Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

Wikimedia Commons
     Whew! Here we are at the final letter of the challenge.  I'm exhausted, how about you?

     I'll keep this final post short and sweet. Here are a few Z words you might not be familiar with.  Use them as prompts or to send your readers scrambling for the dictionary.

  1.      zabernism - the misuse of military power; aggression; bullying.
  2.      zaftig - pleasingly plump
  3.      zelotypia - morbid jealousy
  4.      zoetic - relating to life; vital
  5.      zooalotry - animal worship
  6.      zugzwang - chess term (but can be used in a broader sense) - situation where any move is disadvantageous to the player.
     I hope you've enjoyed participating and/or reading in the A to Z Challenge. After the wrapup, this blog will revert to its regularly scheduled content of flash fiction, short stories, etc.  Thanks for dropping by!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yes, and... - Crafting Characters (Guest Post) #AtoZChallenge

Writer, blogger, teaching artist and storyteller Stuart Nager kindly contributed a guest post for the letter Y.  Stuart maintains a fiction blog called Talespinning and is also participating in the A to Z Challenge.  Thank you Stuart!

“Yes And…”: Instant Character Building Through Improvisation

     A good improviser knows that there are a few things that make an improvisational scene solid. One of the most important is to truly commit to the character, nailing the traits, and allowing said traits to grow with each offer given by his/her scene partners. Good character (and scene) development happens as you go along, accepting every situation and saying “Yes and…” to it. The rule of thumb is to not say “No” for the sake of saying No, but to build whatever conflict happens into the scene. 

     Normally done in a humorous vein, improvisation has, in the right hands, the chance to build dramatic tension that can lead to a very satisfying conclusion. In improv shows, a character is usually created on the spot and then, when the scene is over, left behind. Some performers (early Saturday Night Live players; Paul Ruebens) take their characters and develop them for future vehicles. Without improvisation, we would not have had Pee Wee Herman or some of the memorable characters from SNL. 

     As an Improvisation Coach/Teacher, one of sessions I enjoy leading are the Character Development classes. To not have one dimensional characters, to find the “truth” of a character, even if it is only “alive” for a few minutes, I find it is important that the students work on a number of levels: finding the nuances of physicality; the manner of speech; reaction to the setting (location; time period; time of day; etc); to whom they are speaking to, or, in the case of improvised monologues/soliloquies, all to have them really find that character’s voice. 

     Here’s an exercise I use for them to perform that I’m adapting for you, the writer.  At the top of a piece of paper (or on your computer) write:
  1. Character name
  2. Character occupation
  3. Conflict that the character has to overcome (could just be his/her wants)
Underneath, create a list of every emotion or state of being that that character COULD feel. Yes, go to all extremes and well as what you would normally write in that instance.

You should have no less than 12 emotions and probably stop around 20 or so.  Next choose THREE of the emotions/states of being that are NOT related to one another. If you have someone in your household who can choose them for you, it would make it more challenging. 

Now: write a monologue in that character’s voice, solving or stating the conflict/want/need, and you must use the three emotional tones in that monologue.
  1. Let it start, build, escalate, and descend, until you have a complete piece: beginning, middle and end all in one.
  2. The length of your monologue is up to you, btw.

     I do strongly suggest that writers take some improv classes. Not for the performance angle but to assist in freeing themselves up. Improvisation allows you to explore with no mental limits. In this creative atmosphere, there is no wrong “answer.” If something falls flat, you know that there might be a stronger choice to make, and a good improv leader will help you to see that.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Xenophobia - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

Xenophobia is the fear of strangers or foreigners.  It might be fear/hatred directed by one subset of a population against another subset (I am a Northern Martian, and I hate Southern Martians because they are violent and stupid), or it could be a cultural fear/hatred aimed at another culture and its influences (we Earthlings hate Glespian music and fashion). 

Xenophobia can be a result of upbringing, negative experiences, cultural norms or peer pressure/fear tactics.  Some have argued that we have an instinctual fear of anything or anyone markedly different from us, especially in speech or appearance.  In the distant past, this may have helped us to avoid conflict with other groups perceived as threatening in some manner.

