Tag Archives: psychology

Pleased to meet you

One of the most common questions people ask writers goes something like: “Where do you get your characters?”  There’s also the inspiration variation on that question, but that’s a bit more vague, as everyone has their own source of inspiration.

No two authors approach writing with the exact same mindset and technique. Writing is an art form, and while there are certain methods and rules to follow, the process varies widely. In general there are two methods of creating characters. In method one, the writer happens upon, sees, or knows a person or often persons which by personality or quirks bring to mind a character. One could term this conscious character formation.  The other method is more subconscious in that the nebulous concept of the character pops into your head and as the story progresses the author discovers exactly who the character is. This is not to say that a character created by this method is not patterned after oneself or someone the author knows, but it isn’t done specifically.

Some authors might use a combination of the two methods, depending on the character and story. Others might use primarily one over the other. Understanding people, their motivations, emotions and ways people express their emotions are key to character development no matter how the character comes into being. How one achieves that understanding is an entire topic unto itself.

Personally, my characters tend to waltz into my head, introduce themselves and proceed with adventures. I discover them as I go along. Sometimes when I realize who they really are I find I’ve written a scene all wrong. Of course he/she wouldn’t respond that way! Until I know them, misunderstandings like that can happen. One of the most challenging tasks when learning to write is creating a voice unique to each character. This isn’t as simple as using slang or a specific “quirk” for each character. If done poorly it comes across as contrived. Creating the characters voice goes back to understanding the character.

For authors, our characters become very real (in a non-mental institute sort of way) to us. We build their life in our head, often far beyond the scope of the story the reader sees. It is that in depth knowledge of what makes them tick which we hope to translate into actions carried along by a plot. I find a personal thrill when a new character strides into the story and not only captures my attention, but says, “You’re writing my story next.” This is how I’ve gotten myself into writing two separate series.

So, for all you writers out there, how do your characters introduce themselves?

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Lie detector

I haz one.

I can generally take one look at my kids and know when they are lying. I am eternally grateful they have inherited one thing from me: horrible skills at lying!

Miss Drama’s lies are either she did something or didn’t do something. Seeing as how the pile of clothes doesn’t come with a cloaking device, trying to tell me she really did take it to the laundry room just doesn’t work. She seems to think that I’m totally oblivious to all reality.

“I didn’t do it.”

Internal facepalm as I WATCH her do said “thing”.

Miss Diva lies the least, so far. Usually her’s involve not admitting anything is bothering her, when in fact something is. The horrid poker face just doesn’t cut it kid. Don’t take up gambling. Once in a great while she attempts to blame things on her siblings. Unfortunately for her, this doesn’t work well either, as they all have rather unique modus operandi. Sherlock Holmes that I am, I’ve got them pegged.

Mr. Smarty-pants is a bit more creative, and while better than his sisters, he better fold too.

The most humorous part is that even if I’m not a hundred percent sure, all I have to do with Mr. Smarty-pants is insist he’s lying. Sure enough after about two or three of these exchanges he admits the truth.

“Nope, you’re lying.”

“Nu-uh.” [Reasserts his lie.]

“Totally lying.”

“Doh! How did you know?”

“Because I’m awesome like that.”

The best part? I wow him with my ninja-like lie detecting skills!

“That proves it. You have more brains than me,” he whines and admits my awesomeness.

I have absolutely no intention of explaining, EVER, the gazillion ‘tells’ each of them display.

 

I’ve been cursed!

Okay, I admit it. A witch didn’t curse me; my mother did. According to her she’s merely passing down the curse, as her mother did before her. What is this horrible, horrendous, horrific hex?

“One day, you’ll have a child just like you.”

As a kid I figured I was getting a pretty good deal if I ended up with a kid like me. After all, I was pretty darn awesome! Somehow in my weighing of this curse, I didn’t factor in my flaws. Sure, even then I knew I had them, but balanced against the good stuff, I didn’t see anything to worry about.

Guess what I got for shrugging off the curse? That’s right, you guessed it: three children like me.

One might wonder how three drastically different children could ALL take after me, but nature loves to play gene scramble, and they all have fifty percent of me anyhow.

Mr. Smarty-pants displays my penchant for bossiness, the “I know WAY more than you” syndrome, too many smarts for his own good, and a sarcastic streak. I balanced this out by a sense of fair play, NOT being a sore loser, learning when to tattle and when to use my information as blackmail, and being a peace-maker. Mr. Smarty-pants? Not so much.

Miss Diva, probably my most responsible child, still has a hefty dose of attitude with a stubborn streak wider than the Mississippi Riv er. I swear, she’s taken my attitude and raised it to the power of ten (at least).

