Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Encounters with Characters

A writer never knows when they are about to encounter a “character” suitable for a tale. I met one just a couple of nights ago while at my writing group meeting. Our group meets at a local bookstore, in the coffee shop/café area. It’s not always an ideal place to gather because it can get pretty noisy and is sometimes crowded, but it generally serves us well.

The other night we were holding court amongst ourselves when a young fellow at a nearby table began periodically tossing his 2 cents into our conversation. His comments--laced as they were with references to God and right and wrong--were not exactly illuminating our topic, and other than gazing politely in his direction as he interrupted us we pretty much ignored him. He stopped butting in, but then later began muttering just slightly under his breath about not being able to work because we were making too much noise, and because, apparently, the content of our discussion was not to his liking.

Putting aside the fact that it’s not a good idea to come to a café if one craves a funereal silence to “peruse” one’s deep thoughts, I found it interesting that our conversation seemed almost to be taking the fellow over, as if , (insert appropriate dramatic music here),…our thoughts were becoming his. Now hey, a story idea and a character all in one. But it’s even a little better than this because, as a psychologist, I began to realize that the young man was almost certainly experiencing an episode of hypomania. He was, in fact, highly distractible, was experiencing what is called a “flight” of ideas (which often take on religious or moral tones), was most likely experiencing an increased “pressure” to talk, and was probably exhibiting a sense of inflated self-esteem (which led him to believe that his intrusions into our discussion would be welcomed for their insightfulness).

Now, a hundred questions started racing through my head. Why was this fellow showing hypomania? Had he done so before? What was the trigger for it? Would the symptoms increase or subside? What had brought him to the bookstore at that moment? Was the rather large cup of (I assume) caffeinated coffee contributing to his symptoms? Where would he go next and who would he encounter there? Coming up with such questions, and trying to answer them, is the root process involved in creating characters. I think this one needs a little further exploration. Bear with me while I consider.

1 comment:

cs harris said...

I've just met a character I intend to use in a book, too. He's a builder who's going to help us go back to our flood insurance company for additional funds. (We met him through our neighbor, who has a smaller house than we do, yet collected THREE times as much for his flood damage as we did.) Anyway, this guy let slip, among other things, that he lives in a 15,000 square foot home, grew up poor, is on medication for his temper, and says he doesn't do anything dishonest because he knows he'll have to answer to a Higher Power (whether that part is true or not remains to be seen). He doesn't come complete with a story idea, but he's nevertheless a gem.

And next week you need to tell us more about hypomania!