Saturday, April 19, 2014

Quirks - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge


Wilkins Micawber from Dickens' David Copperfield."Something will turn up."

   Quirks make people, whether real or fictional, memorable.  (It might not always be in a good way;  I was traumatized in Junior High when I read about Humbert Humbert using his tongue to get an eyelash out of Lolita's eye.  It still gives me the creeps.)

   Dr. Ruth made waves in the 80s by frankly and openly discussing answering questions about sex, but I remember her most for her sense of humor - and the fact that she was a trained Israeli sniper and incredibly accurate at throwing hand grenades.

   If I had to choose a book in which just about every character is quirky, Joseph Heller's Catch-22 would be in the top 5. My favorite is Dunbar, who is busy extending his lifespan by using boredom to slow time.  I think of him often, as the minutes crawl by during meetings and certain social events.  

   Whether it's a physical trait, a catchphrase, a particular like/dislike or an unusual outlook on life (comic or otherwise), find a way to make your character memorable.

Can you identify these characters?

  1. Says "fiddle dee dee" a lot and made a gown from curtains.
  2. “I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible.”  
  3. Nemesis is a tiger named Shere Khan.  Best friend is a bear.
  4. “I’m about as shapeless as the man in the moon!” His physical abnormality is part of the book title.
  5. Fierce female, world class hacker, has a tattoo which features in the book title.
  6. "That's my spot!" (This one's a TV character.)
  7. Corresponds with a personal assistant of "our father below" AKA Satan.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b5/Hall_Freud_Jung_in_front_of_Clark.jpg
Carl Jung (front row, far right) and Sigmund Freud (front row far left)

The Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator (PMAI), designed by Carol Pearson and Hugh Marr, is an assessment tool based on both Carl Jung's archetypes (see my entry for J) and Joseph Campbell's works on mythology (specifically The Hero With A Thousand Faces).

Carl Jung, one of the most influential founders of modern psychology, built on the concept of the archetype - a collectively inherited pattern of myths, legends, themes, characters, and symbols which make up our individual psyches and cultures.

Joesph Campbell theorized that ancient myths from around the world all contain basic elements of the Hero who sets out upon a Journey, survives danger, performs tasks, receives a gift or gifts (if he survives), then chooses whether to return or not and share those gifts, one of which is usually some sort of enlightenment.  (This is an extremely simplistic description, but I wish to keep these posts brief.)

The test consists of 72 questions with a choice of  five responses: 1 Strongly Disagree, 2 Disagree, 3 Neutral, 4 Agree, 5 Strongly Agree.

Scores are then totaled for each of the archetypes and scaled on a circular chart. The PMAI is designed to assess the type/strength of archetypes at a given moment of the test subject's life.

Unlike many other theories and assessments which assume that a person's core personality is somewhat fixed, the PMAI results may change over time since the subject is on a life journey and different archetypes may be stronger or "active" at different points of that journey.

PMAI archetypes  here

Questions to ask about your character using the PMAI:

  • What sort of life journey have you set for your character?
  • If you are concerned with only a portion of the character's life, which archetype is strongest during that period?  Which might have been strongest in the past?
  • How might your character's particular culture have influenced his archetype?
  • How does archetype influence how your character views the world and others around him?
  • Is your character aware of her particular archetype? (Is she an "orphan" type who recognizes and embraces the fact that she is a tough survivor, or does she subsume that type in favor of appearing more fragile and feminine?)
  • Everyone has "shadow" archetypes (scored lowest on the test).  These archetypes (if desired) can be nurtured and strengthened by an individual over time.  What might your character's shadow archetypes be?  Will those archetypes emerge as your story unfolds?  Or will your character remain essentially unchanged over his journey?
  Fun "P" fact: Phrenology involves observing and/or feeling the skull to determine an individual's psychological makeup. It was popular in the 1800s;  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had the heads of their children "read". Phrenologists ran their fingers over the skull searching for and recording bumps or indentations.  Measurements were also taken with calipers and tape measures.  Certain areas of the skull were thought to correspond directly with organs of the body as well as being indicative of personality traits and character. It has since be debunked.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Objects - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

File:Beaulieu National Motor Museum 18-09-2012 (8421085262).jpg
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Photo by Karen Roe via Wikimedia Commons
         Objects can serve two purposes in fiction writing.  Certain objects can take on a life or character of their own.  Good examples include cars like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and KITT, Hal the Computer, Robbie the Robot, even the sword Excalibur and Tolkien's Ring.