Miss Drama and I share the early childhood mindset of “I’m in my own world and if you try to drag me into yours I’ll throw a tantrum so vile that I make Linda Blair look cuddly”. I had the advantage of already knowing the stuff they taught in first and second grade. So the two years it took for me to get the hang of school and its evil work did not really affect my progress. She’s also equally, if not more, creative at avoiding chores. I pulled plenty of disappearing acts as a kid b/c I wanted to play instead of helping with dinner, but as the oldest, responsibility hunted me down and hog-tied me at a rather early age. I feared consequences, so after awhile, no matter how much I wanted to run off and play or not do my homework, I preferred not to suffer punishments. Miss Drama somehow forgets about consequences until they leap up and bite her. Granted, she often forgets her underwear, or even her shoes at times, so I suppose this isn’t much of a surprise.

I see what nature has done.

While I understand the necessity of genetic diversity, it may drive me up the wall before they all reach adulthood. Each child has my flaws pair with OTHER strengths. Some of their good qualities are mine, which I learned later on, or similar to their aunt or uncle’s personality strengths. Nature scrambled us all up and said, okay, that first scramble was interesting, let’s see what happens with these combos. I’d like to know who decided that NONE of them should be peacekeepers. Hmm??? I think nature decided it might be fun to see how much I used that talent before banging heads together. So far, no heads have collided, at least not on purpose, but there are days where it comes close.

I’d blame my mother, but she didn’t really have much say in the matter. After all, her mother cursed her too. I wonder when I shall utter the fated words and curse mine…

Deep thoughts

“Why do all the thought provoking discussions happen when I’m not around?” Soup King (a.k.a. my boyfriend) asked yesterday after I relayed the myriad of topics covered while the kids and myself made the twenty-five minute commute from after-school care to the house.

That’s easy. My kids are still at the stage where Mom knows EVERYTHING. They’ve even told me so, and refuse to believe otherwise no matter how much I insist that nobody can know everything. At least, the younger two maintain that assertion. My oldest, at the advanced age of ten years, thinks he knows almost as much as me and definitely more than his sisters. Mr. Smarty Pants has a long way to go to catch up to me. In fact, I think his questions are often tests to see if he’s reached the magic point at which he knows something I do not. So far, I’m smarter than a fifth grader. 😀

I used to ask why it always seemed to occur in the car. Granted, not every car ride evolves into an in depth religious, scientific, historical, philosophical, or mathematical discussion. (Quite often it covers several of those categories.) However, if by some miracle they decide not to play “let’s drive mom nuts by bickering” and instead engage in conversation, I get peppered with all nature of inquiries:

“Why is the sky blue?”

“Is Santa real?”

“Where do babies come from?”

“How do they get in the mom’s tummy?”

“Where is God?”

“What’s God’s favorite holiday?”

“What happened to the dinosaurs?”

“Why did people have slaves?”

“Why is there crime?”

“When will I get boobs?”

“What’s five thousand four-hundred twenty two times eight?”

Those are just a tiny sampling of the questions. A friend of mine told me it’s because they have my undivided, aside from driving, attention. I think it’s more than that though. I’ve often attempted to continue the conversations beyond the car ride or to initiate them while doing other things. No luck. I suspect they’ve figured out that I talk A LOT. Ask  me a question and I shall answer in depth. In the car they know I am confined to answering before they hop out and scatter like leaves in a brisk fall wind the moment the car stops in the driveway. Smart little buggers….

 

Voices in my head

There’s a fine line between a writer and a schizophrenic, or so my therapist says. 🙂

Moving a story from ‘okay’ to ‘engaging’ involves making the reader care about the character. There are workshops, books, and resources galore that attempt to teach an aspiring writer how to create a believable character. My favorite author, Sherrilyn Kenyon wrote a blog on a this topic. She claims it’s “magic”. I agree, in the sense that there is no formula for the “perfect” character. She nails the crucial component in compelling characters. Idiosyncrasies. Flaws. Perfection is boring and unrealistic.

One doesn’t need to take loads of psych courses as Kenyon did, but she highlights a very important aspect of character building: understanding people. A writer cannot create a character and randomly assign choices designed solely to facilitate plot. One must get to know each character in proportion to the role they play in the story. The main character is both heart and voice, and as such must make choices that make sense for the character.Otherwise, the reader feels cheated.

A fun writing activity I enjoy doing involves “interviewing” my characters. Designed to help a writer consider things from the character’s perspective, the exercise highlights the fact that one must know why people respond in certain ways before being able to formulate a persona different from their own.

For some people this means endless hours of people watching, research, and observation. The rest of us just listen to the voices in our head. 😉