It can be daunting for new writers to develop characters. Accounts of the endless mocking of a blank page abound. Transposition of self is a powerful technique for building character – combining the comfort of the familiar with the otherness of strangers.
Take a person you know well (if could even be you!) and change one major aspect, for example their gender, age or profession – transposition. You still know this person pretty well, but now have an opportunity to deviate into the unknown. In the example below ‘Geoff’ is somebody I know well, but in my world ‘he’ is not a he. Nor is ‘he’ as advanced in years, but he is a teacher. I’ll have to ask my sister how she feels about becoming ‘Geoff’ for the purposes of this exercise!
Transposition of Self
It had gotten dark, and so engrossed in his marking was Geoff that he’d barely noticed. He walked across the now empty classroom and flicked on the light. The fluorescent strips tinging and flashing, reflecting off the crisp white walls. Their brightness forcing his eyes closed, showing him a negative image of the same.
He sat back down, surveying the pile of essays he still had to mark, unconvinced it was getting any smaller. Taking a deep breath he pushed his glasses back to the bridge of his nose, licked the tip of his pen and resumed the seemingly never-ending task. No ‘seemingly’ about it he thought, ‘if I’m doing my job right, there will be more of the same tomorrow’. It tickled him, and he permitted himself the slightest of chuckles.
Having been in the profession for almost 40 years, Geoff held the dubious honour of teaching the kids of the kids he taught years before. On the rare days he didn’t feel old, that fact would do it. He caught his reflection in the now black windows, noticing how white his beard had become. Distractions like that were, he thought, precisely the reason he was the only person left in the school right now.
It wasn’t the only reason. Geoff always arrived earlier, stayed later and worked harder. Spent his evenings marking, weekends planning lessons and holidays teaching extra classes for some of the kids who needed a little extra help. It had come at a price, two wives down with one on the brink of following suit. His dedication had earned him the respect of the kids, and it was all about the kids. He couldn’t quite consider the trade worthwhile but given his time over again, he wouldn’t do anything any different.
Now in to a rhythm, the pile of essays was greatly diminished. In to the home straight, he could almost taste the double bourbon and fine cigar he’d be enjoying in his den later. No sooner had the imaginary whisky touched his lips; the peace was shattered by the crash of a floor buffer in to the doorframe.
“Sorry dude…”, came the surly grunt of a headphone wearing twenty-something on janitorial detail, “Oh, sir…” he corrected, removing his headphones having noticed who he was addressing.
“No problem Martin”, Geoff chuckled. “I’ll take the ‘dude’ as a compliment”. Martin nodded, smiled, and having plugged himself back in again went whirring on down the corridor. And Geoff really did take ‘dude’ as a compliment. As at odds with his stuffy environment now as he had been 40 years ago when his hair was long, and still dark.
With a final stroke of the pen, the day was done. Geoff stowed the papers in his battered old briefcase, picked up the keys for his old Firebird and headed for the door. He wasn’t in a hurry to get home, the order or the classroom a familiarly comfortable contrast with his home life.
“Time for that drink…”
The same, but different
Take a person you know well and perform a transposition – change one major aspect, for example their gender, age or profession. You still know this person pretty well, but now have an opportunity to deviate into the unknown. You might also consider defying some reader expectations for greater depth. Let us know how you get on – leave a comment or head for Facebook and Twitter if you prefer, as well as our other social media networks from the links in the menu above – hopefully, you’re still recognisable to us post-transposition!