Saturday, January 23, 2010

Incomprehensible Characters

One of the two main characters of the novel I'm working on is a movie buff. Not just any kind of movie buff - she's a fangirl. She's a movie geek. Part of the problem with geeks is that they talk about things that nobody knows what the heck they mean. It doesn't matter if it's Chaos Theory, who Ruth Hussey was.

Ruth Hussey, for those who don't know, is the actress who played the sassy and long suffering photographer who was patiently in love with Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, among other things. She had that wonderful dry delivery, kind of like Eve Arden....

Which raises the question; does the reader even know who Eve Arden was?

And does it matter?

It depends. Geeks can be funny and even charming, and when they explain something incomprehensible by comparing it to something even more incomprehensible, it reveals a lot of their obsessions and their character.

But geeks are also full of pitfalls. To write a geek, you have to know as much as they do. And if you know what all that means, you can't always tell how incomprehensible you are being. You can't tell if you're being tiresome. You may not know if you are over or under explaining. (And your audience is likely to have differing levels of knowledge of the trivia involved.)

To complicate this further, you have the fact that mysterious statements are kind of fun in a mystery. Whether it's Sherlock Holmes mentioning the dog in "Silver Blaze"....

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

...Or when Miss Marple looks down at the murdered body of a young girl, and says something about how it reminds her of a frog jumping out. She explains much later that where the body was left reminded her of a childish prank, and that it was not perhaps as relevant to the murder as one might think. (Miss Marple is kind of a geek of village life - and thus human psychology.)

Miss Marple, of course, comes across as a ditz, but for those in the know (the readers) the fact that the other characters dismiss what she says as nonsense just raises the anticipation. In some ways it is more attractive than Holmes, because Miss Marple isn't trying to mystify. She's just thinking aloud.

Karla is geekier than Miss Marple. I think of her as more like Pamela North (of the Mr. and Mrs. North books by Frances and Richard Lockridge) who is definitely a ditz, but a smart one who thinks much much faster than she talks, and assumes that those listening are as smart as she is. (Ironically leaving people believing she is dumb.) Nearly everything she says therefore, comes out backwards. Which could get tiring in a full protagonist, but it's fine in the comic relief.

So Karla will need to fall somewhere short of Pam North. But, I think that's for later drafts.

In the meantime, since I've been posting silly Animaniacs videos from YouTube, here is one with Yakko being a geek as he sings a song naming all the Nations of the World.

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