So what's the different between racism and xenophobia?

The two are distinct but can overlap. Racism usually entails fear/hatred based on physical differences and/or ethnicity, such as skin color, hair type, and facial features.  Xenophobia is based on "foreignness".  For example, a member of a certain race may emigrate for a period of time;  when he returns, having picked up different speech patterns or habits, he may be targeted by a member of his own race for being "different". It can also be a matter of regional accents, customs, religion and/or perceived social class. ("Okies" and "Carpetbaggers" immediately come to mind as examples of xenophobic labels in US history.)

Xenophobia pops up in crime fiction and science fiction quite a bit. But it can be useful in any genre, either to give us insight into characters and their behavior, or to plunge the reader more deeply into a particular setting. It can form a subplot or help to create tension.  A female investigator may walk alone into a bar/tavern in a country where that is considered socially unacceptable.  A student may return from a university overseas and be ostracized by old friends because he has acquired different clothing or an accent. And what if your character decides to date someone from a different country or culture?  How does that play out among family and friends?
Are your characters xenophobic in any respect?  Are they worldly and well-traveled, or have they been sheltered and never exposed to different cultures?  What about members of their family? How would your character react to a situation where someone was being taunted or discriminated against? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt uncomfortable or threatened because you were considered a "foreigner"?

Now, just for fun take the...

OKCupid Xenophobia Test

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Which Character Are You? - Just For Fun #AtoZChallenge

I need a little break, so for letter "W"  here are a few online quizzes to enjoy!

Which Harry Potter character are you? (I'm Hermione)

Which Star Trek character are you? (I'm Jean-Luc Picard)

 Which Shakespeare character are you? (I'm Ophelia)

Which Hobbit character are you? (I'm Gollum. This quiz is obviously flawed.)

Who are you? iPersonic

What do others think about you? Johari Window 

3 more days to go in the challenge!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Vulnerabilities - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

      We all have vulnerabilities.  Even the most balanced, well-adjusted and successful human being has fears, moments of self-doubt, and insecurities.  When taken to extremes it can result in mental paralysis, vulnerable narcissism, abusive relationships, drug addiction, and a host of other self-injurious behaviors. But a lack of vulnerability and empathy for others can be equally destructive and is sometimes noted in schizoid and antisocial disorders.   

     A secret or vulnerability can provide a plot twist, a rationale, or an insight into the character's motivation.  It might cause feelings of guilt, shame, jealousy, or rage.  Maybe it is something which they reveal only to those whom they trust. (And now you have a set-up for betrayal as well.) The threat of exposure may serve as an underpinning for your plot.  A secret which seems "done to death" in literature can still be utilized in your novel;  every situation is slightly different, every human being a complex soup of intellect, emotion, and past experience which will react differently to a catalyst.  On the other hand, if you can come up with something unique, kudos! Chances are that it will stick with the reader for some time.

     When I think of a character with a secret, the first book that comes to mind is Thomas Hardy's  Mayor Of Casterbridge.  As a young man, the title character gets drunk at a fair, quarrels with his wife, and auctions off both her and their child to a sailor.  Some twenty years later he is sober, a mayor and a successful merchant, but his entire life unravels because of his secret.

     Your entire novel may revolve around one BIG secret, but smaller or innocuous ones can also help to round out a character, give clues about their personality or past, and make them more memorable.

Small secrets and vulnerabilities which could have impact:

Unusual hobby
Unusual health condition
Lies about age
Past injuries
Quit school
Was fired from job
Crush on someone
Can lip read/sign
Collects or hoards certain items
Changes appearance constantly (hair color, wig, contacts, tattoos, piercings, plastic surgery, hides scars)
Poor eyesight/color blindness
Dislikes children/crowds/social interaction/boss/relative
Fears (you name it, someone's afraid of it, but won't necessarily own up to it)
Can't drive
Carries an unusual good luck charm/talisman
Has/thinks they have psychic abilities
Changed name
Is illiterate
Cheats at crosswords and puzzles
Obsessed with particular book/movie/TV show/celeb
Poor at math/geography/reading/spelling
Has stage fright
Constantly admires self in reflective surfaces
Writes blog/column under assumed name
Writes to soldier/pen pal/prison inmate
Attends seminars to get free food or out of loneliness
Can't swim
Doesn't like to eat in front of people
Background in weapons training, military
Raised in particular faith/religion which no one knows about
Has created family members/friends which don't exist
Claims college degree/award/prize which they never actually won

