Thursday, August 6, 2009

Characters with Class

As promised, here is a post practically oozing with profound pearls of wisdom. (Enough alliteration for you?) But that begs the question: if I state that it's profound, does it suddenly lose its profoundness? (I'm not even sure profoundness is a word, but Blogger didn't squiggle it, so it stays.)*

And on to the post...

I find lots of things interesting. Tis a fault of mine. So when my dear, darling brother posted a blog about the economic classes of America, I naturally found it interesting. But I got really excited when he mentioned the hidden rules of generational economic class.

Oh-kay, you may say. Why on earth would this get Jaime excited? Besides the fact that we now know without a doubt she's a nerd...

Well, stick with me here and others could start accusing you of being a nerd, too. You see, each economic class has its own ingrained standards of behavior and speaks a different hidden language.

Hello character development! Hello motivation! Hello dialogue! Hello natural conflict! And hello the answer to why rich people will spend obscene amounts of money on some dead movie star's used toothbrush.

Now open another tab so you can check out the table on my brother's blog. I promise it will be worth it. I tried to swipe it from him but I'm not blog-savvy enough to get the whole chart to fit on my blog. And the rest of this post will make MUCH more sense if you can see the table at the same time.

Is the other tab open? Scroll down to the table and look at it for a minute. Don't worry, I'll wait.

*hold music*

You're back? Good. Did you see what I see? Can you say essential character development in a chart! All of us nerd-types love charts. With all their orderly rows, and cute little columns. *cough*

Let's say you have a character who is poor. His parents were poor, and their parents were poor, and so on. He is coming at life from a standpoint of generational poverty. Naturally when he's faced with conflict he's going to try to resolve it with his fists (see the handy box under the "poverty" column and "conflict" row). He might also wolf down his food rather than savor it, would likely make crude jokes, and spend money before it even makes it to his pocket.

Now take a character born into wealth. We're talking generations of money. He would be much more concerned with social standing, think about investing and business, and pay a lot of money for a teeny-tiny plate of food that sure "looks pretty."

Now throw the two together. Maybe they have to solve a crime. Maybe they're on a quest. Or maybe one's a woman and it's a romance. Can't you just see all the possibilities for conflict, dialogue, humor, and interesting plot twists?! *squeeee*

I don't know about you, but as a writer this information is totally *Fab*

**As noted by excellent commenter Robison Wells, this could be used as a tool to add some more spice to your characters, but be careful not to fall into the trap of stereotyping and making your characters cliche.


ElanaJ said...

Wow! Great chart and perfect for character motivation.

Don said...

This helps me make some sense out of my current WIP characters. Thanks.

Deborah said...

Sooooo. It is possible to make the change from the ... is it enough dining, to does it taste good? How about the jump to... was it *pretty enough*?

Kimberly said...

I just love how excited you are. Great angle on how to use that info!

RobisonWells said...

I don't know... While I can see a very basic benefit to a chart like this, I think that it could also lead to some very cardboard, cliche characters. The chart seems to reinforce class stereotypes which, I have to admit, kind of rubs me wrong. Even if we're just looking at it as a writing tool rather than a social commentary, it feels very limited.

Jaime Theler said...

Rob, I understand that it might lead to cliched characters. As with all things like this, of course you're going to have to develop beyond a chart, but having moved from one generational economic class to another, I can see a lot of validity to many of the things listed on it. I know what it's like to have the importance of food being whether you have any, not whether it tastes good. And then I've associated with other people who value the presentation of the food at least as much as the taste.

And this is a generalization, so of course there will be individual differences. I just thought it was fun to see some possible conflicts and motivations that you could weave in. But you're right, use it but beware slipping into stereotypes.

L.T. Elliot said...

Very fun, Jaime. Your whole family's just blooming with talent and ideas, huh?