Saturday, August 12, 2006

Treating People Like Human Beings


My husband is to blame for this article.

Let me give you some insight. Fred is a bus driver in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. On any given day he deals with literally hundreds of people; loud mouthed drunks, demanding customers who become irate when the bus doesn’t serve as their personal taxi, along with the ones who try with all their cunning to avoid paying the $1.50 fare. He daily puts up with discourteous drivers around him on the road, the most regular being the “cut off and flip off”, usually used by sports car owners who think that a 40-foot bus should be perfectly able to stop on a dime.

After a particularly hard day at work last week, he disgustedly said to me:

“You should write about treating people like human beings!”

At first I dismissed it because it wasn’t about writing, but the longer I thought about it the more I realized it most certainly does pertain.

Riding the bus is a unique experience, and if you have the chance to spend an afternoon people watching, this is the best place to do it. Watch how people react to and interact with the driver. You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat those in the service industry.

Which brings me to the real point: treating your characters like human beings.

All human beings, unless they’re gurus tucked away on a mountaintop, have to interact with other people. It is such a common occurrence that we scarcely take notice of it, but it is an ingrained part of who we are.

As such, it should also be an ingrained part of your characters.

For instance, after a delicious dinner in a fancy restaurant, your hero and his lovely assistant decide that it’s time to go. He calls out “Check please!” Then what? How does he treat the waiter that brings the check? He could be very pleasant, or he could take the opportunity to grouse loudly about every item on the menu and how poor the service was. We will never meet that waiter again in this book or any other, but how does the interaction with your hero leave him feeling?

And what does this seemingly unimportant interlude tell your readers about your character?

If your hero had to take the bus, and ended up on my husband’s route, what would I hear about him when Fred got home that night? Would I like him, or think he was a rude, undignified idiot?

On the flip side—how are your characters affected by the people they interact with? Was your hero’s evening ruined because the waiter was an annoying so-and-so? Or did it go so well, with the waiters attentive service, that his lovely assistant agreed to marry your hero right there in the restaurant?

Now, I don’t expect anyone to go into raptures about the waiter at the restaurant when what we really need to know is Joe proposed, and Mary accepted, and it was all very romantic. But somewhere in-between the lines, I would like to imagine that the very nice waiter went home and told his sweet wife all about this lovely couple that came into the restaurant that evening, got engaged, were very happy when they left, and made his own night very pleasant indeed. Those unspoken depths are what make the story full and satisfying.

Oh, and one more thing…

Did your hero leave a tip?

1 comment:

Keith Fisher said...

Very good point Wendy. And the article speaks to the point of remembering the details. going form point a to point b and filling in the motives in between and showing the details that reveal a character. thanks for the help.