August 12th, 2005

elongate politburo messianic strife

Characterization in boxes

Having just tapped out the following three paragraphs:
Jay grunted as he lifted the ancient computer shell from its longtime home in the closet. He turned and dropped it on the pile of boxes he'd already excavated -- winter clothes he'd never unpacked in the mild Silicon Valley climate, old paperwork he'd probably never take the time to sift through, bagged and boarded furry comics, intimidating tangles of half-dead computer mice and printer cables.

There it was, right at the bottom: The sloppily taped but meticulously labeled cardboard box of "Crap."

Jay dragged it out onto the bedroom floor just far enough to wedge his hands around the back, ripping the top open, plunging his hands into the carton's chaotic contents and searching by touch. He pulled out several pocket programming language guides from his college days -- useful, he noted; and threw them onto his bed -- and a four-year-old box of hard candy before striking pay dirt.

... I believe I've just revealed more insight about this character in three paragraphs than I have in the preceding 3,600 words.

Granted, I had a lot of setup to write, and I had to cut back to his history and away to the parallel plot thread, so it's not like I've just spent 12 pages saying nothing. But it's amazing how a few relatively spare sentences can so powerfully speak to a personality -- even more so than any dialogue of a similar length I could write.

Considering that Jay's entire story so far is set inside an empty apartment and that the only conversation that's occurred has been him talking back to a computer screen, this is a technique I'm going to have to make better and sooner use of.
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