Monday, September 13, 2010

Raised By She-Wolves

This is sort of a meandering thing, but I am starting with some theory, inspired by a little personal history and then getting to a writing application, so bare with me...


Boy Friends

And I don't mean boyfriends... I mean BOYS who are Friends... I was really BAD at this in my formative years. I think there is a good reason for this. I was an only child (no brothers) and my dad was, for the most part, absent, even before he died. Oh, sure, I had boy cousins, uncles... neighborhood kids... but I really had no awareness that boys were people (who knew?). I usually stammered awkwardly, or flirted badly (as in with poor skill, not as in overdoing it, though if I added alcohol, it tended to cross from the one to the other and there was a time I thought this meant I was succeeding.)

There were a few exceptions though, and I have analyzed it (blame my Virgo Moon). The boys I was capable of being great buddies with, without awkwardly walking the 'der, what do I say, am I supposed to flirt now?' thing, had SISTERS and tended to be raised by ONLY their mom... they were USED to being doused in estrogen. I have several male friends with whom things were FAR easier to find all the lines because THEY KNEW HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS! (so I didn't NEED to know how to talk to BOYS).


My Theory

Getting along with different types of people TAKES PRACTICE. Oh, sure, some people just have more social skills (or enough drive to develop them, or parents better able to teach them) but people exposed to a great variety of people will be better able to deal with them LATER.

I think in college, when I had my first 'exclusive' boyfriend, I managed friendships with HIS friends, and LEARNED how to do it... and in my 20s, nearly all of which, I was with my husband, though we didn't marry until I was 25, the OTHER men I got to know were ALSO just friends... I had finally mastered it... But it took security (on my part, this took the form of 'already taken, not looking') and opportunity (work or school environments where I MET and interacted when I wasn't looking... see, that LOOKING interfered a lot when I had no clue how to talk to boys and desperately wanted some media version of 'happy ever after' type love (STILL can't read romance... misleading tripe)...

But it goes for ALL KINDS of people! I think this low exposure is why people in small towns have misconceptions about certain religions, or underrepresented races... gay and lesbian people (as other that Daffyd, very few people want to be the ONLY gay in the village, so they move away). Cities expose us to more people who 'aren't like us' and open our minds that ALL people are people... but we STILL could use some practice interacting.


Now for the APPLICATION...

Want a rationale for why your character gets along better or worse with some group? Need a rationale for a tic or a quirk... a set of misconceptions? Give them a history! A lack of experience or a bad experience can lead to a whole mess of faulty attributions. This is especially true where there is an unfamiliar GROUP and a character's OWN group talks about them in certain prejudicial ways. But for something as simple as “can she talk to boys?” this is a great way to set up a realistic route of ineptitude.

If a character acts a certain way... has certain social skills or LACKS them, this is one of the many options for explaining and expanding on that... for REALLY getting your characters.


As for REAL Life...

Get to know people from as many walks of life as possible. The faulty attributions are only useful if you KNOW what is faulty attribution and what is real. Cultural differences really exist. So do stereotypes. Learning the difference is how you can keep from walking the wrong side of that line.

So there you have it... Advice a la Tart....

23 comments:

Talli Roland said...

Hehe, love that pic of Dafydd! :)

Great advice, Hart. I really think that characters need justifiction for the way they act and history is a great way of doing it!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great point! It's good to educate ourselves on cultural differences by making new friends and venturing out beyond our usual stomping ground...and great to give characters some believability and history is a good way of doing that!

Jan Morrison said...

Great post there kiddo! I do think that we soften when we find out why someone is the way they are - comes in handy to think this way as a therapist - and that our readers will do likewise. Even great evil used to be a little boy or girl who wanted love.
Jan Morrison

Will Burke said...

ABSO-FREAKIN'-LUTELY!!! I have a total affectionate curiosity about others, especiallt homosexuals and East-Indians/Middle-Easterners. With a little time and a lot of respect (and sometimes, apple-tini's), they're quite comfortable talking about their cultures, and that's just interesting conversation!

Boonie S said...

"Cultural differences really exist. So do stereotypes" - totally politically incorrect and absolutely true. I enjoyed this post a lot. You expressed in words what I already knew but didn't know that I knew. Thanks.

Loved the How to get a Boyfriend thingie. Again, absolutely true - although it should be noted that item 3 works on its own; the other two don't.

Have a nice day, Boonie

Jennee said...

Great post. I never really had trouble finding Boy Friends (because my awesomeness and comfort around boys) I have a problem with finding boyfriends because I grew up learning how to make friends with boys...that's all I know how to do anymore. :)

Hart Johnson said...

