On Character Building

I’m working on creating a character. This is something I’ve done before. That’s not to say I’m an expert at it—just that I’ve done it. Only this time it’s different, because I’m creating a character for myself.

No, I’m not writing a memoir, or a story with a protagonist who’s a thinly-veiled version of myself (at least, not intentionally). I’m also not getting into LARPing.

Fall semester is approaching fast, and six days from now, I’ll be standing in front of a class of twenty-five comp students, most of whom are in their first semester. And I’ll be trying to present a deliberately-crafted version of myself.

I tried that last semester, in a way. My students found me, for the most part, either strict and intimidating … or timid and insecure. Three guesses which of those was a more accurate reading—and there are only two options, so with three guesses, you have no excuse to not get it right eventually.

A professor of mine compared teaching to performing, and I think it’s an interesting analogy. I put on my teacher costume—a blazer, a plain top, nice pants, simple shoes—and get on my teacher stage and use my teacher voice (but sometimes slip and use my normal voice and have students come up to me after class to ask me what I said because it was impossible to hear from the back of the room). But I haven’t really created my teacher character. What does she want?

Some answers that are unacceptable:

  • avenge parents’ murder (doesn’t work when your parents are alive and well)
  • achieve fame (if you can’t handle a twenty-five person audience, the spotlight is not where you want to be)
  • win the big competition (a university teaching award doesn’t count as big)
  • slay the dragon (killing your students, even the mean ones, is frowned upon)
  • get the guy/girl (ditto sleeping with them)

So what does my teacher character want? I don’t have a good answer yet, but I have at least a nugget of what she doesn’t: She doesn’t want to seem intimidating. Avoiding timid would be pretty great, too.

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