This week I had a chance to get together with the writers group. It’s been a while since we gathered, so I was curious as to what progress everyone had made on their individual efforts. It’s a diverse group with a lot of talent. As the Alpha Dog, it’s my role to find any articles on relevant topics and share them, along with offering words of encouragement and constructive criticism to their work. Sometimes I’ll even create an assignment, a type of challenge that they can use to help sharpen their writing skills.
Since it’s been a while, I put together an assignment about attitude. It’s important for your characters to have realistic attitudes. Some can be meek and mild, but depending on the circumstances that they find themselves in, they may exhibit sudden bouts of bravery. Just like real people. So I wrote this out and included a little bit of dialog between two characters. One was sweet and innocent. The other was tinged with frustration and anger. After I read this to the group, one person was slowly shaking her head in disgust.
“How do you do that? Where did you learn to capture those moods?”
“Observation,” I said. “You’ve got to pay attention whenever you’re out with other people.”
I went on to explain. At times I’ll be in a restaurant and while waiting for my food, I’ll watch everyone. You learn to read body language. Are the two people at that booth sitting close together and locked in conversation? Or are they leaning back, each lost in their own thoughts. What are their expressions like? Do they appear happy or tense? Are they impatient? Are they enjoying their food or just moving it along the plate? These are all signs. It’s up to the observer to interpret them.
“There are other methods. But this is what works for me. I’ll watch people and then incorporate that into the characters for my stories.”
“You make it sound easy,” she said.
I shrugged. “It’s just that easy. But it’s taken years of practice to get it right.”
Here’s an example of attitude from “Devious” the first Jamie Richmond mystery.
"What the hell took you guys so long?" I shouted as they rushed to us. The paramedics rudely pushed me aside and bent over Smitty. I was about to kick one guy squarely in the ass when someone grabbed me from behind and lifted me off the ground. I was carried back to Smitty's car, struggling all the way. Finally, they sat me down on the hood. My eyes focused and I recognized Sergeant Malone.
"Relax, Jamie. Let the paramedics do their job."
I was exasperated. How could he be so calm when one of his own men lay there wounded? "He could be dead by now, Malone. He's been lying there bleeding for over an hour."
"It hasn't been an hour. It's only been three minutes." Malone tried to smile but it never reached his eyes.
"Three minutes. Your call came in two minutes after Smitty radioed in his position. His report was logged in at ten-fourteen. Your call was at ten-sixteen. It's now ten-nineteen."
"Three minutes?" I repeated.
"That's all, Jamie." Malone pointed over my shoulder to the ambulance. They were already loading Smitty into the back of the wagon. One of the medics waved at Malone, flashing a thumbs up signal. Malone returned the gesture.
"He's not going to die. Smitty's damn lucky you were riding with him tonight. Help might not have gotten here so quickly if it weren't for you." We watched the ambulance race away, sirens wailing. The hospital was two miles up the road.
"It all happened so fast."
Here's a link to an older post you might enjoy.