         Inanimate things are primarily used to create the world that your characters live in;  they tell us about everything from setting (town, countryside, planet) and culture to weather and time period.  Objects also provide clues about your character's life, personality, desires and motives. Financial circumstances, family history, educational level, personal habits, likes and dislikes - the list goes on and on. 

       Read the following excerpt and determine what the author is trying to convey by the setting:

     "It was a room of diligently austere splendor. The only furniture was the low marble table and our nine cushions evenly arranged around the carpet.  The only decoration was a framed black and gold-leaf depiction of the Kaaba at Mecca."  from Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

     What does the above description tell us about possible locations, and who the occupants of the room might be?

     How characters use, view and respond to objects can reveal a lot.

  •      Characters can use objects to project a desired image of themselves. (Designer clothes, vehicle, artwork.)
  •      Characters can use objects to transform themselves. (Magical cloak, body modification, costume.)
  •      Characters can form unhealthy attachments to objects.  (Hoarding, need to carry talisman, Tolkien's Ring.)
  •      Characters can form emotional connections with objects.  (Treasured photo, Grandma's teacup, toy from childhood.)
  •      Characters can value objects/material things over people.  (Dad cannot move in with me because he's a slob and will ruin the furniture. I resent you because you got a bigger slice of the inheritance. I would rather die than let you have this {object}.)   
Questions to ask yourself:
  • How do my characters use objects to project themselves?
  • How do my characters use objects to transform themselves?
  • Did I use plenty of objects to "show not tell" things about the characters in my story?



         

Names - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

He's too interesting to have a name.

     You'll find hundreds (if not thousands) of articles and tips on naming your characters.  Methods range from using the phone book and obituaries to searching family trees and historical texts. The internet has brought us random generators, some of which I've linked at the end of this post.

     Naming your characters can be as intimate a process as naming your offspring.  What you choose to call your character may reflect different things: personality, lineage/origin, occupation.  A nickname can also be used to convey physical characteristics (Twiggy, Lefty, Rabbit), demeanor (Bull, Twitchy), or current/past occupation (Sarge, Gopher, Hack). 

     There are some basic "rules", but I only stick to one of them:  make sure that the names fit the time period.  I see everything else as fair game. If I'm writing a flash and I want the reader to pay more attention to the storyline than the character, I may choose a bland name like "Joe".  A name/nickname may or may not reflect the character; for example, "Thorny" (shortened from Thornton) is not prickly by nature.  Among my stacks of notebooks is one which is used to note names which I like, culled from real life, the police log, you name it.  I'll mix and match first and last names until I come up with something that "clicks".  

     On rare occasions, a character will present himself to me with his name already chosen.  I have no idea how that happens, but I always stick with it.  

     We also have to consider settings and locations.  One writing source advised me to "use realistic place names"That entails checking thoroughly to make sure that your fictional town/school/business name is not already in use.  Rocky Mount**n High School might not appreciate being used as the setting for a violent crime.   Zangori's Pizza might take offense at being tied to a drug ring.  (There's also a business name generator at the end of this post.)   I'll often create a place name that can be transformed by the inhabitants into something humorous.  Norgood Hollow became "No God Hollow", and Butte Pass became "Butt Crack".  And, by the way, real towns include Pity Me, Cheesequake, Bug Tussle and Humptulip. It seems as though you can put any two words together and you've got a place name.

