Yesterday, I was part of a program in which one participant was evaluated by the others in a process called “Face the Music.” Over time, everyone in this program has to “face the music,” which isn’t a form of oral hazing; the evaluations are always kind.
But it started me thinking of trying this as a writing exercise. Facing the Music is different from an elevator story, in which you throw characters together in an elevator, make the elevator get stuck, and see how they respond. Of course, an elevator story doesn’t have to take place in an elevator – could be a life raft, a submarine in trouble, a hijacked airplane. In an elevator story, the tension originates from an outside source (the busted elevator) and builds because of the natures of the trapped people. In Face the Music, the tension, if there is any, arises entirely from the characters, and tension isn’t the purpose of the exercise. The purpose is to learn more about your characters and possibly even find out where you’re letting them down.
So, what if I gather my characters together and make them evaluate one another? There are bunches of ways to do this: They can sit in a circle on hard wooden chairs in a gritty, charmless room, a setting you may see in a movie scene of some sort of group counseling. My characters will behave characteristically. The one who manipulates will manipulate; the compulsive truth-teller will be honest; the shy one will keep quiet.
Or I can give my characters a truth serum, so they’ll have to tell all. I can watch them react to finding out how their fellow characters really perceive them.
Or I can have them write anonymous evaluations, and I can pass the evaluations out to the respective characters. Despite the anonymity, I suspect some will still lie once the truth serum leaves their systems. With written evaluations I’ll see their handwriting and discover how they express themselves in writing. Unfortunately, in the book I’m working on now, many are illiterate.
Here’s a new idea: What if I introduce myself into the exercise? What if I’m the one evaluating my characters? I’m more than halfway through this novel, so I should know them pretty well. Oh, this is interesting! One is an underachiever. I had much higher hopes for this character. And I hate this other one, who isn’t my villain. I didn’t know that I hate him until now. He doesn’t pay much attention to my main character, who adores him, and I feel bad for her. He’s a cold fish. I absolutely like my villain, who, if he or she weren’t a killer, would be a complete delight. My main character is unfocused. I wish she’d concentrate on one thing and stick with it. The king is what he should be: selfish, unfeeling, ambitious. He gets an A+ for coming through just right.
I can also have my characters evaluate me. Some will want out of the book entirely, but others will want me to make them main. They will want their wishes more indulged.
You can play Face the Music with your characters in all these ways. One way or another may prove the most useful. The form that just worked best for me was evaluating everyone myself. Now I know that I have to give my underachiever more to do, and I have to make my main character choose what she most wants to want. And I’m glad to know how strongly I feel about the character I hate. I need to decide if I want to make him more hateful or not hateful at all. Cool.
If you play Face the Music, have fun, and save what you write!