People and places

Hi, all —

I’ve been thinking more about characters, and how to inject authentic regionalisms into yours. That is, how to make a character sound and act like he or she is a product of a specific place and culture.

To that end, I read journalist/writer/speaker/all around awesome woman Caitlin Kelly’s blog today, and it seemed to resonate with what I’ve been mulling. Her latest blog is about defining “New York-ism.” That is, what defines someone as a New Yorker? And then she lists several things that New Yorkers might say and do, and the reasons behind them. Go have a look. See what you think.

And keep reading, if you want to see where the hell I’m going with this. 😀

I was also thinking about the character of Daryl Dixon in AMC’s The Walking Dead. For those who follow the show, it’s based in the South (Georgia, mostly), and Daryl is one of our hearty band of survivors who has managed to last into season 4. He’s a fan fave, so let’s hope he sticks around longer.
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Anyway, Daryl is a skilled survivalist whose cultural and regional background is southern. He’s the quintessential southern huntin’ n’ fishin’ “redneck” whose woodsman skills have turned out to be pretty darn useful post-apocalyptic tools. Point being, he’s an awesome fictional character. So awesome that we think he’s real, that he’s actually out there, in some parallel universe, kicking zombie ass and keeping it all together.

Anthropologically speaking, humans are complex products of their environments and genetic combos. We like to think we’re all “oh, I have free will!” and yadda yadda yadda, but actually what we have is a program installed via the medium of culture that interacts with our genetic hardware, all of which is affected by every environment in which we spend our lives. From the micro-environment of our birth families (or foster families or whatever family structure or not we get) to the macro-environments of our neighborhoods, towns or cities, and the hinterlands beyond those, we are constantly shaped by place, region, and the other people who inhabit those places and regions. We are part of our environments. We are connected to them, and to the other life forms that inhabit them, too.

Which is not to suggest that we can’t be individual AGENTS within our environments. We can. And we do. We are faced with choices all the time. How we implement them is based on who we are, which in turn is based on where we’re from, what environment(s) we grew up in, and how we’ve absorbed the things we’ve learned and experienced over time.

We tend to act and react to varying situations in accordance with myriad factors. How we were raised, where that happened, whether or not we received any training for that particular situation. And of course there’s a mysterious and deep survival urge that lurks beneath all our cultural programming, all our environmental injections. We see it in the fight or flight response. We also have an almost primal altruistic urge that a lot of people express during times of intense stress and disaster, whether human-made or natural. As an example, think of all the people who tried to help the victims of the Boston bombings. Complete strangers with no medical training slapped tourniquets onto the limbs of people they didn’t know, applied pressure to horrible wounds with their bare hands, and offered comfort until help arrived.

Weird, that altruistic streak, given the crap we put each other through as a species on a daily basis. Interesting, isn’t it, that when you strip away all the trappings of what we know as our environments and put us in a situation that is horrible and possibly life-threatening–in a whole new environment–you get a glimpse of someone’s raw essence. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy dystopic and post-apocalyptic fiction. They’re studies in character.

So when you think about your characters — if you’re involved in trying to figure out who he is or where she’s from, think about how that background, coupled with the baggage we all accumulate in our lives, creates a character. And when you’re reading, think about the characters in that book or story or comic and how those characters are portrayed. Think about what the author might want you to know about that character, and how the author is showing you those things.

Just some things bouncing around my brain. Happy Thursday!

6 thoughts on “People and places

  1. I don’t know how all of that could have been “bouncing” in your brain, because that was a whole lot of information. I had to take Sociology for my Admin degree a couple years back and that was part of what we studied, as I recall. How people are products of not only their family background, but also of their environment. I find what you wrote very fascinating, so keep on sharing the stuff that is rattling around in your brain.

  2. Thank you for sharing the ‘rattle’ as Lori described. Your bounce landed on my drum’s skin and reverberates still. Some I managed to write, but there will be more. see – you never know what influence you might have 🙂

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