My Characters are Smarter than I Am

Chandler: My diary! My diary, that’s brilliant. I should have told her it was my diary. She never would have made
me read her my diary.
Monica: You know, that’s true. You’d be a great person to have around the day after an emergency.
[Friends: The One with the List]

We’ve all had a moment like this. I previously posted about a Chandler Bing moment. It can be annoying when after something has happened we suddenly think of what we could have said. Its not always something important sometimes its just a quip.

Garan: Surrender your weapons, or die where you stand!
O’Neill: Oh, if I had a nickel!
[Stargate SG-1: It’s Good to Be King]

I really admire people who are able to do this. Some people have a mind so quick and can always think of the right thing to say. Paul Merton is very good at this.

Alexander Armstrong: What would happen if we decided to shut down all the UK’s power stations tomorrow?
Alexander Armstrong: More sinister even than that.
Paul Merton: It’d go dark at night! Bwahaha!
I do have my moments where a silly thing occurs to me. The other day I made a play on words between two meanings of beef; the food and as in having a problem with someone.
This is all small stuff but what if quick thinking could save your life?
There was a real situation like this a little while back. A woman called 911 and pretended to order pizza. She couldn’t speak directly and could only answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ The dispatcher cottoned on to the problem and was able to send help.
This happens a lot in fiction. This tends to be a bit spoilery so I’ll give my own example.
A Detective Constable is being held hostage when his phone rings. The hostage taker is about to destroy the phone but our hero is clever. He says that his colleagues know where he is. So if he’s not able to answer the phone they’ll know he’s in trouble and send help. So the hostage taker lets him answer the phone.
All posts are better with pictures. Maybe this is where our unfortunate hero is held captive.

All posts are better with pictures. Maybe this is where our unfortunate hero is held captive.

With a gun to his head he can’t call for help directly so he has to send a message. Maybe it’s his wife and he can call her ‘Samantha’ when she always goes by ‘Sam.’ Maybe it’s his Inspector and he can make an oblique reference to another hostage case. Maybe its his daughter and he can say ‘Don’t worry I didn’t for get about your netball class on Saturday.’ – when he daughter has never played netball in her life.
This Detective Constable thinks quickly and saves himself. However if I was writing that scene it might go through several permutations. I might realise that he does call his wife ‘Samantha’ on occasion so it wouldn’t raise a red flag; The Inspector might not get the subtly;  And his daughter might just think her dad is doing his usual thing and not paying attention – she has a dance class on Saturday.
Sometimes a character’s wit and quick thinking has taken the author a long time. They might even have written themselves into a corner. When in the mind of their character they may have got them killed the first few times.

My characters are cleaver than me beyond this though. They know more than me too. I will only invent the world as I need it for the story. A character of mine, in a science fiction, might know all the Director Generals of the UN in the 23rd century.

This post is the product of a conversation I had with a friend they other day. I didn’t say anything bad but their were things I wished I’d said. Now though the things I wish I’d said seem a little OTT. So maybe what I actually said was better than what I wish I’d said.

So I’ll be happy to have characters who can; rally the troops, make the Picard-esk speech, say their version of ‘It is a far better thing I do now than I have ever done*’; quip with the best of them; have useful bits of knowledge; and know how to tell the beautiful woman that she is all kinds of wonderful.

This has been a bit of a ramble. I think I’m trying to say two distinct things. That there are things I wish I’d said in given situations – things that were only thoughts. Also there are things that I wish had occurred.  At least I can know that characters I write can be that great. They can always know the right thing to say. They can always keep calm in a crises. They can comfort their friends. They can be the people we wish we could be. They can look each other in the eyes and speak with great eloquence and say the important things.**

* I’ve never read a Tale of two Cities. I have seen The Wrath of Khan.
** Unless of course its a plot point that they make a mistake.

I just wanted to say that I have checked this post. I really have. Unfortunately my particular combination of dyslexia and dyspraxia makes it really hard for me to spot typos. Please enjoy and I’ll try not to make too many errors.


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3 responses to “My Characters are Smarter than I Am

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I remember an episode with Miles O’Brien in TNG that revolved around a coffee-drinking habit as a subtle indication of a problem – and then the coffee-drinking habit turned out not to be true.

    With regard to saying the clever thing at the time, it has to be remembered that wit is not always kind, and it is better to be kind than witty.

  2. Pingback: Can an Author be Wrong about Their Own Work? | Unstable Orbit

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