    
 Fun facts:
  • Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs is the full name of the Wizard of Oz.
  • The character of Snow White may have been inspired by a real woman named Maria Sophia Margaretha Catharina Freifr√§ulein Von Erthal
  • New Zealand and Sweden have banned certain names for people including Lucifer (NZ) and Superman (Sweden).  (I guess you can still call your pet whatever you want.)

Fun questions about characters' names:

  1. Does anyone know the real name of "The Man With the Yellow Hat" in the Curious George books?
  2. From Gilligan's Island:  What was the Professor's real name?
  3. What author created characters with names such as "Anne Chickenstalker", "Mr. Spottletoe", and "Mercy Pecksniff"?
  4. Can you recall at least one book where the protagonist is never named?

Random name generators:
Behind the name
List of random names
Place name generator
Company name generator 
Country/nation name generator 



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge



     File:CognitiveFunctions.png
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment explores preferences, decision-making and how subjects view the world.  Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers formulated the test and based it on Jung's idea of 4 psychological functions (ways we interpret the world):  feeling, thinking, intuition and sensation.  Jung divided the 4 into cognitive function teams:  rational (thinking/feeling) and irrational (intuition /sensation).  Rational (thinking/feeling) is a judging function, while irrational (intuitions/sensation) is a perceiving function.

The functions are expressed by an individual in either an introverted or extroverted manner.

Therefore 16 possible combinations exist; each of us has one which is our preferred way of making decisions and perceiving the world.  The combinations are expressed by using letters to denote the functions and teams. (Intuition is represented by the letter N so as not to be confused with introverted (I).

Example:  Someone who is INFP primarily relies on introversion (I), intuition (N), feeling (F) and perception (P)
Some of the INFP characteristics include:
  •          devote more time and energy to the inner world 
  •          feel deeply 
  •          are loyal and ethical
  •          see things and actions from an idealistic perspective 
  •          may often withdraw and seem "lost in thought"
  •          creative, innovative and curious
This post is a very brief and simplistic overview.  For a much better explanation, check out this LINK

The Myers-Briggs is a lengthy questionnaire administered and interpreted by professionals.  If you want a feel for the assessment, there is a free online questionnaire which is supposed to be similar to (but definitely IS NOT) the Myers-Briggs.  I'll give you the link, but pay attention:  the test is free, and the personal results are free, but for a "business" it says "free trial" so don't get suckered into buying something you don't want...

Jung Typology Test

Adjectives for the day:  multipotent, morne, morigerous, mirific, mesquin

Monday, April 14, 2014

Life Change Units - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

      The Life Change Index scale ("stress test") assigns number values to events which have a stressful impact on our lives.  Even "neutral or positive" events can cause a stress - an interview which you are fully prepared for may still cause anxiety, a sports award may bring added performance pressure.

      Impact scores range from low (11 is a minor law infraction) to 100 (death of a spouse, rated the most stressful event of all).  Studies find a direct correlation between a high unit score and illness.

     Events which are high on the list serve as chapter headings for our lives.  Our memories formulate "flashbulb" files for these moments:  what we were doing when that fateful phone call came in, what we were wearing when we wrecked the car, the poster on the wall in the exam room when the doctor came in with bad news.  We may also experience dramatic personality changes that occur as a result of these events. The shifts may be temporary, or lasting. The caregiver who spent years patiently tending a relative may deliberately avoid any sort of health setting in future, neglecting their own health. Or they may become angry and bitter. Someone betrayed by a friend may become secretive and untrusting. Perhaps the loss of something or someone dear produces an epiphany in an individual about what really matters in life.

Some things to think about:

List some stressful events in your character's life.  Even if they are never discussed in the story, you should have an idea of those defining "chapter headings" and how they affected your character.

Have you overloaded your character?  If they've lost a parent, a brother, a dog, a job and a significant other in the past year or two, your character should be barely functioning. Be realistic in your portrayals.And remember that too much can be...well, too much.

