My social circle in high school mostly consisted of nerds.
For those of you that weren’t, I’m not talking about the modern television interpretation of the nerd here. These were not charmingly inept people who were still kind of adorable, just also a little too smart for normal people to feel comfortable around.
What I mean when I say “nerds” is “once a week we would get together and pretend to be vampires.” With costumes.
So it wasn’t uncommon for people to laugh knowingly and say things like “Oh, Geoffrey. You’re such a Clan Giovanni!” What they meant by that was “you’re kind of a jerk to us sometimes,” although more literally it means “you fuck dead people and also possibly your relatives — maybe dead relatives; we’re not honestly sure how messed-up it gets,” and it’s possible my reputation in high school was even worse than I thought. And I would usually laugh and nod in cheerful agreement. I even had (have) cufflinks with the clan sigil on them.
But I bring all this up because in my heart of hearts I never agreed with them. I always knew — deeply and secretively — that if we broke the whole world down into the archetypal vampire clans from this game we all played I was a Toreador.
I was passionate, romantic; beautiful in word and deed — an artist with the whole world as my canvas. (This was high school. Drama did not need to be restrained.) It was my special privilege to be externally practical, even ruthless, while inside my secret soul would stop and listen entranced as soon as someone put on Madame Butterfly.
This is something that the vampire game — and most games like that — actually got pretty well. The “character sheets” that told you everything you needed to know about the vampire you were playing always had both a secret “Nature” and an outward “Demeanor.” I don’t think they ever really matched up, except for the insane characters.
I think writers, who live in their character’s heads, can take a lesson from that. We’re all very in love with showing not telling, but it’s really very implausible for anyone’s internal motivations to actually be clear from a brief observation of their behavior. If your reader knows what makes a character tic after a chapter or two of descriptive, factual narration, you might be doing something wrong. Or maybe you’ve just written a genuinely transparent person — they do exist.
Nature and Demeanor. There’s lots of words that work; pick your favorites. But remember that they’re two separate things. In novels and in dress-up games where you pretend to be a vampire. You should try one some time!