Little Revelations

It’s Wild Card Wednesday–the day anything can happen.  Today we’re going to discuss the way little revelations can draw a complete character picture.

The topic for this post came to me this weekend.  Family business took me to my hometown.  I saw aunts, uncles, and cousins I don’t get to see often enough.  One of my cousins has this little Yorkie.  She’s had the dog about fifteen years, and the dog travels with the family.

Saturday night, we all went to dinner at Chili’s.  My cousin put the Yorkie in one of those purse style dog carriers and waltzed into Chili’s big as you please.  We were seated and ate our dinner without a word about the dog.  And it wasn’t as though the dog was concealed or really even very quiet.

The writer in me observed all this with great interest.  Not everybody get away with bringing a dog into an eating establishment.   My cousin can.  She just has that kind of personality.

This is not the exact carrier, but it’s close. My cousin’s carrier was a tan color.

Conveying character is one of the hardest jobs a fiction writer has.  Writing books and writing instructors advise revealing character just a little at time.

Nobody wants a brand new acquaintance at a party to whip out her iPhone and start playing her water birth videos.  It’s nothing shameful, but it is too much too soon.  Fiction readers feel the same way.  They are unable to comprehend too much character too fast.

The Yorkie in the carrier at Chili’s would have been a perfect character revealing detail in a book.

How about a movie example?  The Lincoln Lawyer is a 2005 novel by Michael Connelly that was made into a movie in 2011.  It has one of the most masterful revelations of character I’ve ever seen or read.

[Note: I’m going to talk about the movie, but the book and movie are very similar.  There are no spoilers here.  I’m talking about the first fifteen minutes of the movie.]

Mickey Haller (played by Matthew McConaughey) is introduced in an opening sequence which illustrates a normal morning for him.  He comes into focus in the back of chauffered Lincoln Town Car.  He exits the car and enters the courthouse where he is shadowed by a man telling him about a job.

It becomes obvious through conversation that the man is a bail bondsman who steers clients to Mickey Haller in exchange for some unnamed favor.  This is only the beginning of Mickey’s hustles.  Within a few more minutes, the audience knows Mickey bribes courthouse officials with “Christmas gifts.”

In addition to under-the-table hustles, Mickey is a master of the legal hustle.  When a client tries to stiff him for payment, Mickey legally delays the case.  When the client’s cohorts–a biker gang–hunt Mickey down to pay their buddy’s bill, it becomes obvious Mickey has a loose definition of justice.  He is knowingly representing the operator of an illegal “farm.”

That Mickey’s car is his office only adds to his characterization.  Of course, a guy like this wouldn’t have an office.  For one thing, he wouldn’t want to be too easy to find.  For another thing, a guy like this might do well enough financially, but he wouldn’t be rich.  His clients are not the cream of the criminal crop.

If it’s not obvious who Mickey Haller is, his driver tells Mickey he’d have done okay on the streets toward the end of the opening sequence.

In just a few minutes, the audience knows all about Mickey Haller.  He is an unshakable hustler with a loose moral code.  The question of Mr. Haller’s moral limits begs to be answers.  What would shake this man to his core? The Lincoln Lawyer does a good job of answering that question.

For those who are curious how this style of characterization looks in print, please read The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.  The book is every bit as entertaining as the movie.  Mr. Connelly is a master at drawing characters.

Floor is open.  To paraphrase Dirk Diggler, everybody has some thing that makes them unique and/or interesting.   What’s the best little revelation of character you’ve seen in a movie, TV show, or book? 

28 thoughts on “Little Revelations

    • It is John Leguizamo. He had a small role in The Lincoln Lawyer, but he was very good. You definitely need to read and watch The Lincoln Lawyer. Michael Connelly is an excellent mystery author.

    • It was a fun dinner. My cousin was the one with the dog in the bag. My aunt (her mother) was funny too, though. We always have such a good time when we get together.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by.

  1. See, now I have to see this movie. Almost watched it the other night but then realized I had Fellowship of the Ring on the DVR and well, Frodo won. Lots of interesting character moments in that one as well. One that comes to mind is Samwise stopping in the middle of a wheat field and saying “This is it. If I take one more step I’ll be further away from home then I’ve ever been.” He is frightened to take the next step. Yet he does, for his friend. And that , is what life is all about.

