writing tips

Creating Characters’ Personalities

Gretchn Rubin signing.jpg

Today  I met Gretchen Rubin, a New York Times bestselling author, as she celebrated her newest book release, The Four Tendencies. I hadn’t heard about Rubin before attending the event, but since I’m continuing to research personality characteristics to help my fictional characters come to life, Rubin’s book title intrigued me. In her talk, Rubin shared that her book, The Four Tendenciesfocuses less on specific personality types or temperaments, and more on an “expectations framework” – how a person responds to the inner and outer expectations placed upon them. Here’s how she breaks down these four characteristics:

GretchenRubin_SpkrA. Rebels resist both inner and outer expectations. They value authenticity and self-determination.

B. Questioners meet only inner expectations. They push back against and question all expectations. Above all, they do something only if they think it makes sense — they hate anything arbitrary.

C. Obligers meet outer expectations but not always inner ones. In other words, they usually need some form of external accountability.

D. Upholders generally meet both inner and outer expectations, meaning they don’t let others or themselves down.

Over the past few months, I’ve researched several personality/character indicators to get a feel for the positive and negative sides of typical thought and behavior patterns. This serves as a checklist to help me see if my fictional characters are acting true to their given natures (personality temperaments) that I’ve assigned them. It also provides me with an easy list of what their inherent weaknesses and strengths are. I can use their weakness to increase conflict and use their strengths to help them overcome their fears and conquer their problems and conflict – all while staying true to their assigned character traits, making them more believable as a real people.

1. Expectations Framework and the Four Personality Temperaments:  Rubin believes her Expectations Framework can float on top of any of the four personality temperaments, but having researched these personality types for the past several months, I can also see how they might link up with them. Sites I have explored included descriptions and self-quizzes, as one from Psychologia and, for ease of use, a personality type calculator. The four temperaments are said to influence appearance, thinking, behavior, and possibly even career choices. One site states that the “origins of this typology belong to Graeco-Arabic medicine where it was successfully used to treat illnesses.” These types were originally labeled:
A. Choleric (Rubin’s Rebel)
B. 
Melancholic (Rubin’s Questioners)
C.
Sanguine (Rubin’s Obligers)
D. Phlegmatic (Rubin’s Upholders)
To help our modern minds better grasp the distinctions between these four types, some descriptive names have been attached to these ancient Latin and Greek names by various researchers, authors and trainers. Several of these are explained below.

2. The Smalley Institute
As a writer, I found the Smalley Institute examination of temperaments most helpful because this assessment tool focuses on viewing personality types in terms of how they affect relationships, a very important element in developing fictional stories. Smalley also links animal images to each of the temperaments:

personality_test_Lion-Beaver_Otter_-Golden_Retriever.pngA. Choleric – Lion (bold)
B. Melancholic – Beaver (careful, busy worker)
C.
Sanguine – Otter (playful)
D. Phlegmatic – Golden Retriever (loyal)
The Smalley Institute also charts each style’s relational strength to illustrate how these strengths look when they get out of balance (for example, when a character experiences stress or conflict), as well as each type’s dominant communication style, relational needs, and the relational balance each type brings into a relationship. A download of the chart is available here.

3.  The Anatomy of Love – Dr. Helen Fisher
This site focuses on personality types through the lenses of relationships and work, typifying these four traits as:
A. Choleric – Director
B. Melancholic – Builder
C. Sanguine – Explorer
D. Phlegmatic – Negotiator

4. Jung and Myer Briggs
The Jung’s/Myer Briggs assessment focus on four personal preference opposites:
1) E/I: Extrovert, a preference for people and things vs.
     Introvert, a preference for ideas and information
2) S/N: Sensing, a preference for facts and reality vs.
intuitioN, with a preference for possibilities and potential
3) T/F: Thinking and feeling, with a preference to rely on logic and truth vs.
     Feeling, valuing relationship
4)  J/P: Judgment, a preference for a lifestyle that is well-structured vs.
     Perception, preferring a lifestyle that goes with the flow
Because the Myer Briggs assessment focuses on four personality type opposites, there are, in reality, sixteen types provided here.