Look at the time period/setting for your story.  What historical events are happening/have happened, and how would they affect your character?  (War, death of a political figure, poor economy, hurricane, etc.)  These events can be terribly stressful as well.

Thanks for stopping by - almost halfway through the challenge!

Adjectives for the day:  lissome, largiloquent, latitant, lubricious, louche, luculent




    

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Sort Of: You're Not the Boss Of Me

Hi everyone!  The A to Z Challenge seems to be going really well!  I've learned a lot, found some great blogs, and have managed to visit at least 5-10 blogs per day.

As a bonus read today - totally unrelated to my theme - here's an essay I wrote over at the ReadWave site.

What shall I wear to my funeral?  What will the neighbors say?  Why do we care so much about what other people think - and how does it sap the joy from our lives?

 Click here to read "You're Not the Boss Of Me"

Thank you for stopping by today! A to Z posts will resume Monday, April 14 at 10AM, EST with the letter L.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kingdomality - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge



                                          (Your reward for visiting me here today:  Monty Python -
                                          The Black Knight (Just A Flesh Wound) 
  

      For lovers of all things Medieval - here's the vocational assessment system for you!  Created in 1990 by Richard Silvano, Kingdomality is based on the theory that everyone has a Medieval vocational personality. He posits that it is no accident that long ago certain types of people gravitated to certain professions.  (I would argue that birth order and lineage had much more to do with who ended up in which profession, but I'm not an expert.) Silvano believes that identifying and understanding one's Medieval personality can be a key to success in today's job market.

     There are twelve Kindomality characters. The assessment information is all copyrighted so I'll just list the "types" and two or three words of description from  Wikipedia  .

Bishop - orderly, imaginative, short-sighted
Benevolent Ruler - idealistic, charismatic, manipulative
Shepherd - vigilant, dependable, rigid
Black Knight - strategist, efficient, arrogant
Scientist - data-driven, perceptive, narrow-minded
Discoverer - adventurous, open-minded, impractical
Merchant - competitive, realistic, unmerciful
Prime Minister - decision-maker, risk-taker, impetuous
Engineer/Builder - practical, pragmatic, dogmatic
Dreamer/Minstrel - optimistic, spontaneous, sentimental
White Knight - merciful, heroic, impulsive
Doctor - consistent, rational, sensory-driven

Which type is your character? Which type are you? For more info, visit Kindomality.com

Adjectives for the day:  kerasine, kitthoge, kempt, kinetic



Friday, April 11, 2014

Jung's Archetypes - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge


 

 "Not for a moment dare we succumb to the illusion that an archetype can be finally explained and disposed of. Even the best attempts at explanation are only more or less successful translations into another metaphorical language. (Indeed, language itself is only an image.) The most we can do is dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress. And whatever explanation or interpretation does to it, we do to our own souls as well, with corresponding results for our own well-being. The archetype — let us never forget this — is a psychic organ present in all of us." 
                                                        The Archetype as a Link with the Past ' Carl Jung, Collected Works

 Carl Jung developed the concept of character archetypes as models of people, behaviors or personalities. Jung theorized that the psyche is composed of three parts: the ego, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious.

Archetypes come from the realm of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is a sort of psychic pool which is common to all humanity;  we draw from this pool, for example, when we create elements of our culture such as artwork, religious symbols, or folk tales. Since archetypes are from the unconscious, they can only be recognized by examining (by others, or thru thorough self-analysis) their manifestations thru behavior, art, myths, religions, or dreams.

Those archetypes that form the main structure of each individual's psyche are the self, the persona, the shadow, anima/animus, and the ego.

  • Self is the union of conscious and unconscious in an individual.
  • Persona (mask) is how we present ourselves in various situations and to various people.
  • Shadow is the "dark side", the unconscious and often repressed drives, desires and instincts.
  • Anima/Animus is the representation of the opposite gender in our subconscious. Our experiences with the other sex (parent, sibling, lover) get filed here as well.
  • Ego is the "I", our representation of ourselves (which may or may not be how others perceive us).

