Several years ago, I subbed for a fifth grade teacher on a regular basis. I got to know her students well, and still remember most of their names even today. But one boy in particular stood out to me. We'll call him Travis.
Here are some of the things Travis liked to do:
- Make fun of his classmates and call them names.
- Talk back to teachers.
- Roll his eyes whenever a new assignment was given.
- Act like he didn't care about anything or any person.
I thought I knew exactly who he was. He was a bully and a troublemaker. It seemed like every time I turned around, he was doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing.
One day near the end of the school year, I was on my way to the classroom after having lunch, and Travis caught up to me in the hallway. He surprised me by making conversation.
"Guess what? I saw [whatever horror movie was in the theaters at this time] last weekend. Did you see it yet?"
I shook my head. "I don't really watch horror movies. I'm too much of a wimp."
His expression softened -- a look I'd never seen on his face before, complete with a sincere look in his eyes. "Don't call yourself a wimp, okay? It's not true. You're not a wimp."
He walked away.
Now, if I were writing a character like Travis, I would have thought the above dialogue was way out of character for him! This is the boy who called his classmates wimps all the time. This is the boy who had no shame in being disrespectful to teachers. But out of nowhere, just that once, he got all... nice.
Maybe there's a story arc I'm not aware of. Maybe something about our conversation tugged at him in a certain way, reminded him of something else in his life, and made him react the way he did.
I think of Travis every now and then when I write characters who seem like they'd be predictable, but could end up surprising someone in the smallest way.
Have you ever thought of real life people in terms of what they'd be like as a fictional character? Have you ever looked for a story arc in real life?