Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Paging Dr. Cannon

We've taken a look deep inside Drago and Johnny, our primary characters, and have constructed some complex characters with a lot going on inside and outside. We've constructed backstories, analyzed emotional needs, examined needs in conflict, and predicted behavior based on all these factors.

Do you want to do this for every single character in your story?

You can if you want to, and it might (might!) make your story richer. It sure would be a lot of fun, too, because let's face it, this stuff is fun.

But it would be awfully time-consuming to have to build every character in this complex and nuanced manner. For characters that play minor roles, that appear only in one or two scenes, there are other ways to make them vivid without writing dozens of pages of backstory and filling in detailed charts and questionnaires.

Think about this. You're attending a business function with a friend, say an awards dinner. The friend knows everyone, but you don't know anyone but your friend. You walk in, and your friend introduces you to someone right away, before you've even taken the lay of the land.

Immediately, you will begin to take in information about this new person to help you understand what kind of person he or she is. Clothing, hairstyle, smile, mannerisms, how loudly or softly they speak, even word choices -- thousands of cues that all mount up to create an impression of character. Some of these cues are large and some are small, but each plays a role in helpin gyo to understand what kind of person you've just met.

Here's what you don't get with your new acquaintance: details of their childhood, parents, siblings, education, and all the other backstory; goals, dreams, plans and other details related to external motivation; emotional weaknesses, core needs, emotional strengths, secrets, obsessions, and other things related to the deeper psyche; and, indeed, anything not appropriate for chat at a business cocktail party or dinner.

Yet you can still draw some conclusions about this character, can't you? He's bossy. She's needy. He's a really warm-hearted guy. She's the class clown. His conversation is limited. And you can use those conclusions to begin to predict character behavior. You begin to understand how that particular character would behave in a different setting even though you might not know every detail of their childhoods.

You do it all by staying in the present and analyzing only the information available at this moment and in these circumstances.

And now you're going to do it for Dr. Cannon. She's our pal, the interviewer surgeon on staff at a prestigious city hospital and involved in MSF. That's all we know about her so far.

Now, keeping in mind that every detail you choose must be evocative of a consistent character type, I want you to:

-- Pick out Dr. Cannon's clothing.

-- Give her a physical description.

-- Describe the meal she orders and how she orders it.

-- Describe her manner of interacting with Johnny and Drago.

That's it. In essence, you will build a character by analyzing her appearance and behavior in a given setting. Go!



Wes said...

Dr. Cannon is dressed in a finely tailored, understated business suit that states power in a feminine manner. It is very expensive, but the realization of how expensive only grows on a person when they are close to her for an extended time. The same is true of her jewelery: expensive, yet understated. Money is no contraint for her, because she makes several hundred thousand a year, and she is the daughter of another prominent surgeon. Her hair is blonde of medium length and flows loosely expressing the confidence she has in herself and her position. She is in her late 40s, and her bearing and stylishness makes her a head-turner in the restaurant. Her social skills are polished and appears to effortlessly put Johnny and Drago at ease. That is until she orders light, northern Italian food and wine in flawless Italian. This puts each candidate on edge. Johnny knows the cuisine but not the language. Drago knows enough of the language, but not the cuisine. Her social graces are a ruse because she is setting traps for the candidates. The internship they are competiting for is her special project, something that she has created and nurtured which surpasses her father's accomplishments as a surgeon. Her primary interest is finding a weakness in one of the candidates which might harm her program

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

She wears straightforward, simple, clean cut clothing. Her slacks are creased, her hair shirt is ironed, the shoes are shined. The colors are all understated, though not nonexistent. These clothes are neither highly fashionable , nor quite out of style. Indeed, the outfit is more the sort that one could wear for a decade without conflicting with or subscribing to any particular fashion.

She has brown hair. The length cannot be ascertained by others, as it is always controlled in a tight, perfect, low bun. She used onto three bobby pins.

She orders the pork loin, which three reviewers have deemed quite good, and a salad -- which she asks to come only after the meal -- and has the dressing on the side. When the pork comes, she salts the side vegetables before tasting them.

She greets the young men in a similar cool, professional manner. When each arrives, she gives them a quick, subtle once over, taking note of their appearances in a manner that is not intended to be obvious. She notes on her watch what time they arrived, and pays attention to what they order and how. Without meaning to, she will lean slightly more towards Johnny; however, she corrects this behavior whenever she notices it. She makes sure she is seated opposite them at the table.

