Monday, January 23, 2017

The Women's March and Crowd/Protest Scenes

Authors are advised to avoid discussing politics on social media so as not to alienate readers. Of course, my thoughts on gender roles and diversity are reflected in what I write, so my intended audience will probably share my views anyway. I participated in the Women's March on Chicago, and as I write this on Sunday morning, my head is still full of my experiences, the images, and the discussions still taking place. So I thought I'd look at them from a writer's perspective, say perhaps preparing to write a crowd or protest scene, and try to keep this post as politically neutral as I can.

First, take a look at your viewpoint character. (I'll switch pronouns during this post to refer to all types of characters.) Why is she planning to attend? Is this a cause the character is already committed to, one that he's ambivalent about, or maybe one she secretly wants to sabotage? Do they have support from their friends and family, or are they the odd ones out in their group? What kind of prep work does he do before hand? Does he create his own posters or copy from others? Does she pick clothes and accessories to make a statement? Do they plan for the worst? Does he pack light or bring extra supplies? Does she have to make special travel arrangements? Do they have to arrange to take time off of work or have someone else look after a dependent? All of these things reflect on the character and may affect their goals.

Next, consider the setting and the other people present. Weather may affect attendance; I'm sure the good weather on Saturday inspired more people to spontaneously join the march in Chicago. Is the location easy to get to? How much do the crowds affect movement? Is the entire group able to hear what's going on? Often, if the crowd is too big or the speaker system is inadequate, the entire group won't be in touch with the leader. People farther back will have to rely on rumors. How do people in the crowd behave? Are they polite to each other, or do they push and order each other around? How many of them share common symbols? Do they all have the same agenda, or are there special concerns within subgroups? Do local sections of the crowd distract attention from the main speaker? How do the authorities feel about this crowd? Does the crowd behave, or do they go wild? Writers may want them to go crazy to amp up the conflict. Of course, in real life, a peaceful protest will be more effective.

Finally, how does the crowd or protest scene change the character? Introverts and extroverts respond to crowd energy in different ways. An extrovert may make lots of connections at this kind of event, while an introvert may feel drained afterwards. Does the protest give the character new goals or change his previous ones? Finally, if the protest went awry, what happened to the character? Were they hurt or arrested? Was he soured on the cause, or did she become even more committed to it?

How do you feel about crowds and crowd scenes? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've never written about a crowd scene in action.

Pat Dilloway said...

Good on you for joining the March.

Sandra Almazan said...

Alex, I haven't either, but now I have some idea of how to do it if I need to.


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