Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Your character in society

So Shannon has done another couple of her thought-provoking posts about character traits, one focusing on personality and the other on social responsibilities. I thought I might play around with that and see what I can come up with. They're mostly to do with relations with other people, but not entirely - I had a couple of extraneous ideas and couldn't be bothered writing a separate blogpost!

Also I really need to start having a "Stolen from Shannon" tag...

Demanding Boss: Your work often throws up unexpected problems that demand your attention. Maybe you have a boss who hurls last-minute deadlines around with abandon, suddenly changes your shifts, or expects you to work late without notice to deal with a problem they probably causes. Perhaps your line of work has clients calling at short notice with urgent problems, like criminal law or freelance interpreting. Maybe you're the one in charge, and whenever things go wrong the buck stops with you: the McDonalds has to stay open, the post needs delivering, the police force servers absolutely need to be back online.

Tithe: You contribute an unusually-large chunk of your money to social causes, be it favourite charities, a religious organisation, sponsoring kids into college or looking after some vulnerable folks in your neighbourhood with regular supplies. The result is you end up tight on money regardless of your income, but cutting the tithe would mean leaving those causes in the lurch and raising some questions.

Volunteer: One way or another, you ended up giving a lot of time helping out, be it shaking a collection box for wounded veterans, leading the local Guides, offering first aid at local events, teaching the local language to asylum seekers, or chatting with folks in hospital. People depend on you, and if you skip out, you know there's going to be consequences for them - not to mention the gossip it's likely to provoke.

Soft Touch: You might be a scarred orc mercenary with a smile that makes strong men faint, but you're a sucker for a sob-story. Sure, you don't necessarily buy whatever they're telling you, but you can't just blank out the beggar on the street who tries to get your attention; you feel like you need to give them a fair hearing. If an enemy pleads extenuating circumstances, you just can't bring yourself to finish them off until you hear them out. And leaving someone you could be helping out really tears at your heartstrings.

Shady: Maybe you never got caught, but spent (or spend) enough time with the criminally-inclined that the attitude rubbed off on you. Maybe your 'crimes' were mere ethical differences, strictly within the law. Maybe you never broke a law in your life, but through no fault of your own people just get that impression. The police may not have any interest in you, but neighbours look askance at you, and something about your manner draws the attention of security guards and ticket inspectors. Getting people to credit what you say is always a little tricky, and they're not so keen to chat anyway.

Cossetted: You always had it easy - at least until lately. Perhaps you had the proverbial silver spoon, or maybe just overprotective parents. Your circumstances mostly shielded you from hardship, discomfort and distress, and likely from many kinds of social awkwardness. When these situations do crop up, you struggle to respond appropriately, regardless of your normal social graces. Some people may feel the urge to keep pampering you out of kindness or to avoid complaints, while others may want to toughen you up or simply see you squirm.

Netizen: You're a big part of some online community, perhaps a mod or acknowledged expert, and you feel a strong responsibility towards it. Wherever you go, you want to spent at least a little time every day attending to perceived or real duties - and preferably a lot. You can deal with this stuff anywhere you have internet, but if you can't get online it's going to bother you and people will start asking after you. Of course, if you're going online, you can be tracked...

Figurehead: Want it or not, you're seen as a spokesperson for some group, and your actions and words reflect on them. You may not be bothered about yourself, but people you care about could be in for trouble if you don't watch what you do and say - and even what you're mixed up in. Be it a social movement, a subculture, a religious group or an ethnic minority, you represent something bigger than yourself.

Old Acquaintance: It's hard to brush off someone who dandled you on their knee as a baby, or the folks who gave you a place to stay when you first came to town and have always kept an eye out for you. The senior staffer who showed you the ropes, the teacher who always has a kindly word, the landlord who likes to chat for an hour when they phoned with one quick question. Full of neighbourly concern and well-meaning interest, they'll ask all about your goings-on, and spot inconsistencies or hesitations. They'll want an introduction to the folks you're walking with, too, and if they get concerned you may find them calling round unexpectedly or even starting an intervention.

Dignitary: Being someone around town (or a hotshot in the company) can be nice, but at times it poses problems. You've got duties to attend to, whether that's opening shopping centres, presiding over rituals, settling gang disputes or giving the nod to the latest projects. On top of that, you've got a reputation to uphold, which means neglecting your work, getting into trouble or making a faux pas can pose you some major problems. Moreover, the dignity of your position loses its impact if people don't respect it, especially in public, so you need to consider how best to defend your status, whether for selfish motives or for the sake of the office itself.

Awkward Roommate: One or more unrelated folks lives in your house, and every day is a process of negotiation - not to mention scrutiny. Skip one of your responsibilities and they're bound to cause trouble; start doing anything weird and they're going to notice. Slinking in late and dishevelled, you can bet they'll burst out to tell you off for disturbing them. Bring a couple of friends round and they'll come nosing for info, or else pointedly brush through you all to get something from a cupboard. Weird lights or early-morning starts are bad enough, let alone trailing blood through the house. Expect to see passive-aggressive (or plain aggressive) notes, floors exactly 50% swept, and your hollow-eyed housemate hurrying through the kitchen informing you that thanks to your late-night conversations they haven't slept a wink.