ISTJ ISFJ INFJ INTJ
ISTP ISFP INFP INTP
ESTP ESFP ENFP ENTP
ESTJ ESFJ ENFJ ENTJ

To put Myer Briggs into the context of our four temperaments, however, we can break it down into these four generic categories:
A. Choleric – ENTJ
B. Melancholic – ISTJ
C.  Sanguine – ESFP
D.  Phlegmatic – INFP

5. DISC Assessments
The DISC personal assessment tool is often used by businesses to promote work productivity, teamwork, and communication. These types are labeled as:
D – Dominance, I – Influence, S – Steadiness, C – Conscientiousness (DISC). To keep the various assessments in line with the ones above, however, I will continue to put them in the same sequential order, rather than forming them into the DISC order:
A. Choleric – Dominance / D
B. Melancholic – Conscientiousness / C
C. Sanguine – Influence / I
D. Phlegmatic – Steadiness / S

4-Square-DISC.jpg

6. Business Training Model Based on DISC
The “Take Flight Learning company makes the DISC categories even more accessible by giving them better descriptive names, and ascribing each DISC type with a bird’s name:

A. Choleric -Dominant -Eagles / D
B. Melancholic – Conscientious -Owls / C
C. 
Sanguine – Interactive -Parrots / I
D. Phlegmatic – Supportive -Doves / S

BIRD_personality-styles.PNG

7. Entry Pointe Christian Profile Assessment
Christian writers might find the “Spiritual Office” assessment helpful for their writing genre.

8. Dressing Your Truth – Energy Profile
Carol Tuttle, author of Dressing Your Truth – Discover Your Type of Beauty, looks at the four temperaments as “energy types” and relates these to each types’ best clothing choice:
A. Choleric – Energy: hydrogen/fire  Movement: active, reactive  Clothing/Shapes: exotic, captivating, angular, textured, dynamic, edgy (a mistake for them to wear black colors)   Label: Type 3
B. Melancholic: Energy: carbon/earth  Movement: constant, still   Clothing/Shapes: elongated ovals with straight sides, parallel lines in any direction  Type: 4
C. Sanguine: Energy: nitrogen/air  Movement: up, light  Clothing/Shapes: colorful, festive/circles and points of a star  Label: Type 1
D. Phlegmatic: Energy: oxygen/water  Movement: fluid, flowing  Clothing/Shapes: comfortable clotheselongated S curves, ovals, softened rectangles  Label: Type 2

DISC_clothes.jpg

Four Temperaments – Labels at a Glance

A. Choleric – 1) Rebel 2) Lion 3) Director 4) ENTJ 5) DDominance 6) Dominant/Eagle 7) Prophet, Peter or Apostle, Paul  8) Energy: hydrogen/fire, Type 3

B. Melancholic – 1) Questioner  2) Beaver  3) Builder  4) ISTJ  5) Conscientious  6) Compliant/Owl  7) Teacher, Luke or Apostle, Paul  8)  Energy: carbon/earth, Type 4

C. Sanguine – 1) Obliger  2) Otter  3) Explorer  4) ESFP  5) I Interactive  6) Influencer/Parrot  7) Evangelist, Phillip or Apostle, Paul  8) Energy: nitrogen/air, Type 1

D. Phlegmatic – 1) Upholder  2) Retriever  3) Negotiator  4) INFP  5) S, Steadiness  6) Supportive/Dove  7) Pastor-Shepherd, John  8) Energy: Oxygen/water, Type 2

personality_test_Lion-Beaver_Otter_-Golden_Retriever.png

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: authors, books, Character Development, writing tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Rizzoli and Isles meets Sontag

Gerristen_Sontag.pngThis week I met an author whose series of novels inspired a successful TV drama that spanned 7 seasons with a total of 105 episodes. The author was Tess Gerristen, and her series of medical crime thrillers inspired the TV show, Rizzoli and Isles. Gerristen shared thoughts on what has inspired her writing and how she’s turned these sparks of inspiration into compelling stories.

During Gerristen’s talk, she spoke of getting inspiration from reading newspapers, exploring her interests, and exploring things outside of her area of interest. When something intrigues her in one of these settings, she asks herself “what if” questions. She then turns her creative answers to these “what if” questions into fictional books that have sold over 25 million copies in 40 countries. Here is a three-minute video snippet from her talk as she shares the inspiration for her newest book (and perhaps the last in her Rizzoli and Isles series), I Know a Secret.