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Umbilical Cord: Parent/Child Relationship Testing #Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

TAT (Thematic Apperception Test) Card
      Nature or nurture?  Which is more important, heredity or the environment in which we are raised? The answer still seems to be...both.  Even some of the inherited genes which predispose us to certain diseases and disorders can be heavily influenced by environmental factors.  But I don't think that anyone will argue that the relationships we have with our parents (or whoever raised us for the most part) are the most influential in our lives.

     While parents may not figure in your story, you might want to think about what sort of people they were and how your characters were raised.  Picture the home environment, the neighborhood, the social circle.  Were they a family of wealthy professionals, immigrants struggling to integrate, solidly middle class with a dog and a minivan?  How were your characters schooled?  Disciplined?  Did their parents cheer them on at sports events or were they always too busy? 

     There are a few psychological tests which can be used for children as young as 7 or 8 years old to examine perceptions, attitudes and experiences.  They can provide insight into a child's home life, relationships with parents and other family members, and reveal some of the child's internal thought processes, cognitive abilities, strengths and fears.

TAT (Thematic Apperception Test)
32 picture cards are used which include male, female, and gender-neutral figures. (There's also a blank one.) The subject is asked to tell a story for each picture including what led up to the event shown, what is happening in the picture, what the characters are thinking/feeling, and how the story ends.  (I was given this test when I was in 5th grade and I vividly remember the picture at the top of the post.  I thought it was really creepy.  I still do.)

Bricklin Perceptual Scales
This test is often used by professionals involved with child custody issues. The BPS can be administered to children as young as 6 years old.  It assesses the child’s perception of his or her parents in four areas: Competence, Follow-up Consistency, Supportiveness (warmth and empathy), and Possession of Admirable Personality Traits.

There are 64 questions, 32 about the mother and 32 about the father. Each question is printed on a card. On the back of each card is a response choice line from “Not So Well" to "Very Well". The test administrator reads the question, and the child gives a verbal answer. Then the child is asked the same question, worded differently, and the child answers by punching a hole in the card somewhere along the response line. This second, non-verbal response is considered the more important of the two answers.

HTP (House-Tree-Person) Test
This is a simple projective test.  The subject is given a blank piece of paper and asked to draw a house, a tree and a person.  Once he is finished, he is asked to explain it.

So, have you ever spent time thinking about a character's upbringing even though it wasn't addressed in the story?  


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

By Rhalden at Wikimedia Commons
Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument

Here is the mission statement from Kilmann Diagnostics :
"KILMANN DIAGNOSTICS is an e-learning organization that's dedicated to resolving conflict throughout the world. We pursue this vital mission by providing a series of online courses and assessment tools that integrate the wisdom of conflict management and change management. 
Based on Dr. Kilmann's four decades of research, teaching, and consulting experience, conflict and change are intertwined through a carefully orchestrated sequence of eight tracks for quantum transformation: cultures, skills, teams, strategy-structures, reward systems, and three process improvement tracks."


The TKI posits 5 conflict behavior styles:  competing, avoiding, accommodating, compromising and collaborating.  These styles are determined by varying degrees of assertiveness or cooperativeness which you assign to pairs of statements on a test.


Simply put, when we are in conflict with others we attempt to satisfy our own needs, and/or the needs of the other, to varying degrees.  No one handles conflict the same way every day, but most of us have an overall pattern.  The TKI tries to identify your particular "go-to" pattern.

Conflict is essential to a good story.  Perfect relationships put me to sleep.  They never, ever fight? Quarrels are resolved in two minutes with a kiss and "honey, I love you"? Oh come on.