 Archetypes come into play in other forms as well.

  • Figures include great mother, father, wise old man/woman, devil, god, hero, trickster.
  • Events include birth, death, marriage, separation
  • Motifs include creation, deluge, "deal with the devil", apocalypse
  • Nature includes fire, ocean, river, mountain
  • Themes include quest, journey, initiation, fall
  • Symbols include mandala, animals (fish, owl), astronomical objects (moon, sun)

Take each of your characters and describe the 5 main structure archetypes for him/her. Pay particular attention to the shadow and the anima/animus.  What is driving them?  What are they repressing? How have their past relationships with the opposite sex (even if it has no bearing on the plot) affected their psyche?

Have you used any common symbols to give depth to your story?  Is the main character particularly drawn to water, have a friend who is a "trickster", use a symbol which means something in particular? A star tattoo, a religious symbol on a wall, a particular color?  What is the underlying archetypal theme in your story?

Further reading:

Jungian Outline, Clifton Snyder

Carl Jung Wikipedia

Holy Grail Of the Unconscious (NY Times)

Adjectives for the day:  jactancy, jannock, jejune, jocose,
    

    

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Interaction Styles - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge


      Interactive behavior style refers to our "outer" observable behavior patterns when dealing with others as opposed to our "inner" state of emotions, desires and conflicts.  The Greek physician Hippocrates divided  temperament into four categories which roughly corresponded to the four humors (body fluids) and the four elements (air, fire, earth, water) which were thought to influence health and well-being. He referred to these temperaments as melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine and choleric.

     Linda V. Berens in Understanding Yourself and Others:  An Introduction To Interaction Styles 2.0 also suggests that there are four innate styles/patterns of behavior which determine how we interact with each other. She refers to them as Chart-the-Course, Behind-the-Scenes, In-Charge and Get-Things-Going.  (These terms are apparently copyrighted, as is most of the information I've found, so there's a link at the end of the post if you'd like more information about Berens and the four interactive styles.)

     Your character's interactive style can help you to determine how he will respond in certain situations.

  • How will he react to relationship difficulties? (Attack, defend, give in, ignore/hope it blows over?)
  • What's his prime motivator when it comes to interacting with others? (Approval, power, respect, fitting in?)
  • How will he react in a crisis? (Take control, rely on others, solve with group, persuade others to his plan)


 Berens Interactive Styles - Synopsis


Engage Your Strengths Quiz

Adjectives for the day:  indigent, icterine, ignivomous, immarcescible, improvident, inchoate, infandous


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hobbies - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge


Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier and Don Rickles, Kraft Music Hall, 1968. Souce: Wikimedia Commons
   Giving your character a hobby can serve several purposes.  It can serve to reinforce a particular personality type - an aggressive risk taker may race cars or skydive on the side.  Conversely, a hobby which seems incongruous might make a character far more memorable.  Anyone old enough to remember Rosey Grier?  He was an American football player who then served as a bodyguard for Robert Kennedy in 1968.  He was guarding Ethel Kennedy when the assassination took place and subdued the killer, Sirhan Sirhan.  Grier released many singles as a singer and also authored books on needlepoint.  Needlepoint? Yep. And macrame.  Not the sort of interests you might expect from a 6'5" former member of the 1968 LA Rams "Fearsome Foursome" starting defensive line.  I was born in the 60s, so I don't clearly remember any of the events in his life firsthand.  Yet I did remember the name Rosey Grier and the fact that his hobby was cross-stitch - it made a strong enough impression for me to recall him 40 years later, while writing this post.

