My first Sunday here in Virginia, my wife took me to a delicious pizza place to celebrate the move. Right after we sat down, an older couple arrived and sat in the booth next to ours. The woman seemed happy to be out with someone she loved, but the man started complaining immediately, about the server, about the menu, about anything.
At one point, the woman suggested that they get one pizza with different toppings on each half. This made the man upset — he loudly explained to the woman that you got charged full price for each topping and he didn’t want to “spend forty dollars” on one pizza. I grabbed my menu and did some sloppy math, concluding that if they got the biggest pizza and two toppings each it would come to about $22.
Anyway, when we left, Sarah and I analyzed the scenario like writers, trying to work out what would cause a character to behave so poorly on a lunch outing with someone special. One thought that I latched onto was the thought that you could write a character’s temperament at a given moment based on how badly he’d rather be doing something else.
Reflecting on my own behavior, it makes sense to me. When I’m out with Sarah, if there’s something I want to do back home, I’m less likely to suggest swinging by GameStop on the way back from Panera and I’ll be keeping my end of the conversation more concise. What would it take for me to become a whining child? Maybe some sleep deprivation or extreme hunger, but I could also imagine acting like a jerk because I just really, really wanted to sit on the couch and watch House of Cards for a while.
Obviously this isn’t a deep dive into human psychology, but it gave me another way to approach my characters.