Saturday, December 5, 2009

Collections in Character Development

People collect all kinds of things. They collect scalps, they collect rich husbands, antique cars, art, newspapers, original editions, bottle caps, guns, cats, ceramic frogs, baseball cards, salt and pepper shakers. The things that people collect, and the way they keep what they collect, speaks volumes about their personality.

Native American warriors used to wear scalps on their belts. Of course it was the French who started the tradition by demanding proof of kills. Later, businessmen (rarely women in those days) were known to collect the scalps of their competition.

If you look at the movie “First Wives Club” you will find a perfect example of a collector of rich husbands in Gunilla Garson Goldberg played by Maggie Smith – delightful, classy and perfect – a high class meets low class contrast to the social climbing collector Shelly Stewart played by Sarah Jessica Parker. In fact, the writers cleverly used a sale at Christy’s to accentuate the collector qualities of both characters. It’s subtle and brilliant.

In Harry Potter, chocolate frogs come with cards of famous wizards who drift in and out of their pictures. This is another perfect example of J.K. Rowling’s parallel universe; recognizable but different. She uses this particular tool to advance the unexposed young wizard Harry to Albus Dumbledore as well as to ways in which the wizarding world differs from the muggle world.

In the 1954 edition of My Brother’s Keeper, Marcia Davenport created two brothers who collected obsessively until they died of their compulsion.

Collection Questions: What does the character collect? How does he take care of what he collects? What do the things he collects contribute to our understanding of the character and those around him? How does what he collects contribute to our understanding of his world? How does what he collects contribute to the plot? Does what he collects contribute to conflict with other characters? What would you have him collect that the author didn’t have him collect and why?

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