Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sabbath Reflections: First Impressions and Board Games

Please read this whole post. Because if you don’t, you’ll never want to play board games with me again. And then I would just be sitting in my dorm room alone, playing against myself and losing every time. Which would just be pathetic.

I’m going to define what I’m talking about right away, kind of like those stupid warning labels on irons that say, “Do not iron clothes while on body,” just so that no one misunderstands me.

Whenever I talk about forming first impressions, I mean: To remember interesting or unique characteristics and personality traits of others, both positive and negative, while allowing those impressions to change over time. Not stereotyping. Not judging.

See? That isn’t so bad.

As a writer, when you’re creating a character, you give your reader a first impression of that person by his actions, words, body language, and so on. It’s a hard job; you can’t let your reader stereotype your character…but you also need the reader to come to certain conclusions about that character. And the classic “show, don’t tell” rule comes in here – you want your readers to know that Harry is a slob without saying it, or that Katherine is not very trustworthy.

So try getting some practice in real life. Everyone forms first impressions – but not everyone thinks about why they came to those conclusions. As a writer, if you know what made you think your friend’s boyfriend was shady or why you just knew you’d be good friends with the person down the hall, you’ll know how to show us things about your characters without telling us directly what they’re like.

My favorite way to get first impressions in real life is playing strategy games with strangers. My favorites are Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Bang!, Mafia and Pandemic – two involve killing people, one involves saving people’s lives, and the other two are violence-neutral. Nice mix.

Anyone who knows me, beware: I am learning things about you as you play games with me, especially if I’ve just met you.

Let me clarify: I do not have a mental scorecard where I take away and add points for things that you do. I just find it interesting how you play the game, interact with other people, and make decisions. Other than general rudeness, I don’t judge anyone in a negative way. What I do is try to get a picture of who you are and why you do what you do (which, incidentally, can also help me know how to beat you).

However (and this is a very important however), if you do this in real life like I do, always remember to write your impressions in pencil instead of chiseling them into stone. Allow people to surprise you. Admit when you were wrong about someone. Remember that sometimes, first impressions can be very badly skewed for one reason or another.

This is one of the main ways to keep first impression-ing from judging. As Christians, we have a responsibility to make that distinction and live by it.

People are interesting. As a writer, you have a responsibility to meet them. Make solid, logical first impressions…but keep an open mind too.

Do this in your stories, and you will have deeper, more nuanced characters who your readers can identify with. Do this in real life, and you will have deeper, more interesting friendships with unexpected people.


  1. "I'm going to define what I'm talking about right away, kind of like those stupid warning labels on irons that say, 'Do not iron clothes while on body,' just so that no one misunderstands me."


  2. Thank you for that reminder ...I have a tendency to judge people without actually getting to know them, and that's been coming back to hit me over the head lately ...more than once. X) ;)