A Writer’s Notebook: Likes and Dislikes

Still working on the character of Ford. This week, his likes and dislikes, which I’ll explain below.

Ford likes the sound of cicadas in the summertime, the whirring from afternoon till dusk. He likes the heat, and the cicadas’ song always brings it.

Ford likes old pick-ups, the big boxy kind from the `50s, the `70s, the kind with engine frames big enough you can climb inside, sit on a fender wall while you dismantle the head.

Ford likes the department stores that set up floor displays of furniture, the huge hardware stores with a dozen model kitchens and sample bathrooms. He likes to go to the store in the early afternoon in the middle of a work week, when the aisles are almost empty; he’ll stand in the models and imagine who might live there, what they’d be doing in the shower, in the bed, never knowing that Ford was overseeing everything.

Ford likes details. He’ll study and study a thing, get in close to it, pull out magnifying glasses, peer and poke. He’ll disassemble anything, and he can usually put it together again. The tiny screwdrivers that come in those sets the computer nerds use are fragile and slippery in his thick, strong hands, but he handles them carefully and uses them a lot, because the smaller the screws needed to hold a thing together, the more pleasure he takes in extracting them.

Ford likes to watch nature fight itself. He watches predator films on the wildlife channels, goes to dog fights or cock fights when he can find them. When he was a kid, he liked to capture scorpions and wasps and put them in glass jars together. It took a little encouraging to get them to fight, but he always enjoyed the battle.

Ford hates those window stickers people put in the rear windows of their pick-ups, the ones that show the cartoon Calvin pissing on the Ford emblem. He doesn’t much care about the debate between Ford and Chevy–he drives a Dodge–but he’ll throw a rock through any window that has that disrespectful sticker on it.

Ford doesn’t like cops. He doesn’t mind knowing they’re around and understands why society needs them, because someone has to keep the teenagers and degenerates in line, but no cop has any business messing in Ford’s life. As long as people let him do as he pleases, people would get along a lot more peacefully.

Ford can’t stand foods that have silly nicknames. Mac and cheese. PB&J. Peas and carrots. That last one’s not a nickname, but when people use it as a curse word it just pisses him off.

The same thing goes for crayons–he hates the big boxes. He likes the real colors, the simple colors: Gray. Brown. Green. Once you get past the basic eight, the names just get stupid. Cornflower. Salmon. Boysenberry. It’s idiotic.

Ford dislikes deer blinds. He’ll sit around of an afternoon and knock back a six pack same as any man, but sitting in a glorified treehouse and calling that hunting is just plain fraud. A real hunter stalks, tracks, moves in on his prey. A real hunter won’t wait for anything to just come to him–a real hunter knows how to catch what he’s after with his own two hands.

After writing the “character interview” with Ford last week, I got so interested in the story developing out of that imagined conversation that I actually started working on the story. (See? Who says writing exercises are a waste of time?) But getting a handle on the character of Ford has always been difficult for me, given his dark and complicated nature, which is one reason this story has sat on the proverbial shelf for so long. This week, I was thinking about character traits and defining details, and I remembered the opening sequence in the film Amelie, one of my favorite movies of all time. In the first several minutes of the film, an omniscient narrator gives us a rapid-fire history of Amelie and her parents, fleshing out pertinent attributes through quirky details. One of the more delightful techniques the film uses is to describe the things each character likes and dislikes (“I like to look for things no one else catches,” Amelie herself tells the camera. “I hate the way drivers never look at the road in old American movies.”), and I decided to make a similar list for Ford.

Theoretically, you could do this through freewriting, just slamming out a rapid-fire list of whatever pops into your head, and in certain situations that might be the best approach. But accessing your subconscious that way might lead you to write down things you like or dislike, rather than details about your character. And in this case, Ford is definitely NOT me, so I needed to more carefully select things that would speak to his character as well as to the story I want to tell–namely, of a man who was convicted of statutory rape but claims he is misunderstood, and about whom it’s hard to tell which he might be, the victim of social misjudgment or a barely-restrained sociopath.

I don’t know if any of these details will hold up or make it into the story, but they’re what I’m going with for now, and they will definitely help me move forward with the story.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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