When I was 12 years old and living in Scotland, I had a friend whose parents were English. We walked home from the bus stop together every night, chattering away in colorful local accents and colloquialisms. But as soon as my friend reached her front door, she would call out, “Hallo, Mummy, I’m home!” in the most pukka English accent you could ever hope to hear.
She didn’t even know she was doing it.
Maybe it’s because I have my parents staying with me at the moment, but I’ve been thinking about the ways our characters change, depending on who we’re with. My McCarroll tendencies come out while they’re visiting. I become more laid-back (or as my husband calls it ‘late’), and more spontaneous (or ‘disorganized and indecisive’). Even my accent gets more Scottish (see last week’s podcast).
I’m sure my parents are equally bemused by my ‘sudden’ need to know what everyone’s plans are for the day, since nobody in our family ever really had plans until the last minute (see? Spontaneous!).
So today I want you to explore that, with your character.
Write a story that shows you character in three different scenes, interacting with people who bring out different sides of their character.
- Families are great for this. How we act around our parents and/or siblings is almost certainly different from how we act around our best friends. How we act with our spouse is probably different again.
- How we act with a truly terrible lover who is all wrong for us, is a whole other category of behavior, especially when contrasted with interactions with people who really love us.
- Stress is another great way to reveal a different side of a character. Some people are great under pressure. Some get angry. Some whine. Some cower. Some people turn into unexpected leaders in a crisis, while others who you’d expect to lead, become indecisive or cowardly.
- Think about using cultural differences. For example, think about my friend who was Scottish on the street and English in the house. Think about how Barack Obama’s rhetorical style slipped along a spectrum from Harvard Intellectual to Southern Baptist Preacher depending on the crowd he was talking to (not that those two things are mutually exclusive, of course!). Think about how a hideously prejudiced old man can be genuinely sweet and generous to his own grandchild.
Leave a comment and let us know how it went