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




    

20 comments:

  1. Ah, enough stressful moments to fill more than one book. Half way done? Yeesh...where does the time go? Stress #7819373

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    1. Well, at least you've got a deep well to draw from for characters.

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  2. Hmm, interesting. I never thought of creating a character's backstory around stress moments, but now I'm going to do that as an exercise for my current WIP. Thanks!

    Heather

    Blogging the A to Z Challenge at writeonsisters.com

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    1. Never thought of using it as a writing exercise, but that's a great idea!

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  3. Great advice! All characters should have a history, and their behavior and personality should reflect what happened to them in their past, as our pasts impact us. :)

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    1. Thank you! Yes, I think it's good to reflect on our own pasts and how it has affected us when writing.

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  4. That's why it's important to fill in backstory and your character's history, even if it's never used.

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    1. True! And I'm guilty of not always doing a thorough job of it.

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  5. This is a helpful exercise. Overloading a character with stress and then still having him be happy-go-lucky wouldn't be considered to be a good thing.
    Nana Prah

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    1. I've read one or two books guilty of exactly that - I find myself shaking my head and saying "Oh COME ON. No one is that resilient. No one can shake off everything that easily. Even superheroes get depressed, angry and frustrated."

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  6. Good posts. One major thing with a few other little issues are enough I think. External happenings are also good to consider. Makes for more realism.

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    1. That's one thing that I find missing in a lot of books. I wish some authors would incorporate real life events within a novel's particular time frame. Even if it's just a mention of a particular news event, song on the radio, clothing fad, etc. Details like that just make a story more fun!

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  7. Hi Li. Interesting and no doubt true every word. I like the idea of applying these tests to my characters. And I know 3 of your words today. One of my favourite words is 'louche'. Looks like you're surviving the challenge. I caught up with a few posts of yours today.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Denise. You bested me - I only knew 2 of them. I like the sound of luculent. And now I have a word to rhyme with truculent...

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  8. "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."

    This one hit home with regard to my WIP.

    Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2014, My Latest post

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z
    #atozchallenge


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    1. Thanks Damyanti. While people may have a series of life changing events and even tragedies occur - and even continue to present a happy face to the world - it's up to us as writers to get behind that smiling mask and reveal what's going on underneath. (Heck, even Job of the Bible got fed up and lost his cool.)

      As far as the "too much" - I think some writers confuse "keeping up the tension/presenting character conflict" with "pile on everything you possibly can". There are subtle ways to create tension without using an endless series of life/death situations, natural catastrophes, etc. which can become just plain tiresome.

      And I think I use quotation marks too much. :-)

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  9. That is really cool....now I know why I am barely functioning (my character that is)! Have a great week Lisa, sorry it's been so long since I've visited! Hugs, R

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    1. Thanks Rasz :-) I know you've got a lot on your plate, and I appreciate you dropping by. Hugs back!!!!

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    1. Thanks Bonnie! Nice to meet you!

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