Characterization Exercise: Where Is This Problem Going?

I blame the US government shutdown for this one. If I hadn’t been tracking it, trying to figure out whether I’d be out of work (and then, when I’d go back to it), I’d wouldn’t have gotten suckered onto far too many comment threads. (Curse my curiosity!) If I hadn’t been looking at the comment threads, I wouldn’t have been thinking about characters and their analytical processes. You get hardliners from both parties, you get moderates rolling their eyes, you get the people who hate on the government employees and the people who are government employees, you get the ones thinking about the short-term game and the ones worried about the legislative precedents and the ones who are already going “It’s going to happen again…” and then I get sick of all of them rehashing the same half dozen arguments on every single thread and try to figure out whether and hwo watching the sky fall can be harnessed for my writing.

Which brings me to today’s exercise. The essence is this: Take a character. Take a situation. Have that character predict where that situation is going. Change characters, or change situations (depending on what you’re trying to explore with this) and repeat.

Sounds straightforward, right? It shouldn’t be that simple, though; if you’ve got ten different characters who all have the same opinion of where a situation is going, right down to the details, you’ve probably got a problem. They’re not going to know the same amount; they’re not going to care the same amount. They’ll want different outcomes, and have different levels of confidence (and/or excessive hopefulness) about the likelihood of getting what they want. Some will go to the immediate consequences of what’s going on and stop there; some will start going into causal chains, predicting years and years down the road. Some will springboard straight from their predictions to plans, others just to reactions. There are the ones who see straight dichotomies, and the ones who see shades of gray. Many will be similar in the main, but different in the details.

For extra amusement, if you’ve got characters who generally associate, get them talking about it, see how much they argue and how willing they are to listen to each other.

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