Gwen said...

Dr. Cannon is wearing a nicely tailored brown suit, although her light blue shirt looks a bit wrinkled. She wears no jewelry, and her shoes are flat and suitable for walking. Her hair is dirty blonde and curly, pulled back in a quick bun. Tendrils are escaping from the front. She has blue eyes with slight darkening beneath them. She is of average build--medium height, medium weight. She's in her mid-40s, although she looks more like she's in her mid-to late 30s.

She greets the young men in a polite, friendly fashion and sits down, immediately perusing the menu before talking to them. She orders a chicken sandwich, subbing the potatoes for vegetables, and black coffee to drink. She talks to each young man in turn at first, giving them a chance to answer questions, but after a while draws them into conversation about their lives and goals and eventually digresses into discussions of sports and imported beer. Although she says she'd love pie and to talk more with them, she has to run, and will get back to them by e-mail as soon as she can.

green_knight said...

I can't describe Dr. Cannon's clothing - I don't have an idea of her character yet, and I don't know what I want to invoke. Also, I don't speak the language of New York Fashion - I'd have to research what a person like her will wear once I know who she is.
The other thing is that I don't want to fix my story too strongly in place and time, because that will age it too quickly. 'Excuding understated elegance' or 'dressed from Vogue's fashion pages' will work in twenty years or for readers worldwide. Specific makes and fashion trends will be _so_ last year, and ridiculous in five, and I am sick and tired of every second chick lit heroine wearing or longing for Manolo Blahniks. (There's an outlet store near me. People *wear* those? Voluntarily?)

She orders the lobster (which makes Johnny happy) because it reminds her of home, of stability, of sanity. She does so with a minimum of fuss, and orders a homemade lemonade with it, because that's what she _always_ had.

She's easy with Johnny, understands him. She can't help responding to his charm, which he turns on full blast; but she notices that he doesn't reveal much about himself. It's all about objects. He's focused on prestige - in himself, in his teachers. He compliments her on her latest article, but doesn't refer to the contents, just the venue.

Drago is closemouthed, brooding. She's a little bit afraid of what outburst she will see once he reaches boiling point'; and she does not feel that she can work with him. When it comes, she realises that he _does_ have himself under control; and that he effortlessly sees through Johnny where she did not. She's allowed herself to be lured into Johnny's civilised world; but of the two of them, Drago is the one who looks her in the eye, who treats her as an equal - doctor to doctor, two people with a common goal.

As the evening goes on, Drago realises that he doesn't _need_ this internship - with his degree he can make a prosperous future for himself should he want to do so. He also realises that he _wants_ it, wants it because he's already gotten a new perspective on aid work from her casual chat.

Before the evening ends, she's asking both of the outright - why *this* internship. Johnny is caught a bit on the wrong foot, flatters her, but it's clear that he'd be willing to do the internship with *anyone* offering him prestige and a large purse. Drago tells her he wants it because it will open doors, and if he is to help build a better medical service in his homeland, he will need all the help he can get.

She'll fight to give Drago that chance, simply as a thank you for reminding her why medicine matters. She's strong enough to acknowledge to herself that she can learn things from him.

Hm. I guess she took the easy way out and went to whereever women buy upmarket fashion and allowed a personal shopper to dress her. She liked the effect and bought the ensemble - her own wardrobe being out of date, and after six months in a dusty camp without running hot and cold water, she can't be bothered to invest the time it takes to keep up with fashion talk.

Edittorrent said...

We've got some wonderful, evocative details here, and I want to use some of them as examples on the front page in the next post. If I ever get 15 minutes to write the damn thing. Busy day!


Jami Gold said...

Okay, I finally have a minute to tackle this one...

Dr. Cannon (Beverly, btw) wears no nonsense professional attire. Nothing too flashy or ostentatious. Some of her clothes are brand-name, but that's not on purpose. She just purchases what she thinks will work. Her only jewelry is an understated diamond watch (a present from her father when she turned 18) and small diamond post earrings (ditto for her 21st birthday).