Gerristen’s success with medical crime thrillers proves the validity of the admonitions to follow your dream and to write what you know. It also validates authors’ experiences of writing out of their pain. As a child, Gerristen dreamed of one day writing her own Nancy Drew novels. Her Chinese immigrant and Chinese-American parents, however, prompted her to choose a medical career. She graduated from Stanford with a BA in anthropology and then studied medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Afterward, she established a successful practice as an internist. While on maternity leave, Gerristen entered a statewide short story contest and won first place and $500 for a story that focused on a young man reflecting on a difficult relationship with his mother. Gerritsen claims the story allowed her to deal with her own childhood turmoil, including the repeated suicide attempts of her mother.

Gerristen’s first published books were romantic thrillers published by Harlequin Intrigue. Her writing career really took off, however, after she wrote her first romantic medical suspense novel, Harvest, marking her debut on the New York Times bestseller list at number thirteen. Five years later, she wrote The Surgeon, introducing the detective Jane Rizolli. Her next ten novels paired Rizolli with the medical examiner Dr. Laura Isles. The final episode of the TV Rizolli and Isles series aired September 5, 2016, hinting that the medical examiner, Maura Isles (played by Sasha Alexander) will take a break from the medical field and try her hand at writing. Gerristen makes an appearance in this final episode as a writer who helps Maura Isles establish herself in the literary field.

Gerristen shared that a possible eight-episode TV series may surface in the near future featuring Maura Isles as a writer (once again played by Sasha Alexander) who becomes involved in a medical mystery while writing a mystery story when vacationing in Italy. Alexander’s husband, Edoardo Ponti, son of Sophia Loren, will direct the series. Gerristen shared that she’s written what’s called the “Bible” for all eight episodes, and one show includes an appearance by Sophia Loren.

Categories: authors, books, events, in the news, inspiration, writing tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sleuthing & Subtext

I just read two thought-provoking articles that shared gems I hope to employ in writing the first draft of my next novel’s first chapter – hopefully by this weekend!

Sleuthing.png

One article discussed what the mantra of “show don’t tell” actually means. The writer boiled it down to the concept of “sleuthing” – creating scenes where readers must conduct a bit of detective work in order to figure out what’s going on with the characters. This makes readers feel more engaged in the story, helps them feel as though they’ve come to know the characters better, and provides them with a sense of ownership of the people and the scene. “Since the reader did some work to figure out what was going on, they now feel included, emotionally invested.”

 

subtext.jpeg

The second article illustrates how we can create subtext in dialogue by taking into account all of the forces acting upon a character at a particular moment. Using the illustration of a crumpled ball of paper getting thrown into a trash can, she shows that, while the goal of the shot is to make the ball enter the receptacle, more forces come into play than just the person’s goal of making the shot. Other forces, such as the pull of gravity, the friction of the air, the breeze from the ceiling fan also come into play. The person making the shot makes an assessment (albeit subconsciously) of all those forces before taking the shot. In the same way, “With each line, we [need to] take into account all of the forces acting upon a character.” The protagonist’s goal “is not the only force acting upon the character, it is simply the most dominant. Like the fan breeze that bends the path of the paper ball, other forces will bend the behavior of a character. This is the source of subtext.”

I’m looking forward to creating scenes that invite my readers to do some sleuthing in order to discover my characters’ wants and needs. I also hope to take into account all of the forces acting upon my characters at a given moment in order to create plot points that utilize subtext. Sleuthing and subtext will add layers of dimension to my characters while also deepening my readers’ emotional connection to the characters and the story.

 

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"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

A Writer's Diary

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That Ranch Life

A Donkumentary of City-Turned-Country Livin'

Blissful Scribbles

Musings through the journey of writing my first novel

ACFW - DFW CHAPTER a.k.a. DFW Ready Writers

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Bay Area Writing Group

Northern California Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers

Letters to Noah

Spoken words are fleeting, but written words last beyond a lifetime.

Sontag Writing Dreams

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

marsha ottum owen

I make Children's Books

Under His Wings

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Cathleen Armstrong

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

A Writer's Diary

Author, Educator, Consultant