My friend had a painter working in her house for a few days. Overalls, paint cans.
A couple of weeks later her neighbor said “That painter you had is such a nice man.”
“Oh. Were you talking to him?”
“No, I just saw him from my window. I could tell.”
The odd thing is, she’s right. He’s done some odd jobs for me. It used to be a real nuisance when the bathtub faucet seemed out of kilter or the electrical outlet in the kitchen pulled loose. Now it’s a lucky excuse to call Marv. He is the kind of happy, relaxed person who makes your day a little better.
But how did the neighbor know? As writers, we need to consider that. Was it body language – a relaxed pace? No tension in the shoulders? Was he unhurried? Smiling? Lack of frown lines? Did he perhaps pick up a piece of litter in the parking lot?
If you had to describe a happy person you know, how would you do it? You might include examples and anecdotes, but how would you find words to describe the outer clues to that sense of inner happiness?
Sometimes, in a line up you get a sudden impression of someone. This person seems angry, or mean or nervous. What makes you think that? Is it the way they stand, or move, the line of their lips?
I watched a miserable-looking woman in the coffee shop yesterday – frown lines, tight mouth, hunched shoulders. One of the baristas made a joke and the woman changed in front of my eyes. No downward facial lines, a wide smile, shoulder tension gone. She seemed like a different person.
None of us is an ordinary human being – each one of us is unique, and we can change on a dime. We are not two-legged humanoids, devoid of personality. We all have multi-layered personalities. We know this of ourselves, but as writers, how do we observe it in other people and then get it on paper or computer screen?
Think of kids books about little red cars, little engines that could, Black Beauty, vampires. The writers personified each of these so that as we read them we felt for them as if they were people we knew. We saw the human aspect. We cared about all their problems and rejoiced in their solutions.
If some writers can make a locomotive or an alien into a personality we care about shouldn’t we, as writers, be able to delve into the unique personalities around us and show them as rich human beings too?