Why Cranky Old Characters Make The Best Sounding Boards

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Often in the world of my novel, I may find myself in need of a chatty Cathy character, a personage with whom my more illustrious characters can pass the time and discuss vital plot points. I may even find myself indulging in a spot of comedic relief with such elderly talkative Toms.

Like The Wild Old Man In Tom Jones

Okay, he isn’t totally wild, but there is a feral geezer in a cabin who takes in Tom and his pal for a brief respite from the elements. There is also the long-winded porter in Macbeth, the maiden aunt in Learned Ladies, and that adorable, if quixotic lady who knits beside the guillotine in Scarlet Pimpernel.

Elderly Characters Can Be Useful

Sometimes I need to talk about something interesting, and sometimes a main character needs a little nudge of wise perspective (or a distraction from the tragedy of their unfolding adventures). In these cases, consider the use of an aged body. “Old people are the greatest,” in the words of the Sponge, “they’re full of wisdom and experience!” Elderly characters are also given greater range on the cantankerous and whimsical fronts, and so can be entrusted with more naturally-implausible narrative tasks.

Like The Old Guy Wearing A Nightdress In Harry Potter

When I find myself at such a critical juncture, I say to myself, “Victor, what you need right now is a suitably aged personage to carry along the conversation.” And then I find a scrap of vivid energy, slap some clothes and a backstory on it, assign it a gender, and I am off, metaphorically, to the races.

Examples

No Old Man: 

Samuel walked down the sidewalk, thinking about the lady he’d met at the bus stop. He thought about whether she’d call as he unlocked his door, and he dwelt in his memory on the lurid shad of her hair, and the unnatural flaccidity of her cheeks as he stared at the bread and old ham in his miniature fridge. He wondered if he might meet that lady again, and imagined a flower-strewn wedding with cheap suits and fitted white gloves.

Cranky Old Man:

“I met someone,” Samuel said to the man who lived in the first room of the Tavern Motel.

“Mmphfft,” said the man who lived in the first room. His door was wide open, and he was sitting on the pink plush chair provided by the Motel for the use and enjoyment of its residents.

“She might be the one,” Samuel said meaningfully. He raised his eyebrows, and nodded solemnly.

“Go away,” said the man who lived in the first room. “You are disturbing my peace and quiet.”

“Then I’ll go and plan our wedding quietly by myself, shall I?” Samuel asked.

The man in the first room of the Tavern Motel glared out at the thin sunlight that streaked the shallow block of grass in front of the rooms, and did not answer.

Sometimes Old Characters Are Excellent Mouthpieces

When I find myself against a thorny narrative juncture, I often fall back on a personage of experience and whitened hair to serve as a sounding board of sorts to my plighted main character. Perhaps you may also find this device of some use in your narrative journeying.

You’re reading Victor Poole. Copernicus is a dead man (excessively old, though not in appearance) in this book. Some really competent optometrists would like my blog if they read it on their lunch breaks.

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