What does your character know?

I spent a good portion of yesterday morning figuring out what to write my blog about today. I had a plan, then totally threw it out based on a comment someone said.
For background, I was wearing a shirt with birds on it. In the foreground were a male and female cardinal. Someone talked to me about birds, mentioned cardinals, and how the sexes looked different, known as sexual dimorphism, and how that didn’t exist in some other birds. Which is true. Then he mentioned sparrows as an example. Without even thinking about it, I said, “Oh, yes they do.”
Why did I argue this point? Because when I was a teenager, and obsessed with birds (still am, the obsessed part, not the teenager part), my parents bought me bird books. I immediately started trying to identify all the birds that lived in our area. I learned that while there are a lot of different kinds of sparrows, the most common where I was living, and everywhere else I’ve lived (lots of places) are House Sparrows. These birds have subtle, yet distinct, differences between the male and female. Well, the immature males look like a mature female, so I’ve probably made a few errors. Don’t care. Once you know what you are looking for, it’s really easy to see.
If I look at a flock of birds, I don’t have to think ‘Which are the males, which are the females?’ I look and think, ‘Two female sparrows on the ground, one male on the fence, three females and a male on the bush…’. It’s automatic. Another person looks at the same flock, and thinks ‘Sparrows’. A third sees little brown birds. None of us are wrong.
On the other hand, when looking at cars, I see a red car, a blue car… I can identify most brand symbols if I get a good look at them, that that’s about it. But when I see something with yarn work, I look to see if it was knit or crochet, and try to figure out the pattern. So, why am I telling you this?
What your character knows effects how they see the world.
A master swordsman knows all the moves that are used in sword fighting, the types of swords that exist and how to tell a good sword from a bad one. They can probably also tell who knows what they are doing with a sword, and who doesn’t.
The pilot of your star ship had better know the controls, and not look at them as a bunch of blinky lights and shiny buttons. (Please note that I make absolutely no claims to any such knowledge. If I did, I doubt you’d believe me.)
The problems comes when your characters know things that you do not. Believe me, happens to me all the time. That’s where research comes in. No one is asking you to be an expert, but you should at least know enough to make sure your supposedly knowledgeable character doesn’t come off as an idiot.
Try to spend some time looking around, pretending to be your character. What do they notice? What interests them? Does your mechanic notice a unique car on the road? Does your librarian not pay any heed to the rare book on the floor?
It’s an interesting thought exercise that should help you with viewpoints and getting in your character’s head. Good luck.

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