More surprises await

Joe’s Post #87 –

signSo, there I sat in a restaurant – laptopless and writing notes by hand – when who should sit down behind me, but three construction workers. Hard hats. Rough hands. Dirty faces.

Being me, I listened in on the conversation. You just never know what you’re going to pick up. I was expecting talk about boobs or hockey or the latest jackasses in government. All good topics. I hoped to pick up a little bit of their tone, their language, their thoughts, and file it all away somewhere in my cob-webbed filled brain.

Instead, I heard a reasoned and well-informed debate on pensions. All of them were well spoken, well thought-out and knew not only the economics of how pensions worked but how they are actually invested.

What a surprise!

But should it have been? Should I have been so quick to believe a cliché?

And therein lies the surprise. I expected something gruff, something typically blue-collar, something profanity-laced. I based this on their looks, my own experience working in that environment, and the fact they had hard hats. Bad of me, I know. Never judge a book by the cover and all of that. But I didn’t really judge so much as assume and my assumptions were all wrong.

Delightfully WRONG!

don maass workbookI immediately thought of something Donald Maass had asked in one of his workshops (and I’m sure it’s in one of his books.) He asked, “What would your character never do?”

I wrote, he loves his wife, he’s loyal and honest and would never ever cheat on her.

“So what would happen to your character if he did what he’d never do? Does that make him a little more deep? A little more dark? Understandable? Vulnerable?”

And he was right. He usually is. Thinking about what your character would never do, having the reader understand that and then, then have that character do what he’d never do adds a whole other level of layering to that character. Right?

So, that memory and those construction guys combined to make me think about how to play with expectations. What would I least expect a character to do, then have to them do it. For me, it makes for much more interesting reading. Makes for a nice little surprise. And hey, haven’t we all read about construction guys saying crude things? Of course we have. I may have even written something like that.

Instead, then, what if they were more like the guys who sat behind me?

That has to be much more interesting that regurgitated clichés.

Justified does this really well. Imagine Kentucky hillbillies. Imagine what they would look like. What they would say. How they would dress. Now, here’s a snippet of dialogue from that show. From Huffington Post

justifiedIn Season 4, look at (Hillbilly) Boyd’s style of speech, when a competing criminal, Nicky Augustine, holds him at gunpoint.

Nicky: I got to ask. Where’d you get all those teeth?

Boyd: Courtesy of the American taxpayer while serving our great nation in Desert Storm.

Nicky: Man, I love the way you talk… using 40 words where four will do. I’m curious. What would you say if I was about to put forty bullets through that beautiful vest of yours?

Boyd: What’re you waiting for?

Nicky: Oh, you’re cool, huh?

Boyd: I tried to keep it to four words. You’ll allow the contraction as one

Awesome right? I mean, really, really freaking awesome, but a good part of that comes from the fact that Boyd just isn’t what he appears to be. His language, his word usage, his humor is a surprise. In fact, the whole show probably has the best dialogue on TV and is a great example of how to do surprises, be they in characters or actions or dialogue.

And that made me think about how I’m going to have to kick up my game a bit more. I need to look for those moments where you’re thinking oh, hold on, it’s the street-wise hooker… and I give you something else entirely.

Every little surprise adds up to a great story.

I hope.

**************

Blogs Done This Week: 1

Movies Seen in Theaters: 0 (too busy!)

Times I Muttered, “Where did the time go?” Just under a billion.

Queries out this week: 5

Rejections for the last week: 0

Queries Still Out there: 0

Hope Meter: 25/100 Down a bit from last week. Lack of laptop hurt my writing and time management. Procrastination hurt my queries. A small-brain-that’s-easily-confused hurt my outline.

6 thoughts on “More surprises await

  1. Lord, we love that show. And indeed the dialogue is awesome. It’s a brilliant example of how to create characters by how and what they say as much as do. Deadwood did that, but I almost think Justified is better at it.

  2. Where was your laptop? I loved the dialogue in “Reservoir Dogs” when the criminals are sitting in the diner. I can’t remember much of it anymore, but thought it ironic that they were talking about a certain amount of integrity they expect from other people.

  3. Another great insight Joe. The cool thing about avoiding cliche characters (ie, letting style/appearance be a substitute for individuality and substance) is that it blows away assumed backstories too. I’ll have to check out Justified.

  4. This would be an excellent way to shake up a reader’s expectations and—before that—to open the writer’s eyes to possible character traits, backstory, and current action for the manuscript.

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