Sunday, June 30, 2013

Art Imitates Life: Character Descriptions

Sometimes, if I'm with a group of people for an extended period of time, I like to start writing a character description for them. I try to get very specific details, while also keeping it ambiguous enough that when I pick it up later, I don't write that exact person into it, but I get a close approximation that more freely allows me to bend the character to my will. If I write a character too closely resembling someone in real life, I am hesitant to deviate from who that person is, how they think, and what they feel. They begin to dictate the story I write, rather than me being the final storyteller.

Two years in a row, I taught NCT's comedy camp with camp director Mike. For 10 days in the summer, we met with kids, aged 12-16 as they were taught improv and sketch comedy. They end up being rather fun, but it is also a rather funny, and often frustrating age. That range may seem close together, mathematically, but emotionally and psychologically, they are worlds apart. And it's not just necessarily girls and boys, the whole maturity thing, 12 is vastly different from 16, personalities are fully formed for some of them, while others are still coming out of their shells or have yet to break out.

It's an interesting group dynamic to observe.

Anyway, in occasional downtimes, I started writing little descriptions of the campers, just to remember them for later.

Ben is a gangly, awkward presence, who is busy not paying attention.
He pays so little attention in fact, that he has yet to realize he's gay.

Jacob really revs up that stereotype of a "neurotic Jew."
Every event, every decision, every word, every thought, is in a complete state of panic.

Liam is a chess player, one step ahead of everyone, but so afraid of the edge he walks, that he hides in a fog of idiocy.

Ross is nobody's friend.
And by that, I mean, many people don't like him, but no one really understands why.
For the most part, he creates his own context.

Kira has an unrealistically strong grasp on reality.
She clings to it like so many children grasp blankies.
The jokes made around her must be set in this reality or she fails to see any humor in them.

Remy is a natural-born leader, people are drawn to him.
But he is constantly smiling like he knows something all the rest of us don't.

Aaron is anti-social, hyper-realistic, angry, neglected.
Every interaction is a confrontation, every reaction is a strong defense to a fabricated attack on him.
Everyone is constantly afraid of "The Snap."

Nate and Noah, two brothers, obviously dragged here, sit together and get along, despite the age difference that suggests they shouldn't be like this.
They sit back and observe.
From these two quiet minds come the truths and insights of a generation.

Addison is well-mannered, quiet, well-behaved, perhaps a little repressed.
He laughs a little at the jokes he shouldn't know, and makes references only the adults understand.

Owen is an old man.
His mind operates at the speed of his mouth: deliberate.
He likes explaining everything to kids his age, mostly as complaints.
He remembers simpler times that he did not himself witness: primitive objects and closer families.
His physical and mental shortcomings are that of the elderly.
He is twelve.

Sam is an enigma.
He knows things he shouldn't, like how to make cocaine.
His immaturity and lack of interaction with other kids means his definition and reference for humor is dictated, solely, badly, by the internet.
People's lack of understanding for his world frustrates him only momentarily, before he returns entirely to it.
He does not understand simple concepts, like that people have names.
Here, in one individual, does the line between social disorder and demonic possession run thin.