Monday 14 October 2013

Symbolic Interactionism: Creating Solid Authentic Characters in Fiction

If you're a writer, have you ever explored the way in which people behave differently, depending on who they are interacting with?

My latest release is written from the perspective of many different characters, so readers will witness their behaviour from different points of view (POVs). The various POVs also helped me make my characters' personalities and motivations clear, because I had to ask myself, for example, “Why do we perceive Ivy’s mother, Eleanor, as cold-hearted and clinical through Ivy’s eyes, but through Eleanor’s best friend’s eyes, we discover how generous and vulnerable she is?”

After having a conversation with a few friends about this, and about how our own behaviours change depending on the people we are with, I discovered the term “Symbolic Interactionism.”

So what exactly is Symbolic Interactionism?

“The term ‘symbolic interaction’ refers, of course, to the peculiar and distinctive character of interaction as it takes place between human beings. The peculiarity consists in the fact that human beings interpret or ‘define’ each other’s actions instead of merely reacting to each other’s actions. Their ‘response’ is not made directly to the actions of one another but instead is based on the meaning which they attach to such actions. Thus, human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another’s actions. This mediation is equivalent to inserting a process of interpretation between stimulus and response in the case of human behavior.” (Blumer, p. 180). (Source)

Let me offer you a simple example:

Just say the mother of, let's call her Gina, and a friend of Gina's were to visit her home (at different times), and notice a new pot plant in the corner of Gina's lounge room, and they were to suggest she put it by the window to get more sun light. Gina's instinctual response to her mother is snarky: "I'll put it where I want to put it, thank you very much." The mother then opens her mouth to defend herself, but Gina interrupts asking if she'd like a cup of coffee to quickly move on from the issue. But to her friend, her simple response is: "Hmm, that's probably a good idea." Gina then moves the plant to the window without a fuss.

Such different responses for the same scenario, right? And it's this sort of behaviour that tells us a lot about who these characters are and the relationship they have with each other.

When writing Bitter Like Orange Peel, I really had to consider how each character would behave in the presence of one another to make sure their relationships were as realistic as possible. And when you start to think about the reasons behind such simple behaviours (such as the Gina scenario above), it will help develop solid, well-rounded, and authentic characters in your writing.

So tell me, what do you think the example scenario says about the relationship between Gina and her mother? Without being told their backstory, what do you think are some possible reasons for Gina's (and the mother's) reaction?

*To read more about Bitter Like Orange Peel CLICK HERE.
**muted: a short story in verse (cyberpunk/dystopian) is free on Kindle until tomorrow. Grab it while you can!

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  1. Gina either doesn't respect her mother or she's just been contrary because that's her mother. My best guess.

  2. Gina is wounded. Her mother was not present emotionally when Gina was growing up. She loves her mother, but has old, angry issues. That's my guess.

  3. Sounds like Gina's got some bitterness going on, need for independence o mom is just a control freak! :)

  4. ooh, i didn't know there was an actual term for it!

  5. I love playing with perspective. I particularly love the unreliable narrator, through whom the reader gets a skewed view and later learns that was a misperception on the part of the MC. I play with this some, I think fairly naturally, as my psych background comes into play. I really love an occasional peek at the same event from two very different viewpoints, but the same relationship or character from different views is good, too.


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