Thursday, September 27, 2012

Clogged Filters

In one of my favorite movie’s Desk Set, Katherine Hepburn’s Bunny is given an “intelligence test” by Spencer Tracy’s Richard Sumner. One of the questions is “Often when we meet a person something in particular strikes us: hands, eyes and so on. What do you notice?” With the perfect touch of suggesting that it’s a stupid question, Bunny answers “Whether the person is male or female.”

Throughout the rest of the test, Bunny’s flexible thinking, that she “associates many things with many things” surprises the analytic Sumner. As a film about the early days of computers, it’s a bit dated, but as a character study? As a way of examining how two very smart people can have a great deal of difficulty communicating, it’s a work of art.

When I’m working with characters, like the ones that are giving me fits at the moment, I try to keep make sure that their lack of effective communication is due to their own filters for the world and not just plain stupidity. (Though a character’s stubbornness can definitely make his filter look like stupidity, I must say.)

Those filters affect everything about my stories, including the level of convincing the character will need to make their happy ending work. In the end of Desk Set the computer that created their conflict allows Sumner finally away to make his feelings clear to Bunny. I hope the ending I’ve come up with for Gavin and Jamie will be equally satisfying. 

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