Last week Cheryl Wyatt discussed how important characters are to the story. In fact, characters ARE the story.
Quite often, my fictional people just “appear” in my mind. Out of the blue. Usually, for me, it starts with their voices chattering away in the midst of some situation they’ve gotten themselves into—and don’t know how to get themselves out of. So I grab any handy piece of paper and transcribe whatever they’re gabbing about. Don’t dare rely on my memory! And then when the “rush” is over--what? Who ARE these people? What internal force drove them to get into this mess? You know, what makes them tick?
Sometimes the “ticking” piece arrives full blown, but most often I must dig deeper. Much deeper, to get into their psyches and figure out their goals, motivation, and the true conflict. Sometimes I’ll wrestle with their GMC for days. Weeks. Yes, and sometimes months. Everything I come up with seems flat, insipid, boring. It doesn’t ignite that spark I’m looking for. Everything I think of seems to be in the realm of been-there-done-that—by somebody else. I crave something to prime the GMC pump.
That’s when I’ll finally get a light bulb moment and turn to my handy dandy writer’s reference bookshelf. And among those volumes are some of my favorite characterization jump-starters. Maybe they’re among your favorites, too.
The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes (Tami D. Cowden, Carol LaFever, Sue Viders – 2000 Lone Eagle Publishing Company) If you wonder what kind of heroine will most get under your swashbuckling hero’s skin, this little book is a gem. It’s split into hero and heroine sections, and each highlights eight gender-specific archetypes (you, know, like ‘bad boy’ hero and ‘spunky kid’ heroine). Each of the types features a discussion of the psychological make-up of this “type,” their virtues, flaws, background, styles, occupations. Then another section explains how the archetypes can evolve and how you can layer your characters by mixing and matching and mingling traits. Yet another section deals with how these hero/heroine archetypes interact, how they mesh, and how they change each other. I love this book!
Believable Characters: Creating with Ennegrams (Laurie Schnebly – 2007 Cedar Press) “Ennea” is the Greek word for nine, the number of personality types that are represented in this system (i.e., The Adventurer, The Peacemaker, The Romantic, etc.). Each chapter type begins with a short quiz that helps you determine where your hero/heroine fits psychologically. Sections for each type include strengths, fatal flaws, the type as children, at work, and in relationships. And because few human beings are ALL of anything, Laurie breaks down the types into subtypes and blends, and also discusses how the types interact with other types. There’s a wealth of information here to get that right brain of yours humming.
The Ennegram: A Christian Perspective (Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert – 2006 The Crossroad Publishing Company) While this book isn’t designed for writers creating characters, it does provide fascinating spiritual insight into the “nine faces of the soul” (i.e., The Need to Be Perfect, The Need to Be Needed, The Need to Succeed, The Need to Be Special, etc.). The authors provide a type overview and explore the temptations, roots of conversion (what draws them to a relationship with God), and spiritual maturation of each type. It’s slightly more “academic” perhaps than the previous two books I mention here, but nevertheless it held my interest as it took me deeper into the spiritual realm of my fictional characters.
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for digging deeper into your characters’ psyches? Please Come on over to the Seekerville comment section and share away!