    Great post, Catie :)

    • You really should watch it. It’s a great writing lesson. The characters were so well drawn.

      I have never watched any Lord of the Rings or read the books. I loved what you said here about Samwise, though. It sort of makes me want to watch the trilogy. I love stories about friendship.

      Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for stopping by.

    • I have to confess that Frodo would have won for me too, Gene. :-) But now I want to see The Lincoln Lawyer…

  2. on ,
    Texanne said:

    Fun post, Catie. I, too, will be grabbing that book.

    The opening of Romancing the Stone shows us the inner (fantasy) life of Joan Wilder as she finishes up a novel. The scene with Gloria in the bar is priceless–it defines both women’s attitudes toward men.

    I’ve never taken a dog into a restaurant, though I’m not opposed to un-stinky, un-noisy mutts in restaurants, esp. sidewalk cafes. Did take a hamster into–well, everywhere, as she mainly lived in my shirt pocket.

    Argh! I’ve lost my bluebonnets! What the heck?

    • I don’t know where your bluebonnets went. My little avatar doesn’t show up at lots of people’s sites. I have no idea what the deal is.

      Be sure to read the book. The book and movie are so similar that you can pick one and skip the other. Mickey Haller is an interesting character for several reasons. I hope you’ll tell me what you think after you read about him.

      My cousin apparently takes her little (non-stinky) Yorkie into restaurants on occasion. The dog was fairly quiet, but it did yip a few times when the food came out. I thought it was great that she took the dog in the restaurant. However, I was and am amazed that nobody said anything.

      You’ve told me about that hamster before. It sounds like a great characterization. KMIM?

      Thanks for stopping by.

  3. The first thing I think of is The Sixth Sense. The revelation that the kid’s been working through his issues with a dead person. I totally didn’t get that until the end.

    And the dog in the restaurant? I’m so glad Holmes wasn’t there. :) Great blog, Catie.

    • Oooh, the Sixth Sense was fantastic. I liked the way the little kid had all these rituals for keeping the ghosts away. It was almost like a form of OCD.

      Does Holmes hate dogs in restaurants? Oh dear. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you enjoy the massage today. Happy belated birthday.

  4. OMG – you haven’t read nor seen the LOTR trilogy? Deep breaths, deep breaths…I read the books twice a year, every year, for 20 years. I have the movies and we used to watch them every year as well. We read the books to the kids when they were young – this was, of course, before the Harry Potter books came out.

    Okay, I’ll stop hyperventilating now…great blog post by the way…

    • Nope. I’ve never seen LOTR…or read the books. I feel like I’ve missed out on something big since so many people love them. Someday…maybe.

      I’ll tell you something else: I wouldn’t have read Harry Potter if I hadn’t been assigned the first one in a college lit class. It’s just not my genre. (runs for cover)

      Glad you enjoyed the blog post and thanks so much for stopping by.

  5. You know me…I love all of it but horror. I can’t sleep at night when I watch horror. I just watched Tangled this morning with Baby Girl and was thinking about what a great “show don’t tell” thing it is when Flynn Rider sees the ceramic unicorn in the castle. Little things like that are sooo powerful. :-)

    • You know, watching TV and movies can teach a writer “show don’t tell.” Movies and TV shows don’t have anything but showing. The day of black placards on a white background are long gone.

      As for horror, I love it. It doesn’t often scare me. I’m impressed when something is scary enough to bug me.

      Thanks for stopping by, Jenny. Soon as I finish comments, I’m emailing you that recipe.

  6. You had me at Matthew McConaughey! Yummy! And I’m gonna have to see the Lincoln Lawyer!

    Great Post Catie! I really enjoyed it. :)

    • Matthew McConaughey is very, very good looking. 😉 You totally need to watch The Lincoln Lawyer, and not just for the good looking star of the show. It’s a well told story. Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for stopping by.

  7. Catie – Thought provoking blog. Michael Connolly is one of my all-time favorites to read and was really pleased with how The Lincoln Lawyer turned out on the big screen. Every time I read a MC book I want to retire as a wanna-be writer. He has a new book out this week, which means sometime next week I will retire once again.

    • Oooh, a Michael Connelly fan! IMHO, he’s a great storyteller. I’m not a constant reader of his, but I do enjoy him when I pick up one of his books. I’ve learned a lot reading his books. He’s a master of characterization.

