Monday, November 03, 2008

We the characters

When I lose something, then inevitably start complaining about it, the first thing I hear from the people around me is usually, "Where did you have it last?" And I, being all about economy of word usage--hold your derisive snorts please--spent some energy eliminating a few steps from the process, and jump over the "COMPLAIN!" instinct straight to going where last I had lost object. Naturally, due to chaos theory, just going where I last had the thing doesn't always solve the problem.

My mom, being the ever-motherly mother that she is, always advised at this point "clean your room." Or clean wherever I thought I'd lost whatever it was. The idea was sound in principle: get the space cleared, sort through the stuff, and you'll turn up lost object. In practice, it often takes too long. In practice, cleaning will make me forget what I was looking for, or it'll change my priorities and make me not care what I was looking for, or it'll end up covering up what I was looking for under the mess removed from the floor into its supposed containment. In any of these cases, the lost object remained lost.

As a matter of survival, I started not making messes. Mom looks at the six inches of detritus and jetsam strewn upon my floor and across my desk and dresser and sometimes on my bed and proclaims that it must be cleaned! But what is cleaning but an organization of belongings for future convenient access? I do not make messes. I pile in a most organized way. At a moment's notice, I can reach into the pile and pull out anything I need, even if it's buried under layers of whatever.

Well, due to lightning fast wardrobe changes, youthful exuberance, navigation in the dark, and more chaos theory, that doesn't always work either. Things still get lost.

I've started taking into account that I know the habits of all parties concerned. I've started losing things and bearing in mind the character traits that bear upon chaos theory and make things happen inadvertantly. I know, for instance, that sometimes I take my wallet out of my pocket, throw it on my bed, forget about it, then go sleep that night without turning the light on. So it stands to reason, upon analyzing my character, that if I can't find my wallet, that might have happened. Therefore, instead of looking where my wallet goes--or in one of the half-dozen places I set it down--I might look at the foot of my bed, on the floor, in the pile of clean tee-shirts, imagining that I might have kicked it in my sleep.

And there it was.

I was thinking about this because it seems like a good way to think about writing characters, or thinking about them, in fiction. You know how they'll act, what their habits are, what they might forget then how they might mess stuff up. I think it's interesting.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Some people just don't understand 'pile theory' the way we do.