RE: RARA-AVIS: Character "Profiling"

Date: 25 Aug 2000

Kevin Smith refers to character shortcuts that some writers use, that might be called "profiling."

"Is it necessarily a bad thing? When is it offensive, when is it just lazy writing and when is it a clever way to pump up a secondary character without using a lot of verbiage? And by profiling I don't just mean by race or gender or sexual preference or even hair colur. For example, I think Pelecanos and Michael Cormany often "profile" their characters simply by referring to the music they listen to, or what they drink. What are some literary shortcuts that other writers use?"

Agreed that it's not only not a bad thing, but probably a necessary thing! Most secondary characters need to be "flat" (EM Forster) or predictable, so the major characters can play to the audience on a stage that seems less crowded than it is, if you simply counted bodies (living or dead). One short cut I've noticed in alot of hard-boiled fiction is to turn a secondary character into a sort of caricature--Raymond Chandler's love of metaphors and similes leads in this direction. Moose starts this way. I've been reading Dennis Lehane (thanks to whomever mentioned him a while back) and notice in Sacred, how efficiently he presents a couple of henchmen through nicknames the PI (Kenzie) gives them, the Weeble and Lurch. When their names somehow fit their actions, such characters become the intersection, where wise cracks become wise guys.

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