Characters who are unceasing jackasses also bore me.  No one is a jerk 100% of the time.  (I know someone will point out that I'm wrong in the comments section.  Just don't use names, please.)

Use minor conflicts to round out your characters.  How do they handle a snarky teenager, an irritating neighbor, an interfering co-worker, a tailgater on the freeway?  Conflict, by the way, is a golden opportunity to utilize humor and wit in your writing.

Have you ever had a quarrel or heated argument, gone home and spent the next two hours conjuring up all of the brilliant retorts and barbs that you couldn't think of at the time?


Me too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Semantic Differential - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

     The semantic differential type rating scale evaluates perceptions and attitudes toward an object, person, place, concept, etc.  The subject chooses a position on a scale between two opposite adjectives.  For example, how do you feel about cats? On a scale of 1-5, where 1 is "evil" and 5 is "good" are you maybe a 2 or 3?  Where 1 is "hateful" and 5 is "lovely"? Where 1 is "disgusting" and 5 is "desirable"?

     Charles E. Osgood 's scale found 3 attitude "types" or categories that people use:  evaluation (value), potency (strength), and activity. Examples might include the opposites strong-weak (potency), dull-brilliant (evaluation) or lazy-industrious (activity).

Create a few positions and rate your character. (You can make up your own of course. These are just suggestions.)


Now give the scale to someone who has read your draft.

Compare the scale answers.  Are they similar or markedly different?  Is your character perceived in an entirely different manner by the reader than what you had thought/hoped for?  Or is your depiction right on? What does that tell you about perceptions of your character?  Do you need to re-think how he is represented through dialogue and interaction?  Has the reader's answers given you any additional insights about your character?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Writing In A Nutshell - And A Drabble #AtoZChallenge

Links to buy it here

R is for a review of a book (which I won back in February) called Writing In A Nutshell by Jessica Bell.

Writing In A Nutshell is a handy little resource for writers.  This all-in-one edition includes Show and Tell, Adverbs and Cliches, and Six Senses.  Each section is a workshop with clear and concise explanations, examples, prompts and exercises.  Show and Tell, for example, has side-by-side entries;  an example of "telling" on the left, and a re-worked "showing" version on the right.  In fact, the entire book shows you what to do instead of just telling you.

This isn't a book to pick up, read and shelve;  it really is a workshop, and to get the most out of it you will need to sit down, study the examples and work on the exercises.  I've found it an excellent resource for editing as well as writing.

I found the Six Senses particularly useful in crafting characters.  You can reveal far more about characters than you may realize by allowing the reader to experience the world through their senses and perceptions.

***I also wrote a guest post today at Stuart Nager's Talespinning Blog  called "Roadside Table".  His A to Z Challenge theme is "Signs", and each post is a drabble (exactly 100 words) prompted by a sign of some sort.  Stuart's a talented writer and I think that you'll enjoy browsing his posts. (Check his archives, too, for short stories and poetry.)

Thanks for hosting me, Stu!

Answers to quiz from my "Quirks" Post:
  1. Says "fiddle dee dee" a lot and made a gown from curtains. Scarlett O'Hara
  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.”  Holden Caulfield
  3. Nemesis is a tiger named Shere Khan.  Best friend is a bear. Mowgli
  4. “I’m about as shapeless as the man in the moon!” His physical abnormality is part of the book title. Quasimoto (Hunchback of Notre Dame)
  5. Fierce female, world class hacker, has a tattoo which features in the book title. Lisbeth Salander
  6. "That's my spot!" (This one's a TV character.) Sheldon Cooper
  7. Corresponds with a personal assistant of "our father below" AKA Satan. Wormwood

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
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 Freifräulein 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

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

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

CPI 260 - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

From the website:
"The CPI 260 (California Psychological Inventory) personality assessment
measures work-related characteristics, motivations and thinking styles using 26 individually researched trait measures."
  • Looks at individual motivation and current level of satisfaction
  • Because of the way it is designed, it can deliver information about a person that is less obvious, or of which the respondent themselves may be unaware, ensuring that a recruiting manager or executive coach is able to really get to know their candidate or coachee. This approach also means that the tool is highly resistant to faking, as the questions are not obviously related to the qualities they measure.