She's in her mid-30's and has earned her position with long hours of hard work, completely sacrificing any personal life. Her hair is long, straight, and dirty blond. She always keeps it up in a loose bun - again professional and no nonsense. She just can't be bothered with anything fussy. Her face is also long and somewhat on the thin side, especially her nose. She has blue eyes, but they are not striking as they're more on the dull-gray side of the scale. She could accentuate her looks with the right clothes, hair, and makeup, but she never does.

She orders a Chicken Caesar salad, water (no ice) with a lemon wedge. She didn't realize how fancy this restaurant was when she made the reservations, she just chose it off of the recommendations of a colleague. But she won't let the waiter's pressure to order some fancy-pants appetizer (Buffalo tongue? Who the hell eats buffalo tongue on purpose?) deter her from her simple go-to "usual".

Johnny seems eager, perhaps over eager, but he's charming enough. Drago seems nervous, which she can sympathize with, but he's also too pushy. Even though she knows she probably has more in common with Drago, she's drawn more to Johnny. She realizes that she stepped over some line when Johnny's flattery turns flirtatious, but she's not sure how to handle that situation. As a result, she goes overboard in her attentions to Drago. By the end of the lunch, she's not sure that it'd be a good idea for her to work with either of them.

Jami G.
(Gee...I turned her into a cougar. How the hell did that happen? LOL!)

Dave Shaw said...

Ooookay - time for something a little different.

Dr. Sophia Cannon is slightly shorter than average, fine boned, but with strong arms and hands. Her fingers are quick and clever, fitting for a surgeon. She has a bit of undyed grey at the temples, to be expected at a little past 50, and it's getting harder to keep her moderate curves where they belong. The rest of her hair is black, curly, and hangs to her shoulder blades. She has an olive complexion and an attractive, but not model beautiful, face. Her vivacious dark eyes are surrounded by smile lines, and her ready laugh and quick wit enable her to attract positive attention whenever she wants and contribute to her famed bedside manner.

The old-fashioned cut of the dress she has on and her low-heeled sandals seem more suited to a Mediterranean fishing village/tourist trap than New York, but her southern New Jersey accent implies that her New York address is just a convenience, anyway. Her only jewelry is a small, carved-wood cross that looks like it could be an antique.

She meets her guests at the restaurant door exactly on time, and tries to put them at ease with her charm and humor. Drago is wound up like a clock, though, and despite his appearance of ease, she realizes that Johnny is quite tense, as well - to be expected, of course.

The maitre d' greets her as 'Dr. Sophia'; she knows his name, and asks him about his mother as he leads them to her usual table. She also knows the waiter, and jokes with him before ordering a glass of Italian wine. When the 'boys' both order water, she stifles a chuckle at the waiter's very subtle eyeroll. She can tell that Drago missed it, but she's not so sure about Johnny.

Even though she knows what she wants, she looks over the menu and points out items of interest to Johnny and Drago, giving them (especially Drago) subtle hints regarding what they might like. On the waiter's return, she orders the fried sardines with fennel vinaigrette, with oil and vinegar dressing on her salad.

As they wait for their meals, she makes small talk about her guests' backgrounds, giving them a little back through short anecdotes about her Greek maternal grandmother ('frail but still with us'), her ancient Armenian great-grandfather on her father's side ('gone thirty-five years now'), and her husband, a pilot she met when he flew her into a remote village in Bolivia twenty years before.

As the lunch progresses, she slowly gets a sense of the two young men, adroitly controlling their rivalry while using it to draw them out. By the end of the interview, she realizes that her choices are either trying to 'civilize' Drago's passion, teaching him to work within the system for the greater good, or finding a way to redirect Johnny's thirst for status and prestige to make him into the kind of doctor who truly cares for his patients.

Riley Murphy said...

