Saturday, August 1, 2009

Characterization and Life's Experiences

As writers, we're constantly using life's experience as fodder for our characters. We also tend to use words for the majority of our communication. Which is ironic in light of the fact that our actual words represent 7% our our total communication output.

No! I'm not pulling your leg! Research indicates the following facts with respect to how we communicate:
  • 7% of our our communication output is represented by the actual words we speak
  • 38% of our communication output is represented by our tone of voice, volume, and rate of speech
  • 55% of our communication output is represented by our body language
Here's the proof: Think back to a time when you asked one of your friends how she was doing. She said, "fine," but you knew she was full of buppies. How? ESP? Mind-reading? I doubt it. How about because her tone of voice was softer than usual? Or because the typical sparkle was missing from her expression? Or because she didn't make eye contact? Or because of all 3?
As many of you know, I spent 10 days in July with my father - who underwent unanticipated triple bypass surgery in Massachusetts, 2,700 miles from my home in Montana. My sister and I stayed at his house with Dad - me 24/7 once he was released from the hospital.
I learned an awful lot about Dad during those days - and even more about our relationship and our family dynamics. Yes, we spoke of things we'd never discussed before. But I learned more from my observations, the things Dad didn't say, and his behavior. Which was excellent, by the way - something I hadn't expected.
Funny how traumas and unexpected events force us look at life, other people, and ourselves from a different perspective.
Keep that in mind when you're creating your characters - and during the process of their growth and development in your books and stories. What might be considered "normal" behavior for a character can undergo a significant alteration in response to stress or an unexpected experience.

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