Monday, March 7, 2011

Meeting Ping

I mentioned earlier that I don't make lists of details about my characters, I try to engage them in conversation. Maybe talking about my process will help somebody, so I'm willing to give it a try. Let me know what you think!

A little background: there's a writing contest up in the horror group at Absolute Write. A vague idea came to me. One of my stable of well-known characters is a good fit for the lead. The location fell into place pretty quickly: a small homestead on one of Jupiter's tiny moons, where my MC visited and was invited back. Let's say she did go back and settle down, at some point.

There'll be other homesteaders involved too. The most obvious choices, given the situation, are Li Ping and Jeri (she has a last name but I can't remember it off the top of my head). I've met both of these characters briefly, but I don't know them very well.

Basic sketch time. Ping is of Chinese descent, and in this homestead he's the IT/communications/electronics engineer who was there before my MC arrived. It's a small place, so it was just the one of him running all that and he wanted some help so he was the one who wanted the MC invited back. He's something of a workaholic and is "still" a bachelor, according to how his father introduced him. Not clear on how old he is, though.

First question is: what kind of person does this kind of thing?

Engineers need to be analytical, pay attention to detail, be a bit obsessive and perfectionist, have a good head for math. People who live on remote homesteads need to be fit socially with their group, a bit of a homebody, flexible in skills and emotions, know how to choose their battles, willing to work hard and quickly, be able to figure out what's wrong and how to fix and/or jury-rig it. Right off the bat, I see tension between "a bit obsessive and perfectionist" and "emotionally flexible".  Which is fine. There are also some positive overlaps, between "analytical" and "figure out what's wrong". Let's keep going.

Next question: what can I bring to the table?

I've got some experience with engineering types. Friendships, dating back in college. I may not be nerdy or analytical enough to do it myself, but I've got a dose of that in my personality. So that's a bit of myself that I can tap. I know how to be nerdy, a little obsessive, and analytical.

As far as the homesteading skills go, I am completely down with the hermits. Not what you'd call high strung. Accommodating. So Ping's going to get some of that, too. He's probably more of a perfectionist than me, though how one applies perfectionism can be... inconsistent. As anybody who's seen my house can attest to.

Next question: how is this character not like me?

1. Male. 2. Chinese. 3. Fit in his group? I'm not so good at fitting into groups. I'm generally found around the fringes.

And the rest of his personality is open to being Not Like Me, of course. What's 'the rest of his personality', you may ask? Things like self-confidence, self-discipline, curiosity, resistance to change, violence threshold, balance of utilitarianism vs. hedonism, whimsy. Etc.

Next question: Any homework I need to do?

We'll see. I'm not an expert on Chinese culture, so it may become necessary to learn enough to hypothesize about Chinese life on a small asteroid with plenty of exposure to Russians and Americans, plus an internet that's far bigger than what we have now.

So what do I have to start with?

A nerdy, workaholic engineer who probably wishes things were better on the little moon. Gets along well enough with his family and the rest of the homesteaders, though there are the usual pressures from his family ("still" a bachelor, yeah, like it's easy to meet women out here) and the limited privacy of small, isolated communities. He's got the whole communications platform to use to surf the internet out there, when he can get a connection.

That's plenty for the third-tier character that Ping used to be. If he's moving up to second or co-MC, he'll need to develop more.

So I asked Ping what he thought of what's going on in Libya.

Worried about family, safety, the danger. I suspect that's coming from what I know about Chinese culture. Not so concerned about rebelling against a dictator, the freedom aspects. It's a vague answer, but he's a vague character. This fits with what I know so far -- thinking defensively -- so I make a note of it.

I started writing this on Friday and put it aside to debate whether I wanted to post this or not. Today, while driving into work, I gave Ping another poke. Called him up in my mind and literally stuck a microphone in his face and asked what he thought about Libya. Being a rude reporter type. Got a dirty look and something insulting in Chinese. So he's not quiet enough to keep his mouth shut about annoyances, but not confrontational enough to be direct -- in English. Make a note.

So let's see how this goes. I'm curious to see if anyone's willing to talk about how they develop characters. I'm sure we are all different.

I'll try to post updates. And post a "Meet Jeri" -- she's very different.

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