11 March 2012

So Judgemental!

We're all taught, in one way or another, not to judge people. You can never tell what people are like on the inside. Right? Just like you can't really judge a book by it's cover. (A point we won't argue here)

However, we all do this. Every single person in the world goes through life judging. If the skin of the apple is shriveled with deep wrinkles, then it's probably past it's prime. Most people won't buy it. We've just judged an apple. So harsh. But so true.

Yesterday I was reading in Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer and came across this same concept.

Let's say that the opening scene of a book has the main character dressed in a nice business suit, sitting on a park bench, feeding pigeons from a paper sack that he holds in his right hand.

Just from those few words, most people have some sort of judgment on this guy. It might not be much, considering all we have is description, but it's there. Let me go on.

The man puts the paper bag down on the bench beside him. He reaches into his jacket pocket and draws out a small, black box with a gray button on it. Without a change of expression, he presses the button. Behind him an explosion rocks a building, and half of the top floor is blown away. The man then picks up the sack and continues to feed the birds.

Now what do you think of him?

But wait, what if that button didn't cause the explosion? What if it actually sent a signal to his aging mother's house to set off an alarm that she will need to turn off to make sure she's okay? You don't know! And yet you judged.

Shame on you.

Or not.

As an author, I need to paint a character well enough for the reader to judge them. The character needs to make decisions that cause the reader to pass judgment. If the reader can't do that, because the character is too bland, too passive or too plain boring, then the character should not be the focal point.

“If your reader doesn't judge, count on it that the focal character is too bland and innocuous and uncommitted to be worth writing about.”

Interesting. Think about it.


Jordan said...

I like this. I judge you to be wise... or the dude who came up with the concept, anyway. :)

Anthony Dutson said...

Awesomesauce! And I actually teach my kids that its okay to 'judge.' It's important for people to know the situation they're in and the people they're with. That said, they should be willing to give people a chance, but judging keeps you safe.

A man pulls up in a van and says, "Hey kid, wanna pet my puppy?"

I don't care if he's Santa Claus, he's not allowed to put my kid on his lap without a supervising elf, a Kodak Instamatic, and twenty parents watching him very carefully.

As for characters it's that ambiguity that makes for an interesting read because we just HAVE to find out why he pushed the button. And I have to note... no one is going to calmly go back to feeding birds after a bomb explosion. I'd totally call the cops. ;)

Antiquarian said...

You are going to finish the bomb bird thingy right? I want to read that.