When Dr. Connor enters the restaurant she is greeted by the hostess, who promptly shows her to her usual table. Dr. C is dressed in a pair of beige dockers, a light blue non-wrinkle blouse - that isn’t tucked in, but looks tidy under her white lab coat -that hangs longer on one side due to her hospital ID clipped to the front of her right lapel. On her feet she is still wearing her blue crocks that afford her comfort. Her hair is tied back, but not perfectly coiffed. In fact, a few stray bangs continually slide down over her eyes to annoy her, so she absently tucks them behind each ear before she shrugs out of her medical jacket, neatly hangs it over the arm of her chair and sits down. Her dark brown hair is sprinkled with the odd strand of gray, yet she’s oblivious to this aging factor. And her make-up? Well, what little of it she’d put on that morning before she left the house, had long since faded. Her lips looked dry and lightly stained by her burgundy lipstick while the uneven tone of her skin indicates that no thought had been put into any attempt to glam herself up prior to coming to dinner tonight. No, she looked ready to face this interview obligation with about as much thought as she put into most things. (Check her watch - oh yeah, time to go)
She has purposely positioned herself to face the front door of the restaurant, leaving the two men, when they arrive, to sit with their backs against any new arrivals who ventured in. It’s a good distraction for her. Hopefully, neither of them will be tempted to do the same. Because she has the upper hand here and she should be their primary concern this evening.
They arrive and she’s not formal in her greeting. She remains seated, but does acknowledge their arrival by shaking each of their hands across the table before she indicates for them to have a seat.
The waiter arrives and greets her like he knows her well and he does, because he asks the doctor if she’s having her usual. She says yes. He writes this out and then turns to the two gentlemen with pencil posed. Both men get the subtle message. This wasn’t about a leisurely dinner, this was business. Both of them are left with a huge dilemma. What had she ordered? Drago winds up ordering the grilled chicken and Johnny orders fish. Neither of them are comfortable. The fact that she ordered her food like she’d done it before many times, makes the guys squirm. How many interns was she interviewing? Wasn’t all this a write-off for her as the hospital was footing the bill? She waits until both men have put their respective dinner orders in. They looked worried and that’s exactly how she wanted them to feel. That’s why she didn’t want to come off as having placed any significance on this meeting. She purposely looked like she’d just finished work. She had no need to impress them - it was the other way around. She leans in to speak to Drago. She can tell he hates personal attention, he’s a big picture kind of a guy, besides he talks with his hands and her close proximity really cramps his style. So she purposely crowds him. Then when she turns to Johnny and begins to ask him questions she purposely leans back to put distance between them. She figures him for an intimate ‘one on one’ kind of guy, so she maintains a noticeable air of formality when dealing with him. She wants him out of his comfort zone too. She figures if she can get both candidates to pay attention to her, instead of trying to play off one another, she might be able to determine who would be best suited for the position. Because the reality is, that after tonight the men weren’t likely to run into each other again - but if she chooses one of them for this position, they’d certainly be seeing a lot of her and vise versa. Yes, while both candidates were more than qualified to fill the slot - there was only one of them that Dr. Connor felt she could work with on a semi-permanent basis...
Signed Murphy who wishes she had her own intern right about now!:D

em said...

I see her as wearing an expensive suit. She's thirty years old and very attractive. When she orders her dinner she's very slow about it. She wants one chicken breast, fresh green beans, and a chef salad. She is polite to each man and wishes in her heart of hearts, that she could give them both an opportunity. They're both likable and worthy in different respects. She leaves the meeting thinking she has a very tough decision to make between them.:)

Wes said...

Murphy, do tell. How are you going to use an intern?????

Riley Murphy said...

Geez Wes, me thinks you're a glutton for punishment...

Sighed: Murphy, who is shocked by this unprovoked attack!:D

Dave Shaw said...

Wes, I was thinking it had something to do with laundry...

Hi, Murphy! 8-)

Riley Murphy said...

Ha! Good one Dave! But, you know, contrary to popular belief, I'm actually a nice boss - so that would be a big NO to my intern doing laundry for me...well, unless his name was Wes, then maybe I could see where a little suffering would be in order.


Unknown said...

Murph, I think Wes, and Dave, are picking on you. I liked your example. A woman doctor trying to hire an intern wouldn't be trying to dress up to do it. She'd probably do it in the cafeteria.

Riley Murphy said...

They are picking on me, aren't they?;)
And man, I can't believe they let you get away with a line like:

She'd probably do it in the cafeteria.

If I had put that down they'd be all over it.

Murphy :D

Dave Shaw said...

Babs, dear, as I said in a comment with the next post, I prefer to consider what I do 'friendly teasing', not 'picking on'.

Now, what were you saying about Dr. Cannon in the cafeteria? Ooo, I know - we're playing Clue, right? What did she use, the candlestick?

Murphy, is that adequate, or were you intimating I should go with a laundry connection again?

Unknown said...

Murphy! I should let them pick on you. I was refering to the interview.

Dave, darling, you are free to call it what you will. I know it for what it is.;)