Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Man Beneath The Skin

A recent trip to the auto shop revealed an interesting aspect of the man I trust with my car. (Okay—the guy I mostly trust—or at least sometimes trust.) Chuck [not his real name] is a gentle giant. Always calm; very personable. He’s worked on my car for years, but I only know him at the surface level. The real question is who is the man beneath the skin?

Chuck’s C-5 Corvette offers some interesting insight into his character. Understandably, his windshield bears the dragon icon from his business, but then the car’s nose bears enough skulls to rival Notre Dame’s catacombs. And the skulls don’t stop there. Somehow they managed to sneak into the engine compartment, reproduce on the back side of the hood, and then migrate to some of the engine parts of this mega-charged 8000 horsepower machine. (Okay—perhaps 8000 is a slight exaggeration, but it’s still a big honkin’ engine.) Did I mention that there are more skulls on the back bumper? Hmmm—this guy’s spooky.

Seeing Chuck’s car creates a paradox about the man who drives this monster machine. Who is he really—a gentle giant or an ax murderer? Honestly, I’m not sure how I would define Chuck’s character if I had to testify about him in court. But that’s the beauty of it. Chuck doesn’t fall into the status quo.

In my younger days, I was on the receiving end of this paradox by outfitting myself in black leather and driving a motorcycle. On longer drives, I’d also wear my revolver to help ward off tailgaters. The problem came when I removed my helmet because my hair was short and I was polite, just like Chuck. So, in some people’s minds, both Chuck and I were, or at least could be, ax murderers. The reality is write about murder, and Chuck paints skulls on his car. (At least I think that’s all there is to it.)

Good writing incorporates characters like Chuck. They keep us guessing as to “who-done-it.” In fiction, Chuck could become the character that snaps and starts shooting from the bell tower or murders his family; a character from everyday life—someone we can relate to. So, the next time you’re out and about, think about what you really know about the people you trust, let your mind wander a bit, and see what kind of scenarios you come up with. When you approach writing this way, it’s never a struggle to find interesting characters.

2 comments:

Beth Terrell said...

Great post, Mark. It makes me want to go out people-watching!

Mark W. Danielson said...

There's a lot to be said for people watching. Doing so also brings attention to the setting, the lighting, the background noise. It's only natural that some aspects of these observations eventually become incorporated in our stories.