Saturday, May 16, 2009

Order of Awareness, The

order of awareness, the--impressions received by a character upon entering a scene; sensual priority list of a character in a dramatic situation.

Depending on the age, gender, social rank, and purposeful agenda of a given character, that person will tend to notice conditions, surroundings, and individual traits in a ranking related to the type of story being told. A member of Gang X, for instance, on discovering he is out of his turf, is going to be particularly watchful for males who are potential members or allies of Gang Y; a racially prejudiced white male might find himself looking for possible escape routes when he notices an approaching group of young blacks on the same side of a narrow street. A young man out on the prowl for meeting women will, upon entering a bistro or neighborhood tavern, will be struck by the presence of nubile females. A group of women friends, out for dinner and a movie, will be likely to note the bothersome presence of a group of predatory males.

Men or women, already located in a setting, will probably classify newcomers in terms of their gender, height, and clothing, but not necessarily in that order. Knowing your characters will make it easy to have a director's feel for what they notice and when they notice it. Some men, for instance, note the sexual viability of every woman who enters the place, age being a third- or fourth-place factor in that calculus, behind body type, height, and hair color. Women are more likely to note the posture, height, and dress of a new male addition to a room.

What are your characters going to notice first when they enter a room? Decor? Airiness? Number of persons present? Their height? Perhaps their age. How do your characters enter scenes? What are they looking for? What qualities or presences set them ill at ease? How do these responses help define who the character is?

Hint: A character's individual reaction to persons, places, and things speaks directly to who they are and how the reader may expect them to behave. Added hint: an endangered character is more likely to focus directly on the immediate source of danger rather than what tune is playing in the background or what two other characters in the background are arguing about.

Characters are in a sense like the Hubbel Telescope, sent out to gather images of events. Understanding the psychology of each character along with his or her strong and weak points of observation helps to render them as individuals rather than types, and we know what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about characters and types (opening paragraphs of "The Rich Boy.")

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