    A hobby can provide alternate settings and a host of other characters with which your MC may interact.  Hobbies range from the well-known (bird watching) to the slightly odd (extreme competitive ironing of clothes).  An intriguing and little-known interest could also provide you with an entire subplot and/or act as an aid in bulking up your word count. Who knows - doing a little research on hobbies might provide you with an idea for your next novel!

Bonus: Which Hobby is best suited to your personality? Click here

Adjectives for the day: habile, henotic, hircine, hoary, honorificabilitudinity (!), horrisonant, hyaline

    
    

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Global Assessment of Functioning - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

File:Kirk Douglas - 1963.jpg

   
     The Global Assessment of Functioning is a clinical diagnostic scale used to rate the subject's level of function in three categories: psychological, social and occupational. Either the symptom severity (anxiety, insomnia) or the level of functioning (can't hold job, neglects personal hygiene) is rated (whichever is lower or "worse").

     The scale runs from 100 (superior functioning) to 1 (persistent risk of injury to self or others, suicidal, inability to perform personal care/hygiene).

     I'll be honest - not every assessment which I discuss during A to Z can be helpful in crafting characters. (I'm doing my best.)  The only use I've found for this one is in grouping common functional levels/symptoms for characters who may be suffering from some sort of psychological or mental impairment.  The scale would provide a starting point to describe observable behaviors.  For instance, on the 31-40 region of the scale:

Some impairment in reality testing or communication (e.g., speech is at times illogical, obscure, or irrelevant) or major impairment in several areas, such as work or school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood (e.g., depressed adult avoids friends, neglects family, and is unable to work; child frequently beats up younger children, is defiant at home, and is failing at school).

     Find the full GAF scale here.

Adjectives for the day:  galliard, gibbous, glabrous, glutinous, goluptious, gormless, graveolent

    

Monday, April 7, 2014

FICO Score - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge


       As you may know, in the US a FICO score is calculated from your credit history and reports. Lenders use a FICO score to determine your eligibility for credit and what interest rate you will pay.  Employers also may check your credit score to get a feel for your level of responsibility and trustworthiness. What does that have to do with writing?
     We use - and think about - money every day.  It can be a source of joy, stress, or frustration.  People do kind and humane things with it, funding charities and medical research.  Some also steal it, lie about it, and even kill for it.  
     How personal finances are handled can tell a lot about someone's personality.  Perhaps your character is deeply in debt because of poor life choices; alternately, they may be successful, wealthy and of a philanthropic bent.   Maybe bills are paid late because he is so disorganized that he can't find the damn things.  A wealthy woman may live in penury because she is terrified of spending what she's got and ending up homeless. Or, an otherwise close relationship unravels when a large sum of money (lottery, inheritance) comes into the picture.
     Just about everyone has a particular "money personality".  There are various models and quizzes available which break down money acquisition and spending habits into anywhere from 5 to 10 different types.

  • What's your character's money personality?
  • How does money (or lack of it) affect your character's day-to-day life?
  • Is money a prime motivator in any of your stories?
 
     Bonus:  Take the Financial personality quiz click

Adjectives of the day:  facinorous, farctate, finical, foudroyant, fulsome, furacious
 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Enneagram Of Personality - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

     

     The Enneagram is a set of nine personality types, with each number on the Enneagram representing one particular type. You may find a little of yourself in all nine types, but one number should be closest to an honest assessment of yourself. This is your basic personality type. Major Enneagram authors believe that we are born with a dominant type.  This inborn orientation largely determines how we grow, learn and adapt to our childhood environment. Your inherent basic personality type does not change.
     The Enneagram uses numbers rather than labels (which some professionals believe are construed as pejorative). No number is better than the others, although society or culture may appreciate or desire one personality type over another.
     These personality types can be further described as sets of traits. 
Type One: Reformer. Principled, perfectionist, vice/passion is anger.
Type Two: Helper.  Generous, people-pleaser, vice/passion is pride.
Type Three: Achiever. Driven, image-conscious, vice/passion is deceit.
Type Four: Individualist. Dramatic, temperamental, vice/passion is envy.
Type Five: Investigator. Perceptive, secretive, vice/passion is avarice.
Type Six: Loyalist. Responsible, suspicious, vice/passion is fear.
Type Seven: Enthusiast. Versatile, acquisitive, vice/passion is gluttony.
Type Eight: Challenger. Decisive, confrontational, vice/passion is lust.
Type Nine: Peacemaker. Reassuring, resigned, vice/passion is sloth.
     In addition, there are centers, dominant emotions, basic fears, ego fixations - far too much to go into here.  For more information check out the full personality grid on Wikipedia
     You can try free Enneagram tests at Eclectic Energies  for yourself - or for your character!

