For the second week’s homework of the six-week online class I’m taking, “Writing the Other,” we were given ten minutes of role-playing to do through instant messaging or chat:
You’ll need a partner to do this exercise, which calls for a bit of role-playing. First, both you and your partner should mentally pick two numbers between one and twelve. [Note: Naturally, I rolled 2d12!] Write these down, or remember them, but don’t reveal them to each other. The two of you will be having a written conversation, writing from the viewpoints of two complete strangers.
The context for the dialogue is this: One of you (decide which one before starting the exercise) has found the other’s checkbook and would like to return it. As for what the character you assume will be like, that’s up to you—except for two important traits. On the next two pages are four lists, labeled “A, B, C, and D.” Using the numbers you’ve picked, read what it says next to the first number on list A and the second on list B. Your partner will do the same thing, using lists C and D. Again, do not reveal to your partner the numbers you’ve picked or the traits assigned to those numbers. Simply assume those traits as your own, and begin writing.
The lists each contained twelve traits; lists A and C contained primarily traits relating to race, orientation, ability, age, religion or sex (“ROAARS traits” for short), while lists B and D contains primarily non-ROAARS traits. Here is what my assigned partner and I came up with:
Sandra: “Um…excuse? Please excuse… I found your folder. No… wallet!”
Sophie: “Hold on… Yes, I did lose it!”
Sandra: “No, no. Um…your money papers. Your cheques. Yes?”
Sandra: “So, I will like to give it to you after my classes, yes?”
Sophie: “When is that? Is there any way we could meet sooner?”
Sandra: “My classes? No, they are in the afternoon. I work mornings.”
Sophie: “Where do you work? Maybe I could go pick it up.”
Sandra: “At the restaurant. You like to eat?”
Sophie: “Who doesn’t?” [chuckle] ☺
Sandra: “Pick up? Excuse?”
Sophie: “I could go meet you at the restaurant where you work and get the cheque book back.”
Sandra: “Yes! The cheques! At the restaurant? Sure, yes, we could.”
Sophie: “Where is the restaurant, and when should I show up?”
Sandra: “At the corner of Martin and Sprague. With the blue birds. Under the blue birds. You will see them. The cheques you get before I leave for classes.”
Sophie: “Lovely!” [I look it up on Google Maps. What kind of restaurant do I see?]
Sophie: “OK, I can be there at 11am, is this good for you?”
Sandra: “…11 before lunch? Yes, that is good. Before the rush. Lots of people come in for lunch.”
Sophie: “Exactly! Maybe I can have lunch there.” [I plan to tip you hugely .]
Sandra: “Lunch is good. I will have something waiting for you.”
I played someone who was Buddhist and a technical rock-climber, while Sandra, it turns out, played a non-native-English speaker (she picked Russian) and part-time student. Sandra’s traits were pretty easy to recognize, especially the non-native speech patterns, of course. On the other hand, Buddhist might have affected the choice of meal later on at the restaurant, but not so much this conversation unless maybe karma or the type of restaurant were invoked. I didn’t see technical rock-climber as likely to show up, but I could have forced it; I had in mind that maybe I was in a hurry because I had a trip planned.
Mostly, Sandra and I agreed afterwards that we were just trying to act like people usually do under the circumstances. I figured I would want to get my chequebook as soon as possible. We did interject a few side observations from an omniscient narrator perspective.
Conclusion: A trait, even a ROAARS trait, isn’t everything about a character; sometimes it doesn’t show up at all. (Unlike much Hollywood writing would have us believe!)
The exercise made our Finnish classmate Nina chuckle. She says Europeans are perplexed that Americans are still using cheques (it’s also obsolete back home in Quebec too, by the way.) Nina said, “It’s like being offered three cows in payment!”
Next week’s homework: We re-write scenes from a work-in-progress to change some of our characters’ ROAARS traits; and we analyse the class markers for a book, show or movie of our choice.
Credits: Photo (“Restaurant – Naxos”) Dorli Photography, used under Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Clipart from dfunk on OpenClipart, released into the public domain.