The power of a storyteller is to ask why. Digging deeper into a moment, a subject, and drawing out the essence buried within. A fellow writer told me he instructed his daughters never to accept “because I said so” as an answer. He wanted them to demand more, demand to know why.
As a thespian I am familiar with fleshing out a character, all the nuances of behavior and psychology that influence them. Building my own back-stories for why they are who they are, why they do what they do. Inevitably bits of me infuse into each one making them believable.
But wordsmiths go even further. From the “why?” they imagine the “What if?” The answers to the questions begin to weave pictures in our minds that turn into scenes and full blown tales. Plot, sub-text, climax and dialogue spring forth and come to life as our very own Frankensteins.
As a girl I used to love to go to the mall. Not for the same reasons I suspect as my girlfriends (boys and shopping). I had loftier goals. But one day what had begun as an acting exercise turned into a life lesson. A girlfriend and I were sitting on the bench. We had abandoned our French exchange student personas; this time pretending to sign to one another. Desperately trying to hash out a few symbols, letters and phrases with our unadapt fingers. I kept the corner of my eye peeled on passersby watching their expressions, pity and interest, absorbing the nuances of emotion.
Suddenly a little girl stood before me, 4yrs old at most, hands rapidly inflecting. The look on her face, one of sheer joy, like light had just warmed her after months inside a cold cave alone. She wanted to talk. She felt understood, perhaps seen .There outside the food court she hoped to make a kindred connection.
But I was just playing a character. I wasn’t deaf. Looking upon that little face my heart broke in a single breath. Her mother generously rescued me and helped bridge the communication gap. I think we both walked away a little happier from the exchange. At least I hope so because that day was a game changer for me. I never again pretended to be something I’m not in public. I kept acting where it belonged, in class or on stage.
But I still loved to sit, observe, and study people. So instead I began pondering their stories-more than simply who, what, where, why, how, or what if even. I wanted to delve deeper than the five senses. Weave together everyday life, experiences, aspirations, uncertainties, hopes and needs.
The answers to why he’s angry? Why she looked away when he spoke? Why they’re sitting next to one another in silence? Is the couple sharing coffee on a first date? Or have they known each other for years. What’s in their future? Who’s the man on cell phone talking to? What does the little boy hope to be when he grows up? Why? What if he never makes it? Is there a plan B? What would happen if someone gave the homeless man outside $30,000? Would it change anything? Would it help? What if the money had been stolen? What would he do?
I sought to develop my voice and vocation. (Both derive from the Latin word vocare meaning “to call, or invoke”.) I wanted to uncover the mystery and watch it emerge with its own unique fingerprint, the why of an artist’s passions. I aspired to flesh out the hurts, the aches, the yearnings- the dirty, ragged, rough edges and sharp corners of the mind. The fault lines carved upon a face.
Thus began a long path of self-discovery, imaginings and story building. I began to draw the lines that connected the dots and gave me a glimpse inside people. Wrecking ball relationships turned demolition zones of a soul. Navigating the landmines of psyches for the beautiful nuggets buried inside flawed humanity. The truths of expression bringing forth intimate heart connections.
Character mining I call it.