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Hello, writers. Last week we talked about using the knowledge with which life has provided you-- a slightly different proposition from “write what you know”.

Of course, for most of us the most useful knowledge we've got is our knowledge of people. I suspect that's why JKR wrote in a coffee shop. She probably sat in one of those uncomfortable metal chairs and saw everyone from Dudley Dursley to Gilderoy Lockhart traipse, shuffle, lumber or stalk past.

(That was a terrible sentence. Sorry.)

The trick, though, is to use what we know of human behavior without using real humans. Real humans are generally more complex than even the finest of book characters, so any attempt to reduce them to the page tends to fall flat. The characters end up being either too good to be true-- angels in human form-- or else riddled with odd but totally unexplained quirks.

Typical writing group exchange:

critiquer 1: It bothered me that Florence went to the circus after her husband was run over by a bus. I didn't find that believable.

critiquer 2: Yeah, ditto that. And when she took off her clothes in the cathedral during the funeral, that just seemed really out of character.

critiquer 3: I agree. That was where my suspension of disbelief snapped.

writer (smirking): Oh yeah? Well it's funny you guys should say that, because it just so happens Florence is based on a real person!

Real people are more complicated than they look from our own limited viewpoint.
They do things for reasons that we, not being God, can't fathom. When we write fiction, of course, we become the god-in-residence for our characters and if we can't fathom something, they can't do it.

What you want to do is to use real quirks rather than real people. Putting the quirks onto a fictional character relieves you of any responsibility to be true to your human model... which enables you to make the character believable.

They can be quirks that you've noticed among many people over the course of years, eg a tendency to get suspicious when people are speaking a foreign language. Or they can be quirks you notice in one person that you think it would be fun to... exaggerate a little.

For tonight's challenge, the situation is the same as it was last week, but the assignment is slightly different.

The situation:
A callow youth and his/her stout companion, having learned that the fabled Jewel of Togwogmagog is locked in the depths of the dungeons of the Tower of Doom, are proceeding thence when they find their way blocked by a dread beast/ officer of the law/ rival hero/ other animate obstacle.

This nemesis stops them and tells they can go no further.

The CY and the SC remonstrate. They must go further, to save the realm etc.

The nemesis won't let them.

In the scene, give the nemesis a quirk that is the quirk of someone you know. But exaggerate that quirk. Shamelessly.


(As an alternative challenge, you could write a scene which makes it completely believable that Florence went to the circus after her husband was run over by a bus. But I proffer that hesitantly, as I know some folks don't like it when the protagonist in my challenges is named “Florence.”)
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