Whenever Taylor Swift has a bad break up, she puts the poor guy in a song.
I taunt my friends and tell them to watch out. I won’t put them in a song; I’ll write a whole book about them.
Uh, wrong. I could never do that. I’m a keeper of secrets. I’d make a terrible member of the paparazzi. I don’t like intruding. I don’t like airing people’s dirty laundry. I live by the journalistic principal “Do no harm.”
But, yeah, if your path crosses mine, you might end up as a character (or part of a character) in one of my manuscripts, but I would never reveal the secret of your identity, not unless you wanted me to–or unless you are already famous. Then you’re fair game.
Right now I have two manuscripts under my belt, and, yes, I deliberately modeled the characters after people who have stepped into my life. Of course, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. And I doubt these people will ever know the influence they made.
I named one minor character after a server at Red Robin, and I don’t remember why. Maybe I liked his name. Maybe not. Maybe it was just because I was really hungry at the time, and Red Robin has the most amazing onion rings. I am a magnet, I draw stories from people, people I don’t know. Maybe he told a cool story.
One of my characters in one of my manuscripts is based on Little Richard, yes, THAT Little Richard. The famous one–thus, the revelation of his identity.
I don’t know why. I guess his humbleness and gentleness touched my life second hand. He met my parents and was so kind to them that I’ll never forget how pleased they were to tell the story.
And, yes, Little Richard, is one of those celebrities I have chosen to pursue. Notice I didn’t say stalk. He lives close to me, but he’s so far away. Other people run into him all the time. But I don’t. Why not me? Why not me?
Maybe I would scare him. I don’t know. I do believe people’s paths cross for a reason. Maybe they don’t cross for a reason. God wrote the story. He knows.
I love analyzing people. Every person has a story, and an enticing motive makes a great story.
I’m also into pop psychology. I stumbled upon a theory of the German-American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. It’s referred to as “character orientation.” Influenced by Freudian ideologies, Fromm asserted people have specific character traits which serve as powerful forces that guide their behavior and motive.
And people aren’t even consciously aware of them.
As a writer and a reader, I spend a great deal of time getting to know characters. I have to believe them in order to trust them. I have to trust them in order to like them. If I don’t like them, I won’t read the book. And, of course, if I don’t like my own characters, there’s no point in writing the story unless my protagonists win and the ones I don’t like get what’s coming to them. Is it okay to seek to revel in revenge if the plot is made up? I think so. I’m not vengeful in person.
But back to the personality analyses, psychologists have determined there are twenty-four character traits that fall under six categories, which are referred to as virtues. Four of these are nonproductive, the other two productive.
Remember if you are writing a book, you want to write it true, so you should make sure that your characters act true to their natures. If we go with Fromm’s research, our characters’ should fall within these parameters. If they do something uncharacteristic, then we should analyze their motives.
The following are considering nonproductive orientation characteristics. Think character flaws or antagonist traits:
- Receptive Orientation Characters
Wait passively for others to provide them with things they need
Want others to provide them with love and attention and are reluctant to give these things away
Lose loved ones because they have a hard time talking about their feelings or troubles
Have a hard time letting go of past issues
See minor or trivial conflicts as a conflict to their security with a loved one
Lack creativity–REALLY lack creativity
Have a difficult time making decisions
Lack confidence in their own abilities
- Exploitative Orientation Characters
Take whatever they want when they want it
Do whatever they can to get whatever they want
Have no qualms about stealing or taking something from someone else, even if they have no real desire for it
Hate those they manipulate but rely on them but also hate themselves
Love to lead and live in the ruling class
- Hoarding Orientation Characters
Save whatever they have
Hold back their opinions
Hold back their feelings
Hold back their possessions
Grasp and refuse to let go of love, power, or other people’s time
- Marketing Orientation Characters
View themselves as commodities
Think they can sell their themselves based on their good qualities
Possess very few positive qualities
Are typically empty souls
Choose mates on a commodity basis
- Necrophilia Orientation Characters
Possesses passion to tear apart living things
Destroy for the sake of destruction
See no hope
The following are considered productive orientation characteristics. Think protagonist traits or redeeming qualities of conflicting characters:
- “The Person Without a Mask” Orientation Characters — (Fromm came up with this title.)
Come from a family that loves
Prefer reason to rules
Prefer freedom to conformity
Have learned to become one with the world
So how long did it take you to shift from your character to yourself? Stop. Don’t do it. The story is NOT ABOUT YOU! Likewise, as you are writing, remember that your character is not YOU, and your character’s motives aren’t necessarily the same as your own.
Let’s be honest. Did you ditch your character and start analyzing yourself? Yeah, me too.
I thought I had myself all figured out. But then I took an online test based on character orientation. The first test I took said I possessed “hoarding orientation.” Ouch. I do desire order. I don’t like letting go of people I love. I took another test, and it said I possessed “receptive orientation.” Worse–I’m quiet, passive, insecure, and non-creative. Non-creative? BIG TIME OUCH!
Who believes these test anyway?
My suggestion? Stick to using these tests–for now–to analyze your characters, not yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be drawn away from what matters right now–your writing. We writers are neurotic already. We don’t need anything else negative to self analyze.
Oh the crazy things we do.
Choose either your own character or a character from your favorite book. Take one of the tests below and answer each question as your character would answer it–not yourself. This exercise is great practice to help you see through the eyes of a character.
WORDS OF WISDOM
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” ~ John Locke
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” ~ James 3:13
“If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.” ~ Mother Teresa
“A long, long time ago / I can still remember how that music used to make me smile / And I knew if I had my chance / That I could make those people dance / And maybe they’d be happy for a while”
LOOK AND SEE SERENDIPITEE
Which of Erich Fromm’s Personality Orientations are you?
Fromm’s Orientation Test