Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fuzzy Purple Gorilla


If you're a writer, you've probably been told "show, don't tell" at least once. And probably a lot more than once. As tempting as it is to lay it out for our readers up front, it makes for a better story if we show them that a character has a certain personality trait through their actions, instead of through our words.

Isn't that how we find out who people are in the real world? Think about politicians, for example. They all claim to be upfront, honest, and "for the people", but their actions often paint a very different picture.

Our first impressions are also often deceiving. Twice this year I thought a person didn't like me, only to find out later that she was just shy and reserved. And yesterday, I received even more evidence that our first impressions of people are often wrong.

A woman got on my crowded bus, and made her way to the back. She was well-dressed and very polished, with a short, fashionable haircut. She appeared stern and very serious, and looked for all the world like a business woman who had no sense of humour. But then I saw her purse.

Hanging from her bag was a little fuzzy purple gorilla. It wasn't garish--in fact, if you weren't looking for it, you probably wouldn't know it was there. I only saw it because I was sitting while she was standing, so the fuzzy primate was at my eye-level. But a woman who has something like that hanging from her purse definitely has a sense of humour. This one little embellishment completely changed my impression of who this woman was.

And that got me thinking about the characters we create. Is there a fuzzy purple gorilla equivalent we could use to make our own characters come to life? To speak volumes with one small detail? What details have you used to make a character seem real?

I'm interested in your thoughts. All comments welcome!

6 comments:

  1. What an excellent post, and a very good observation! A purple gorilla - we all need one even if sometimes they are very small or if they are large and fuzzy! Nicely done Holli. I've often found that first impressions do not meet up with what you can learn later from a person, although instinct about someone can, indeed be quite correct if you heed it.

    I think with my characters in my book they all have little things (a pick up truck, nickname or something else) that make them 'who' they are with some more depth than just my description.

    Love this post, glad to see you blogging more again!

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  2. Thanks, MM. I'm glad you liked it. It was just such an epiphany for me that I had to share. She was the *last* woman I could imagine having a fuzzy purple gorilla on her purse, and yet she did. There's so many stories just from that: who gave it to her? What does she think of it? Do her colleagues ever comment on it?

    I am going to try to get back to my regular (Mon-Fri) blogging schedule in the New Year, as I also return to my novel. The lack of response does get me down, as did that one nasty commentor. I know, I know--I shouldn't care, but it did get to me.

    Thanks for your comments!

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  3. I had a really down time with my writing, felt like I dropped the bucket in the well and came up dry. Have slowly gotten back into it. It can be hard, especially when you have snipes. It is good to have encouragers, they sure make it worthwhile to keep writing.

    I have to get going on picking poems for m second poetry book and get that novel done for some readers to check out. Thanks for always encouraging me!

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  4. No problem, MM. You give it back in spades.

    My issue has never been a problem with thinking of stuff to write about for the blog, but rather wondering if it is the best way to spend some of my writing time.

    Glad to hear your dry spell is over. Never give up!

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  5. Great analogy! I think everybody has a fuzzy purple gorilla -whether they want the world to know it or not. And yes, as a reader, I would rather spot the fuzzy purple gorilla myself than be beat by one.

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  6. Thanks for the kind words, Lynette. Discovery is part of the adventure of reading. It's no fun at all when the author takes that away from you.

    We all need a little more fuzzy purple gorilla!

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