Guest Post: Your character may be a mugger if…

Written by irowboat

I was going to respond this comment from dawnstarpony, but it ran considerably long, and PartlyPixie made me turn it into a post. dawnstarpony asked:

Do you consider character planning/-izing/character personality sheets as outlining and wasting time?

I’ve encountered two general populations of writers when it comes to characters:

  • Those who are caught off-guard and mugged by their characters in a dark alley, who wake up in cold sweats, imagining that the character is watching them from every shadow, scheming to take their plot to terrible, undreamt places;
  • And those who are portrait photographers, casting the right character to tell the desired story, supplying props, dressing the set, controlling the lighting, and posing the character.

Neither of these are The Right Way™,but nor are they incorrect, for just as a photographer can still take a blurry photo even given the best circumstances and nearly unlimited control, those that are mugged can endlessly describe—in searingly vivid detail—the one or two distinguishing features they were able to make out in the dimmest of starlight and sodium-arc shadows.

There is promising research into the possibility of a third population, which has not yet been granted an official registration from the Writer Taxonomy Bureau; some argue it is simply a hybrid or mutant population and may be sterile. This population is the fashion photographer, who shares attributes of the two other populations: they control the lighting, provide props, cast the character, and provide minimal direction, but have little (or no) control of how the character actually interacts with the setting and props.

With a little luck (and the experience of the photographer), mediocre settings, marginal props, poor lighting, or the occasional blurry shot, the character can work the camera – producing unexpected and wonderful results that could never have been planned. Moments often noticed only when everything is done and examined in review.

Snapshots of serendipity.


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