      Like you, I sometimes want to give up writing when I read a really good book. You’ll have to let me know if you enjoy the latest Michael Connelly book. I am getting a kindle for Christmas, and it might be one of my first purchases. squee!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  8. Your post is making me think a lot. I want to find a really great example. But what I keep thinking of is how I try to do this with my own fictional characters. And have I done it enough? I think the small stuff about characters also makes us feel that we know them better.

    The movie example which did occur to me (and I’m sorry that I always bring up this movie!) is Raiders of the Lost Ark. That first scene reveals SO MUCH about Indiana Jones, even his little gestures, tools, and fear of snakes. If the movie had started with him in the classroom, we would never have gotten that glimpse of his true character.

    P.S. No dogs in restaurants, please. I don’t know why dog people think their pets can go everywhere. I don’t see my friend bringing her pet python to the McDonald’s. (Go ahead and tell me off. I can take it.)

    • Your blog posts often make me want to find a great example. And I often find myself coming up short. It is the small stuff about characters that helps us know them better. Do you ever watch Supernatural? Several seasons ago, Dean believed he had come up against a brick wall. The scene after he got the bad news showed him sitting in a bar, drinking amber colored liquid (probably whiskey or scotch). “Fell on Black Days” was playing in the background. It was a powerful scene because it showed what Dean does when he’s depressed and at odd ends.

      No worries on using Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ve not seen that movie in a decade (at least). I need to rewatch it for the storytelling. A year or two ago, I bought and rewatched Romancing the Stone for the same purpose. Great movie if you’re wondering how to show character change.

      P.S. I’d never tell you off for stating your thoughts. For one thing, I won’t convince you to think otherwise. For another, I am not sure I disagree. I will say that my cousin’s dog never left the carrier, and some free range kids look nastier than that dog. However, I will counter my own point with this: if everybody brought their dog into the restaurant, it would be a nasty place. And I’ll say this, too: I have left restaurants before because there were nasty people running around touching everything. And I am usually pretty hesitant to eat a buffet.

      Hope you are having a good evening and thanks for stopping by. 😀

      • “Free range kids”! That’s hilarious. I like dogs just fine. I just worry about pet hair in a food place. I sure wouldn’t bring my cats, but kitties don’t stay in carriers well so that’s probably not a good comparison. Love Romancing the Stone, and I’ve never seen Supernatural. Another to add to my list. Have a great night! :)

  9. I love Michael Connelly’s work. I read Lincoln Lawyer and saw the movie. They were both great! I love watching movies and learning from them about characters, staging, action, etc. I would say that I haven’t read or seen any of the LOTR trilogy, but Christine may pass out for sure from all the hyperventilating! LOL It’s on my to do list though, so hopefully she’ll be okay. :-)

  10. I haven’t read LOTR either, Catie. And the only reason I know about Harry Potter is because of the movies. Bad me, I know. :-)

    This was a great post – and timely, too. I’m revising an early chapter in my latest story and am finding places where I need to add characterization and places where I included too much. I should read this book or watch this movie as a characterization refresher course.

  11. I just went and downloaded the Kindle version. I had looked for it when the movie came out but it wasn’t out on Kindle yet and I was soo disappointed. I can’t WAIT to read it! Sounds amazing.
    I love this post! Wonderfully insightful about the way to showcase characters bit by bit, scene by scene. I’ll definitely put this to good use!
    Now…off to READ my new book! Woot woot!

  12. Damn it, Catie. Quit putting up such good blogs on books I haven’t read. I’ve already bought NO BEAST SO FIERCE and EDUCATION OF A FELON (I downloaded samples, and they are so right down my alley). Now I’m going to have to add THE LINCOLN LAWYER to my Xmas list.

    As far as the Yorkies….I have two, and they’re worse than kids. Annie and Clooney, siblings, are spoiled rotten. Remind me to tell you how Annie at 5 pounds is the dominate dog when her brother Clooney is 10 pounds. Let’s just say she bit him where it hurts the most when they were six months old, and even now, four years later, she still has her bluff in on him, and he won’t mess with her if she starts growling. LOL, they’re hysterical. Yes, we travel with them. It’s seriously worse than kids.

    Thanks for a great post. ~clink~

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