Thursday, December 18, 2008

What's your blind spot?

Do you ever watch What Not to Wear?

Basically it's a makeover show, with public humiliation added in. Evil friends and family nominate people who have fashion "issues", and Truly Stylish people secretly videotape them in awful-wear, confront them and make them throw away all their clothes, and then give them money to shop for new clothes. Inevitably the makeover-ees bumble about, completely clueless and angry, but in the end they breathe fabulousness and are sent off back home to wow everyone.

It's kind of mean and awful, but I like watching it now and then. It always amazes me how much better the people really do look (and profess to feel) at the end, with just a little outside tweaking. So this morning I was thinking about this, and I realized: I think everyone has a Blind Spot.

We look at ourselves in the mirror and focus on particular things--our hair, or the way our shirt is pulling on the shoulder, and we fix it and go. But we don't really LOOK at ourselves as a whole very often, the image we present to other people. I don't think we can see it that way. We're stuck too far in ourselves to recognize it.

Do you know anyone who has one thing about them that's really OFF, that everyone else notices, but they seem blind to? I used to know someone who wore heavy pancake makeup, every day, that was clearly too pale for her skin. It didn't match; it looked fake and patchy and nasty. I could never understand how she could look in the mirror and not notice that. Or the lady I used to work with who dressed professionally, had nice makeup...and wore her straw-yellow-dyed hair in a poufed 60s hairstyle every day. It aged her 10 years, that hairstyle. I just wanted to put it in a ponytail for her.

Yes, there's perception: some people might like that look. But really, not most people. There are things that are just all wrong--that's what Go Fug Yourself is based on. And usually really easily "fixed". I suspect maybe everybody has a Blind Spot. Maybe something not obvious--MAYBE SOMETHING NOT PHYSICAL--but something everyone who encounters them notices, but they're not aware of.

Now before you go all thinking that I'm a shallow, judgmental, horrible person (it may be too late for that, right?), I do have a writing reason for talking about Blind Spots. They're a great thing to think about when you're fleshing out characters.

For instance. Jenna, one of my MCs, is an excellent actress. She knows that, everybody knows that. So she thinks she can hide stuff very well. She imagines that she can control everyone else's perception of her. What she doesn't realize--but everyone around her does--is that she's living behind a wall. She's closed herself off, and doesn't let anyone in. It's clear in her behavior, but she doesn't see it. Blind Spot, and more interesting than a physical one.

It's also useful when you're simply describing a character. MCs, being the perceptive creatures they are, will hone right on in other character's Blind Spots and point them out to us. Then you can play with that awareness--the reader knows, the MC knows, but the other character doesn't--which is always interesting. Subtle extra conflict to layer in on top of other more obvious drama.

So as a writer when you're developing characters, when you're writing a scene, it might be useful to think about everyone's Blind Spots. What do they not see about themselves? How can you use it?

What are your characters' Blind Spots?

Also, ***SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT***: Very, very soon, I will be posting an exclusive interview with the truly amazing Courtney Summers, whose debut novel CRACKED UP TO BE is due out next week (pause for squee). We'll be giving away a copy of CUTB, so you won't want to miss it!


Mary-Frances said...

I love the point you bring up here about a character's blind spot. You're right we all have them. One of my characters has a big blind spot about a man she's dating:).

Joanne Levy said...

Great post, Susan. I was actually just thinking about this yesterday. One of the main characters in my WIP is a recluse because he's very uncomfortable in his own skin (he has some physical issues) and thinks no one likes him and would just ridicule him if he tried to make friends. Sadly people stay away from him because they think he doesn't like anyone and is a recluse on purpose.

pseudosu said...

Great post-- and score on the interview btw! Luv her!
You're so right about blind spots being a really effective character development tool. One example from my story is a chacater who's really critical of others being judgey- um, hello? Another I like to play with since I write both living an dead characters (ghosts) who don't always know what they are is life-affirming v.s. not.

Anonymous said...

Mmmm . . . great post, Susan, very thought-provoking. I particularly like the idea of playing around with the MC's perceptions (or MISperceptions) of others, etc. I think a lot about the weaknesses of various characters - try to give each C one compelling, possibly fatal, weakness -- and this is a different way to come at it. I have to go think now, an idea is brewing, so this is good . . . thanks!!
- Jennifer S