Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Character Beneath the Surface

By Mark W. Danielson

This is a photo of the man I trust with my car. Okay—he’s the guy I mostly trust—or at least sometimes trust. Chuck [not his real name] is barely recognizable in this photo because he hasn’t shaved in a while, but I assure you that he’s a gentle giant. Always calm, very personable, patiently waits for his meals to be served . . . Chuck has worked on my car for years, and yet I only know him on the surface level. Still, based upon some other aspects, I’m convinced that he’s a real animal once he’s away from work.

You see, Chuck’s C-5 Corvette offers an interesting insight into his character. Understandably, his car's windshield bears the dragon icon from his business, but its 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 his mega-charged 8000 horsepower machine. Well, perhaps 8000 is a slight exaggeration, but it’s still a big honkin’ engine with an honest 1000 ponies.) Did I mention that there are more skulls on the back bumper? Hmmm—this guy is spooky.

Seeing Chuck’s car generates a paradox about the man who drives this monster machine. Who is he really—a gentle giant, a black bear, 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 found myself 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 .38 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 to some people, Chuck and I were both ax murderers—or at least could be. Ironically, I write about murder, and as far as I know, Chuck just likes skulls on his car.

Good fiction incorporates characters like Chuck because they’ll keep us guessing all the way through the story. It’s quite possible that Chuck’s character may snap and start shooting from the bell tower, or perhaps he murders his family, yet at the same time, he’s a guy from everyday life that we can all relate to. Who knows? Chuck may just turn out to be the hero of the story; a total fake-out from beginning to end. So, the next time you’re out and about thinking about character development, consider all of the people around you. Let your mind wander a bit, and see what kind of scenarios you come up with that involve the little old lady that’s crossing the street, the beggars, the punks, or the soccer mom that fumbles with the keys to her Escalade with seven kids waiting to board. Everything imaginable is directly in front of you. All you have to do is open your eyes.


Jean Henry Mead said...

LOL, Mark. How true! I know someone like Chuck.

Beth Terrell said...

I want to read that book where Chuck turns out to be the not-so-hapless hero:)

Mark W. Danielson said...

You know, Beth, there probably is a story in there somewhere, and if I wasn't so committed to Maxx Watts, I'd probably give it a go with "Chuck":) Feel free:)