 (Access to the CPI 260 questionnaire and associated products is restricted to qualified CPI practitioners.)

    Now, I'm guessing that most of you A to Z readers are NOT qualified CPI practitioners, so we can't get a glimpse of those closely held secrets.  But we can use elements of the above description to highlight an aspect of character building:  what does your character do for a living, and how important is it to the story?
    If your main character is a firefighter, a doctor, a pirate, or a politician, then their occupation is probably central to the story.  Of course you'll do your research and make sure that the details of the profession are correct. But even if your character's job is not particularly relevant, you can use the CPI 260 description above to flesh out your character.  Ask yourself the following questions.

  •      Is he happy/satisfied with his job?
  •      Is it a conscious career choice, or something he "fell into"?
  •      How does his profession influence the way he thinks and the way he views the world?
  •      Is he suited to it?  (Physically, mentally, emotionally?)
  •      How does it affect his family and relationships?
  •      How do his co-workers view him?  His boss? How do they all interact?
  •      Have you been consistent with your time frames? (He can't be out sleuthing if he's supposed to be doing brain surgery.)
  •      How does he get to work? Can you use that for a potential setting? (Car, walk, bus, subway, boat)
  •      Have you used a common stereotype? This is a big one for me.  Nothing is more boring than a crooked lawyer, a fearless pilot, or a brilliant scientist.  Make them multi-dimensional. I'm sure the lawyer didn't start out working for the mob, I know for a fact that many pilots have had at least one moment of sheer terror in their flying careers, and I believe that most scientists have screwed up experiments and come to wrong conclusions at some point.  Give us some internal conflict. Tell us how much they love - or hate - what they do. Show us their human side.  (Unless they're aliens.)
      Even if a job is not central to the story, I think it helps to mention one.  It allows the reader one more way to visualize the character and gain some insight into what his daily life is like as well as what makes him tick.

Adjectives for the day:  caliginous, callow, candent, caritative, cernuous, chthonian, clamant, concomitant



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

B Is For Behavior - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

    You see this phrase a lot: "show, don't tell".  Good writing grabs readers, draws them in, and generates powerful images in their minds.  When you create your characters, you want to breathe life into them.  One of the more subtle ways to do this is to use behavioral cues instead of flat sentences when describing characters, settings, and interactions.
     Ralph was extremely angry at the cashier. If you were observing Ralph, how would he appear?
  •      Choleric (had to slip in a fun adjective)
  •      Breathing heavily
  •      Red-faced
  •      Eyes bulging
  •      Sweating
  •      Jaws tight/teeth grinding
  •      Shaking with rage
  •      Staring
  •      Invading personal space
  •      Offensive posture (squaring of shoulders, chest out, fists clenched)

     Janice couldn't wait to get out of there.
  •      Looking at watch/clock/cell phone
  •      Tapping feet
  •      Drumming fingers
  •      Inching toward the exit
  •      Increasingly agitated, short spoken
    One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens, who was a master at creating memorable characters by using both description of physical characteristics and peculiar mannerisms.

    "He...had a long, lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention, as he stood at the pony’s head, rubbing his chin with it, and looking up at us in the chaise. He had a way of writhing when he wanted to express enthusiasm, which was very ugly."
    (Description of Uriah Heep, from David Copperfield)

Adjectives for the day: balbutient, belliferous, bibacious, bloviater, bumptious

Bonus: Speaking of behavior, I'm a huge fan of Jim Parsons and his portrayal of Sheldon Cooper. B is for Big Bang Theory Personality Test. Which character are you? Click here

Photo credit The image of Jim Parsons at Comic Con used for this post was originally posted to, and was then uploaded to Wikimedia Commons on 19:39, 22 July 2012 (UTC) by Sebastian Wallroth. On that date it was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.