Distinctions: Body of Knowledge
Send in The Scary Clowns
Here’s more proof we don’t all see the same world. For HalloweenI’m throwing a shindig for my students past and present. The party will center around the castle “ruins” I built in the woods last year. Hey, with the gyms closed I created the Fred Flintstone All-Rocks Workout. And to scare the busloads of guests I truck into the deep, dark Pacific Northwest forest, I wanted to hire a scary clown (among other characters).
Neophyte that I am I thought all clowns were the same. Not so. A friend offered to screen prospective clowns, and soon she hit me back with the finer distinctions of clowndom. What follows is excerpted from her email exchange with a clown agent:
“So the short answer is yes, I can help Chuck find an evil clown. Does he have a type in mind? Clean like the Joker? Dirty like he crawled out of a grave? Chatty like Pennywise? Silent like Art The Clown?
If he (chuck) has any requirements, I should know. Otherwise, I’ll toss this gig to my Halloween colleague James S————-n, who’s a local theater guy. He’s a pro at this sort of thing, but he’s going to be broad (so Pennywise type). He’s also a stilt-walker, if the venue has the clearance to accommodate that sort of thing.”
Who would of guessed that the clown world was so specialized?! Here’s yet another example of “Body of Knowledge,” or the lens through which each of us sees the world, based on our education or experience. Whereas I look at clowns and see, well, clowns… experts look at clowns and see a rich spectrum of historical types and cultural references. Further proof that before your fictional characters can describe their world you must know the characters’ Body of Knowledge. Then their description of the world also becomes a description of themselves.
Me, when I describe a clown, I reveal that I’m a clown-culturally-insensitive dolt. But when the above quoted clown agent sees a clown, he’s revealed as a clown connoisseur supreme.
The takeaway is, it’s only after you know your character that you can depict how the character sees the world. Good description should always describe the describer.
Good description should always describe the describer.
As for my scary clown, I’ve now asked for a silent, menacing clown who’ll carry a realistic fake axe dripping fake blood. A clown who will shadow guests as they wander the paths through the nighttime forest. A clown who’ll tie red balloons to various bushes. Not a stilt walker, not among all those low-hanging tree branches.
I use the term “guest” loosely. Let’s hope for the best.
In conversation with a friend recently, we agreed that Halloween decorations aren’t the pain-in-the-ass task that Christmas ones are. Christmas stuff you have to wrap and store in dry, sealed boxes. With Halloween stuff you just toss it into the attic or dirt-floored crawlspace where mice piss on it and spiders gunk it up with dead flies, and the next year — those skeletons and ghosts just look better!
I’m still stuck on the bit where you said you built castle ruins because the gym was closed.
Haha @ skeleton/halloween decor comment. So true. In building your character, is there anything that helps you determine whether what you are writing ventures into being too clever/cute? Do you have any sort of rule of thumb on things like that? I’m not necessarily speaking in terms of structure or flow. Let’s assume this is a detailed moment where we are really going deep in some way. Like people often note, you seem to have a great ability to keep a pulse on society and your characters without going overboard. So, I’m sort of wondering how you think through things like that to maintain a balance.