Thursday, February 08, 2007

Under the Skin

I mentioned yesterday that I am in class myself this week. The class is for a certification for HUD properties, basically it will certify that I am knowledgable enough to train affordable and tax credit software. The text is dry - to say the least. After all, it IS government issue. And if you've ever had the pleasure of reading the Uniform Tax Code, this is only slightly better.

So we were covering the issues of people with disabilities - what you can ask, what you can't ask, what accomodations you have to make, etc. and the instructor was trying to make a point about how you can't assume someone has a disability because you can see it because the disabled classification is still the choice of the individual. On the other hand, someone might have a documented disability that isn't visible to the eye. So essentially, you run into a big problem with "assume." Nothing new there, right.

But something was said that tickled me at first then got me to thinking about characterization. The instructor, in making her point about visible disabilities, asked the class "can you tell what my disability is?" There was silence for a moment as we all studied her, trying to figure out what it could possibly be then one student shouted out "you're blonde."

Now, even though I'm a blonde, that's still pretty darn funny. And it got me to thinking about how most of our characterization in our books is stuff that's below the skin. Heck, hair color doesn't usually matter to a plot line but the characters emotions, thoughts, fears, etc. are everything to a story.

Obviously, no lawsuit will be filed and no government agency will slap you on the wrist for questioning your characters about their "disabilities" be it emotional or otherwise. So dig deep - look far, far below the surface and think about your hero and heroine. Who are they today and more importantly, what happened the past 20, 30 40 years to get them to this point. You don't have to write it all in your story, but you darn sure need to know. Hey, your heroine may be as sexy as Angelina Jolie and your hero may be built like a Greek God, but in the end, that shallow character description will never carry the story - a nice romp in the hay, perhaps - but not a book. :)


Kimber An said...

Beautifully stated, Jana. Characters have to feel real. In real life, very few of us look like Angelina and I bet even she has to wear a wonderbra now that she's been pregnant.

Tori Lennox said...

someone might have a documented disability that isn't visible to the eye.

I get caught in this tangle a lot more than I'd like. People are always telling me, "You don't LOOK sick." I always want to reply they should try living in my body for a week. I'd gladly trade with them just for a break. *g*

Kelly Parra said...

So what was the instructor's disability?? haha!

Yes, very well put, Jana! Building depth to your characters will only make them more unique and memorable. =D

Jana DeLeon said...

lol kimber - I bet she had a lift. :)

tori - you make a very good point. Some physical illness is not visible and mental illness rarely is unless they're on a bend.

kelly - actually, she didn't have one. :) She was just making a point. But apparently she has a disabled son and you can't tell so I guess she knows this one from experience.

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