Thanks so much everyone!

Jan-that 'works for therapy' thing might be why some of this seems a little intuitive to me, too--my Psych background has always driven me to want to know what makes people tic--characters in particular, and I find books that don't give us a clue far less satisfying.

Will-you're brave if you just dive in there and talk to people! I tend to try to immerse myself and just listen. Talking is hard!

Bonnie *snort* I will keep that #3 in mind, should I go looking for a boyfriend (hubby usually grumbles when I suggest it though)

Dawn said...

Boys are people? Hmmm. I had no idea :-)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

My characters fell into both categories - those who got along with the opposite sex and those who were clueless.
I was an only child and my father died when I was eleven - however, I had no trouble talking to and befriending boys. In truth, I got along better with boys than girls.

Stephen Tremp said...

Wow! Dating sure has come a long way since I was single. But hey, if I had to do it all over again, I could wear slutty clothes, laugh at her jokes, and put out on the first date.

Stephen Tremp

Hart Johnson said...

Jennee--I think you and I cross-posted--I think the boy friends only would have been far better--the other way led me into all sorts of trouble!

Dawn-EXACTLY!

L.Diane--WEIRD! I was an only child and my dad died at 10... That and our Oregon connection is all just a lot of coincidence, eh?

Stephen *snort* I think you and most men are on board there!

LTM said...

sheer awesome brilliance in a post... LOVE it and those pix had me LOLing... :D

I sometimes worry about my daughters not having a brother b/c it's so true that exposure to *others* helps you understand them better.

love this~ :o) <3

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

Great advice, would have been better if I read it before my lastest WIP. LOL I underdevelopment the MCs past (in my head) which lead to problems in the plot. So, there has been a lot of rewriting.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know I didn't do well with the opposite sex in school. I'd like to say I figured it out by college, but I really didn't have a clue until I met my wife.

RaShelle said...

Hey Hart - This is great. And it's perfect to apply this to our characters because it makes them become real to the reader. Nice!
Oh, and do we really ever get boys? Or do we just throw our hands up with the one we've got and say, "Love ya, babe! Now take back the 2% and get 1% milk." LOL

Hart Johnson said...

Leigh--an active dad I think is a pretty darned good protection, so I think your girls will be fine!

Holly-teehee--Isn't that the way... the advice we need... after the fact.

Alex-probably worked out for the best... your wife probably wouldn't have wanted tons of competition ;-)

RaShelle-there is definitely something TO that. I married one with fairly strong feminine influence (he was right with my on the skim milk and whole grain bread) but yeah... the friendship tactics often totally miss.

Helena said...

You are so psychic! I was just thinking last night about how I wish I knew a lot more people and different kinds of people. I really miss not having a local pub/hangout where pals and locals meet up and hang out all evening.

I grew up in a female setting despite a good Dad, and my it didn't help that my brother was so much younger. Yet only in the last few years have I realized that I now get along better with more men than women 'cause I'm not very domestic and I love adventurous stuff. You're right -- who we know really affects the fictional characters we create.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Interesting thoughts, Hart...even if I do write misleading tripe. LOL!

Never really thought about why my character reacts to certain people, but I will now. Love the way you turned it into a writing appliction...I'm always trying to keep learning.

Edge of Your Seat Romance

Hart Johnson said...

hELENA- Yes, I've been mind-reading! It DOES help to have a local place to people watch assorted folks, eh? And I'm not terribly domestic either... seems at the neighborhood picnics I end up talking microbrew to men... the women are stay-at-home moms, something I never aspired to.

Raquel-You write romantic SUSPENSE and I can tolerate romance if it's not the only thing going on (and so long as the characters are at least a little 3 dimensional... and not too attractive--attractive people bug me... *shifty*

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

What a fun way to offer advice for our characters and ourselves!) My protagonists always seem to be socially inept – now I wonder what that says about me…

Cheeseboy said...

Sounds like you were about as good with boyfriends as I was with girlfriends.

Funny, now that I have been through my 20's and have learned what a moron I was then and as a teenager, I think if I could relive my life, I would be a much better boy friend AND boyfriend.

Lisa said...

I grew up in a very small town. Your advice is right on. I can see among my childhood friends who have been out to see a bit of the world and who have stayed insulated.

Old Kitty said...

It's so weird because at work these days I get on more with the men than I do the women whereas I wished I was in an all girls' school when I was in my secondary school because the boys there (apart from a very very standout few) were horrid! LOL!

I love your writing advice -thank you!
Take care
x