Creating Characters

professorYesterday I met with a philosophy professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.  My biggest concern was finding my way around after not having been on campus for about 9 years.  Who put all these new buildings here? 

I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the actual professor.  I took philosophy.  I know what philosophy professors are like.  Older guys.  Some of ’em dress pretty well.  Others, not so much.  

Walking to his office, I stepped aside to let someone, obviously a grad student, pass me in the narrow hall.  “Sue?”  he asked.

What?  You’re the professor?  You’re way too young.  And you’re dressed like . . . my husband.  Even the philosophy professors who dressed badly wore suit coats.  They just also wore t-shirts with writing you could see through their dress shirts.  They did not wear jeans and running shoes and sweat shirts.  Sweat shirts!  

Ok, I have gotten at least a month or two older in the last 9 years so that could explain the fact that he looked unexpectedly young.  But did I have a stereotyped professor in mind?  I didn’t think so, because my expectations were based on two of my former professors. 

But this got me to wondering.  How often, when we create characters, do we do so within boundaries that are too narrowly defined?  Do we rely on our own stereotypes even if they aren’t society’s stereotypes?  How can we broaden these boundaries without pushing them so far that our characters seem unbelievable?   Definite food for thought.