When I was little I was painfully shy and took every harsh word spoken to me very much to heart. Through many self-pep talks and trials by fire I grew thicker skin and broke out of my shell. The transformation was so great that a girl I had know in jr. high, who moved away and then came back, came up to me in high school and told me that if not for the fact I looked the same, she would never have guessed I was the same girl. I had taken her perception of me and turned it on its head, which was exactly my intent. By abandoning my fear of what others thought and embracing my belief in myself I became, to her and others, a different person.
It has been a long time since the words of strangers have gotten underneath my skin. The other day I learned what a group of people thought of me, and it was so far afield, so unexpected that for a whole minute I was that pre-high school girl, stripped of her self-esteem armor. I think it hurt even more because it came from exactly the type of person I used to be, the shy and socially awkward type. As I tried to wrap my mind around this I began to see that they didn’t see me, but a perception of me, colored by their own experiences. With that bit of insight, my self confidence returned, as did the urge to go hang around them again simply to show I don’t give a flip.
In thinking about perceptions, it occurred to me that characters in stories are two-dimensional perceptions which the reader fills in with their own personal experiences. While the major strokes of the verbal brush paint an outline, ask any two people about the same character and they’ll each have something slightly different to say. Still, that being said, the image that you the writer has is vital to creating a realistic character with depth. Do not have the character do something because you would act in such a way, or because it moves the story along as you had planned, but rather the question to ask is: “would the character make that choice?”. Character motivation is key to drawing the audience in on an emotional level. Know your characters and the story will tell itself.