You weren’t supposed to see that

For one theatre show I was a part of, I was the understudy for 7 parts and had to memorize all of their lines (including for the alternate endings for the play), and develop individual characters for each that I could get into at a moment’s notice if an actor didn’t arrive.

Since I was there for shows but didn’t have much to do (because the actors all made it each night, which is a good thing), I ended up ushering and helping at the ticket stands. As part of that I had to wear a white button-up shirt. I got one for the part and I thought I looked okay.

So I’m standing at the ticket window selling tickets. I’ve already sold dozens tonight. This isn’t the first time I’ve sold for this show either. One of my friends comes up to buy.

Once he gets his ticket, he is trying to suppress a smile:

“By the way…” He starts chuckling. “…nice tank top.”

I thought I looked okay. I thought my button-up wasn’t see through. I felt good about myself. But a big bright light is directly above me, exposing my rust-stained tank top for all of the happy couples and families to see.

“What? Why didn’t anybody tell me?! Everyone could see it the whole time?!”

The line behind him seemed relieved that the obvious was out in the open now and they obviously found it as funny as my friend did.

Fortunately, my rust-stained tank top kept me from potentially being told that I couldn’t sell the tickets at the church. I don’t know how things would have gone over otherwise.

But it’s interesting to me because characters in acting and writing can be kinda like that tank top- they can seem totally real and good to us, but then we put them in a certain situation- put them under a certain light- and suddenly we realize things don’t hold up to well. There’s some bad character development underneath. They aren’t okay. They aren’t right.

But we thought it was all okay, until somebody points out the equivalent of “nice backstory” or “nice development” or “nice breaking out of character”.

This is why when developing characters you have to consider your character as they are throughout the story- do they still hold up? Do you know what they would do then? If you only know what they would do in the first scene, that’s great that they hold up there, but they need to be more solid than that. You need to be able to put your character into any part of your story and know what they would do- and that takes time, development, and consideration.

I didn’t check my button-up shirt in that ticket booth- I checked it in the bathroom with calm ambient lighting. I didn’t check that my shirt would hold up under the situation- so I was embarrassed. But I still had to stay there and sell my tickets; I couldn’t run off and go “I gotta get a new dress shirt!” because we were busy.

The point is you have to know that the characters you’ve developed hold up in every situation that you need them for. Every character in your story, the backstory you’ve used to bring them to where they are, the scenarios upcoming- all of those pieces need to hold up with all of the other pieces present. If a character doesn’t hold up in the scene or the scene doesn’t hold up with the characters, your story needs help.

You may not need to know what your character will be like in 100 years, but make sure you know what they’re like over the course of your story. That way you can serve your audience more effectively.

Most everybody knew that my button-up shirt was see-through. If you need to, ask others for feedback on how real your characters and scenarios are. The problems are most likely obvious to other people even if the solutions aren’t.