I recently re-read one of our writing group’s author’s story. It is called “Coda Redux.” James, the author, discusses in his author’s notes about trust, which made me want to discuss this concept in my blog, as I did not see him cover it to my satisfaction. So, let us turn to a discussion of trust.
How does an author construct a character’s trust that is believable? What is trust and what comprises it? Psychological construction of trust in a character contains ordered indicators that lead to a conclusion in the character that trust is warranted. In other words, for a character to believably trust someone who should not automatically be given trust, there are a number of indicators which are arranged in order. When these indicators pass the test as being true, then a piece of trust is earned or given. At some point, the character will give trust. However, the less likely it is that a person should be trusted, then the more indicators will need to be proven true (or passed) before that trust is given.
Here is an example
Say a mother goes to an elementary school and goes to the principle’s office. A woman enters (indicator 1 = yes) Note: a woman principle is more likely to be trusted than a man principle. If it were a man, then the answer would equal “maybe.” The woman, who this mother has never met, is clean, smells good, and is pleasant looking. (indicator 2 = yes). The “principle” (I put it in quotes because we do not REALLY know if this is the principle.) asks the mother to sit down. After a pleasant greeting, the principle says that she is worried about her son. (indicator 3 = yes). The mother will more likely trust someone in authority if that someone seems to be attempting to help her son. If on the other hand, the principle says, “Your son is a trouble maker,” then the mother will become defensive. In this case, (indicator 3 = maybe). Such a simple concept. What if we move it over to a less simple concept?
A mother opens the door to her house and two detectives are standing there. (Note: having only one detective will make it more difficult for the mother to trust) She shows a badge which seems real. (indicator 1= yes). The detective is shown into the living room and sits down. The detective immediately starts attacking her son. (indicator 2 = No). Instead, the detective starts asking questions about the mother, then switches to the son. (indicator 2 = yes)
Remember: these are “most likely” scenarios. I cannot craft them properly without an actual story to analyze. All these things will have to be built by the author. Subtle details will help perfect in a “yes”. Clean clothes, smells nice, combed hair. But the dirty bum living in a cardboard box will not ring with truth if his hair is combed and washed. So, some factors will automatically be against you when trying to craft an unbelievable person for a character to trust. Likewise, remember that you can craft a totally trustworthy person and insert odd or unsettling indicators in that person so that trust is less likely. This helps throw the reader off. Example: the detective who was acting odd, fidgeting when I said my husband’s name. The scientist who laughed maniacally when she talked about children being safe. The colonel who requires inappropriate actions be taken.
In the end, this topic is so broad that it becomes needful to write a whole book on trust. Needless to say, most authors have enough life experience that they can craft most of the characters properly. We just need to remember to check each indicator box along the way. If further research is needed, there are many psychology books written on the subject. This post stands mostly as a reminder that believable trust needs to be earned by verifying “yes” along the way. Of course, you trust me? don’t you?