Adjectives for the day:  ebeneous, echinate, edacious, eldritch, epistolary, erumpent

Friday, April 4, 2014

DSM-5 - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

   
     The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the standard reference for psychiatry in the US.  It contains over 400 known mental health and psychological disorders affecting both adults and children.  Inside you'll find the names and symptoms of disorders, as well as known/potential causes, treatments, and statistics.  You should be able to find a copy at your local library.  The DSM-5 is an excellent resource for afflicting characters - and not just villains.

Some random entries:

  • Dissociative fugue - unplanned travel or wandering, sometimes accompanied by the establishment of a new identity.
  • Selective mutism (SM) - an anxiety disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech cannot speak in specific situations or to specific people. (Exhibited by the character Raj on the TV show Big Bang Theory.)
  • Dependent Personality Disorder - refers to "a pervasive and excessive need to be taken care of which leads to submissive and clinging behavior and fears of separation".
  • Avoidant Personality Disorder - feelings of inadequacy, sensitivity to perceived negative evaluation by others, avoidance of social interaction. Individuals with APD usually describe themselves as anxious, lonely, unwanted and/or isolated.
     Don't just hand your character a disorder; pay attention to causes/effects and work them into the story. Has it been a lifelong issue or was it recently acquired? Does a particular disorder run in the family (perhaps skipping a generation)?  Was it the result of some sort of traumatic event(s)?
     Give us clues utilizing "show not tell".  A person with OCD will have all sorts of rituals and routines to follow.  Someone with APD will be hyper-sensitive, avoid relationships and intimacy, mistrust others, and escape into a comfort zone such as a fantasy world (such as video gaming).  Some disorders may only manifest themselves at certain times;  my Great Uncle took part in fighting at the Battle Of the Bulge, and thereafter reacted strongly to sudden loud noises (thunder, firecrackers, engine backfires, large objects being dropped).
     Don't forget to include how the disorder affects those around him.  Are others aware that there is a problem?  Are they sympathetic or judgmental? How does it affect character interactions?  Do they accept the person and the behavior(s), or try and change it?

A few of my favorite books dealing in some way with psychiatric/psychological/cognitive disorders:

  • The Tale Of Samuel Whiskers or Roly-Poly Pudding by Beatrix Potter.  (Tom Kitten develops a rat phobia.)
  • Regeneration by Pat Barker. (Shell shock from WW1, now known as PTSD. Based on poet Siegried Sassoon's experiences.)
  • Curious Incident Of the Dog In the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (autism)
  • Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber (dissociative identity disorder, previously called multiple personality disorder)
  • Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (young adult experiences in a psychiatric hospital)
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens (Krook is a hoarder) and Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (Plyushkin syndrome became synonymous with collecting and hoarding useless objects/trash in Russia)
  • The Alienist by Caleb Carr (historical fiction, advent of forensic psychiatry)
  • Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes (ethical/moral themes of superficially enhanced intelligence and mental disability)
Once I started this list, I thought of about 40 more titles!  (I won't bore you.)  Have you read any of these?  Would you like to add a title to the list?  (Aside from one of the most popular, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.)

Adjectives for the day:  dapatical, decrepitate, desipient, diogenic, doctiloquent, dubitative