The worst part about media is that it’s not always accurate.  People tend to take the easiest route toward learning something.  They take what they see and hear at face value and rarely bother to fact-check, unless what they’re hearing sounds suspiciously far-fetched (and often not even then).

Friends

Our friends are a huge part of our worldview.  We surround ourselves with like-minded people, and share experiences with them that reinforce those attitudes.

I’ll be there for you…but only if you're the same as me. 

I’ll be there for you…but only if you’re the same as me.

Image:  tv.com

When new people come into our circles, they sometimes shake up the status quo and give a settled group a new perspective.  Depending on that person’s motives, the change can either strengthen a group or tear it apart (which provides the writer with excellent conflict material).

———-

Your character’s worldview gives him a unique perspective on events.  Take two different people and put them in a situation with the same exact stimuli at the same exact time.  The things one person notices when he walks into a room will tell you a lot about him, as opposed to what another person would see in the same space.  See how their reactions and what they perceive differs.

This will absolutely change the way you write a scene.  It’s a huge help when working with show vs. tell.  And a character’s altered perspectives will provide you with numerous opportunities for growth and development.

 

Character: M is for Mannerisms

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

M is for Mannerisms.

Think about all the little things people do, their habits and their quirks.  These are mannerisms.  They encompass both speech and gesture, and the combination makes for interesting characters.

Some examples include:

  •  Always has a cup of tea at exactly the same time every day
  • Sticking her hands in her pockets and rocking back and forth on heels when bored
  • Reading the newspaper in a certain order every time, and even re-ordering it if it isn’t the way they want (John the serial killer does this in Rose’s Hostage)
  • Pulling at an earlobe or his bottom lip when thinking
  • Mindlessly playing with glasses or hair
  • How Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix politely coughs when she wants someone’s attention (“Ahem, ahem.”)

Speech patterns are mannerisms too.  When the character speaks, does he talk a lot, like stream-of-consciousness dialogue?  Maybe he thinks best by doing it aloud, or maybe he just likes to hear himself.  Back to Literary Sherlock Holmes—boy, does he love to explain how he figured something out.  Poor Watson can hardly get a word in edgewise.

I tried to tell him he was about to walk off the kerb, but he wouldn’t stop nattering. 

I tried to tell him he was about to walk off the kerb, but he wouldn’t stop nattering.

Image:  orble.com

Others don’t talk much or use very short sentences when they do.  Speech to them is a way to convey important information.  They don’t have time to babble on, so you’ll get the straight answer from them, and it might even be rather blunt.  Cursing can also be a mannerism.  So can constantly interrupting people.

Some people bite their fingernails when they’re nervous. They may exhibit habits like sniffing (allergies?) or knuckle cracking.  The Smoking Man character in The X-Files had a very distinctive (and smelly) mannerism.  The way people walk, sit, and even stand tells you something about them.  Think of Hannibal Lecter in the film The Silence of the Lambs when you first see him, standing very still while he waits for Clarice Starling.  He’s a predator, like a cat at a mousehole.

Remember that we often adjust our behavior in different situations.  Your character might like to take a bit of snuff, but he probably won’t do it when he meets the Queen.  Of course, some people, like Jack Sparrow, are the same no matter where they are.

But you adore me anyway, don’t you, luv?

But you adore me anyway, don’t you, luv?

Image:  fanpop.com

Mannerisms are important in crime fiction, too.  Investigators who track serial offenders look for what they call signature behaviors.  These are things the perpetrator does that are over and above what they need to do to commit the crime.  Though they can be deliberate (the Wet Bandits in Home Alone leaving the water on), they may do them unconsciously or out of compulsion.  A killer can change his M.O, or modus operandi.  He may come in a window one time and pick a door lock another time, but his signature will always be the same.

The victims he chooses are often a part of that signature.  For example, serial killer Theodore Robert “Ted” Bundy often chose victims who had long, dark straight hair that was parted in the middle.  Supposedly, they reminded him of a former girlfriend who had rejected him.

A criminology instructor I had once told our class about a perpetrator they called “the Ether Burglar” who broke into women’s occupied homes and sedated them with a chemical substance.  They caught him after one of his would-be victims put a hole in his guts with a shotgun (he survived).  They never found out what he did after he knocked the women out—nothing was missing, they couldn’t find evidence of any sexual activity, etc.

My instructor said he even approached the suspect’s lawyer offering a freebie—if he told them, they wouldn’t use the conversation in court (there’s a legal term for this, but I can’t remember what it is).  She said no.  We told him if he ever found out he had to tell us.  I think we’ll all go to our graves not knowing, although we all agreed he probably did get nasty somehow.

Just sic Hannibal Lecter on him.  He’ll figure it out.

Just sic Hannibal Lecter on him.  He’ll figure it out.

Image:  cliveworld.com / DVDBeaver.com

Mannerisms should make sense—a confident politician will walk proudly, head up, not stare at his feet like a mopey teenager.  (By the way—don’t do that when you walk; you’ll get mugged.)  A cool secret agent type probably wouldn’t nervously tap his foot.  Choose them carefully for your character, and you just might wind up with someone unforgettable.