Well-Meaning Roommate: You and your roommate get on just fine, except that their genuine concern for your well-being and happiness is just a little overdone. They don't mind what you do, but start acting strangely or keeping secrets and they'll be on it like an eagle-eyed puppy with a Mother Theresa complex. They won't judge you, honest, they're just worried about you. Brushing them off will only make it worse, because they know you're just not like that. Expect to see little notes with smiley faces, delicious meals that went cold an hour ago because you came home late, and worried eyes regarding you fixedly while they ask a little too casually if anything's up. And of course, your housemate sat on the stairs at 5am when you finally stagger home.

Overpreparer: Few people are as adapt at planning and organising as you. Perhaps that's your day job, or maybe you simply find it reassuring to handle that stuff yourself. Either way, you tend to take things a little too seriously, and hate having to rely on someone else's preparations. You always want that little bit more information, those extra couple of items just in case, and one more draft of the timetable. Other people find it a little obsessive and even ridiculous, and while your preparations may help smooth over obstacles, it grates on more spontaneous people. If you don't get your way, you're inclined to be twitchy and anxious, always keeping an eye out for problems other people are bound to have overlooked.

Up and Doer: There's no holiday like a busman's holiday. Relaxing may be fine by you, but you just can't handle doing nothing. The moment things go quiet you'll be cleaning up, fettling, knitting, reading or starting some kind of self-imposed project. At work you prowl around seeking new assignments, and being left to twiddle your thumbs is sheer agony. Your restlessness is liable to get on others' nerves, and your enthusiasm sometimes leads you to do things people would rather you hadn't - like throwing out their old magazines, scouring the Teflon off their non-stick pans, or taking apart a motorbike in the middle of the kitchen when guests are due over. While you can cheerfully spend hours on end assembling matchstick models, you struggle to be still and quiet, making you a liability in some situations.

Figure of Pity: Something in your past or present means people feel sorry for you. You get a lot of kind words and people asking after you, and it's hard to escape attention sometimes. Well-meaning neighbours are liable to drop round to check up on you or bring small gifts, and it's not always that convenient. It can also interfere with other relationships; you're often left wondering how much of people's friendship (or romantic attachment) is simply pity. On the plus side, they'll often excuse foibles and erratic behaviour on your part; on the downside, it may simply make them worry about you even more. You may not be a focal point for gossip, but news about you certainly get around somehow.

Outsider: You don't quite fit in, and everyone knows it. Maybe there was a scandal or tragedy that left you outside the social loop, or perhaps you simply moved here and never really made friends. You might have had a close social circle that gradually left town, or gone away to war and come back to somewhere that doesn't feel like home any more. Somehow you never hear about things until they're over, and most people don't open up to you. Kids might stare at you, and drunks mutter about your standoffishness or whatever history keeps you apart. Being identifiable, people tend to hear about your doings, and remember that difference can easily prompt resentment, fear or even hatred.

New Kid: No matter how long you've been here, people still think of you as not quite up to speed. Maybe it's your age, maybe your background ("Star Patrol, huh? Well here in the Scouts, we do things a little differently!"), maybe some personality quirk. Sometimes that means they take it easy on you and give a helping hand; other times they pass you over, brush you off or drop extra jobs in your lap. You may be expected to prove yourself, or just be at the bottom of some kind of pecking order. Some folks are offering you a chance to make good, while others consider you a waste of time until you earn your place - whatever that means. Maybe they think you don't have the experience to take on a job, or maybe they don't think it's fair to dump a toxic assignment on you. Whatever the situation, you're always struggling to just get treated like everyone else.

NOTE: In some situations, you could kit this out as representing sexism, classism, certain flavours of racism or other forms of discrimination


  1. The well-meaning and awkward room mate would be a good combination. One nice one, one painful one. And yeah, I really like this expansion on the notes I've put together. Very inspirational. Gives me all kinds of ideas.

    1. Thinking about it, you could spin out the roommates into general awkward domestic situations. There's all kinds of diplomatic minefields around, where people are under pressure to stay within somewhat arbitrary limits as a compromise.

      Working hours, jobs or non-shared hobbies are pretty common causes of tension for couples.

      Split custody is an issue for younger characters, and those with exes and kids. You can't necessarily just change your schedule to fit some adventure, because Luke will absolutely blow his top if he doesn't have the kids this week, and you have to take care of them on Friday and then drop them off at his place because he's stuck waiting for a delivery.

      And of course, you might have parents, siblings or other relatives in the place who need pandering to in various ways. Maybe you absolutely have to go to chapel if you want life to be bearable, regardless of beliefs or time pressure - or just be home for meals at six o' clock sharp every day. Maybe there's cultural compromises going on between generations, so how you dress or who you hang out with are a cold war front, or you need to study Russian regularly otherwise granddad will consider you a traitor to your heritage.

      Maybe your kid sister needs buying off with regular quality-time, expeditions, permission to hang out with you or straight-up bribery, otherwise she'll go through all your stuff / read your email / never leave you alone / squeal to the parents.