Dec 12, 2014

Inheriting Characteristics

While sitting at a stop light a few days ago, I had my elbow resting on the console, opening and closing my very sore and tired right hand. It is something that has become nearly automatic as my focus has been directed toward regaining as much mobility as quickly as possible. As I was sitting there, opening and closing, another image came to mind, one of my dad.

My dad is quite possibly the hardest working person I know. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, he taught school, coached a myriad of sports and ran a construction company. He often, mindlessly, opened and closed his right hand as well, trying to loosen the soreness that gathered during the manual labor that was building a residence for someone.

Photo credit Wayne Decker (featuring his hands)
At the same time, he has a quality of compassion, a gentleness even that often had him performing these body breaking tasks for people at severely discounted prices in order to provide assistance. While camping and fishing, he happened to take a picture that reflects this clearly.

I started thinking about tendencies that we pick up without realizing we do. I mirror my dad in many ways often, my husband inherited his mother's ability to carry on a conversation with anyone. I see glimpses of stubbornness in my son and daughters which I know they picked up from me, though none of them have it manifest in quite the same way.

Fitting that they are stubbornly unique in their stubbornness.

As much as we would like to proclaim ourselves individuals, unique entities that roam through this world with a plan of our very own, we can never separate ourselves from being the people who came before us.

Chances are decent, if you take a step back and think about it, you too have mannerisms like certain family members. Their presence may surprised you at times as well.

But if we have this, wouldn't it make sense that characters should as well. This isn't the sort of thing that needs to be told to the reader necessarily, but something that should be woven in, something that makes the character have depth by tying them in to the lives that were lived before and with. It may manifest as mine did, in a subconscious movement, or it could be a saying that has latched on to the deepest regions of a character's mind that only shows when all efforts to restrain are forfeited.

We hear all the time that our characters need to be real. I'm of the firm opinion that realness comes from giving them history, and what better history is there to draw from than their own familial tendencies.

What mannerisms and nuances have you inherited? Which characters have you loved that have a strong familial thread woven into their character tapestry? 


Andrew Leon said...

I agree, but...

So many stories don't feature other family members to any kind of extent that would allow that to come through.

I've been doing a series on character personalities that deals with making characters more real.

As an aside, there is some evidence to suggest that people come with a limited number of templates so that we are not as individual as we like to think we are.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

My oldest son inherited my difficulty with standing still and like me he seldom does one thing at a time.
Love hearing about your dad and makes me a little sad for mine now long gone. He too was so hard-working and had the rough hands with crooked fingers to prove it.

JeffO said...

Really good point, Tasha. Some years ago I was visiting my parents and I realized I sit on the couch exactly the way my dad did. It was a funny little moment of realization.