Friday, May 28, 2010

Personality's Importance in Fiction Writing

Time for Psych 101 - Personality is important in Writing? You BET!

Q 4: How does 'personality' assist in the writing of fiction?

Answer: Personality...and this means A, B, C and all types, figure heavily in fiction and typically the author's own personality comes into play as does the readers for that matter!

A writer has to be somewhat driven and obsessive to stick with it for the duration of what is often called a "checkered" career in such a fickle business, such a roulette wheel business as publishing.

The Reader also must have the 'right stuff' to bring a book to completion--that is a personaltiy that sees a novel through. In other words: Writer endures to the end, flip-side that, reader hopefully endures to the end. I had a teacher who once asked me when I balked at War and Peace in its abridged form, "Are you going to beat that book, or are you going to let it beat you?"

In the depiction of character, personality is the culmination of conditioning, struggle against conditioning, or failure to make that struggle and accepting one's conditioning (we're all brain washed to something as it is the nature of nurture, right?). What motivates a person equals personality.

Comes of having personal goals, and every character, good, bad, ugly and in between must have goals and perhaps a super goal. Characters have run ins with themselves--memories, sensations, images. Flash backs or hallucinations, etc. These form layers in a character's personae.

A character is molded by circumstances or resists them. Either way tensions and conflict can come of a stubborn obsessive compulsive, and the most memorable characters have these traits when they set their eyes on the prize.

Ahab in Moby Dick had a wooden leg for a reason. If he was sound of leg and mind, if he still had both his legs, or if he had no legs and was confined to a wheel chair and could not act on his mad obsession over the whale, or didn't really care to be bothered, it wouldn't be quite the memorable saga it is. It'd be flatline story for sure, for sure....

Ahab would never walk the deck of a ship. Would not be motivated to do so. Would retire.

Nightmare, memory, learned experience, what's in the character's bedrock DNA is at the heart of personality and story. The best authors know how to create full-blown characters fully realized. Characters are multi-layered and complex as in life. Readers today demand far more complexity of character than complexity of storyline.

In other words a character-driven story is at least as important as a plot-driven story, and the best stories are characte fits plotline like a glove stories wherein both are equally important. If you exchanged Ahab's personality for instance for that of Sherlock Holmes, it would change the dynamic of the story as surely as chaning the plot line. Can you imagine Sherlock in Ahab's shoes...errr ahhh pegleg?

Do leave a comment; would love to hear your remarks on this area of Psych for Writers.

Rob Walker FREE stuff


Terry Odell said...

I'll take a crappy plot with good characters over boring characters with a fantastic plot any day.

Of course, Dan Brown made a fortune being the exception to the rule.

PamelaSueJames said...

I love this blog because if the characters are not interesting I will put the book aside no matter how curious I might be on why the victim was murdered.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Terry's comment is too funny!

I use "Personality Plus" as a guide and the first thing I do is assign the main characters a personality type. Then I flesh out all details - background, etc. That basic personality is a starting point and will influence most of their behavior.

Mary Anna Evans said...

When I write, I use a psychology-for-amateurs-type site that will diagnose your personality disorder for you. All you have to do is fill out a questionnaire and voila! You're a narcissist. Or schizoid.

My first editor couldn't believe one of my villains would act the way he did. Finally, I pretended I was Wally and took the personality disorder test. He was a sociopath. The editor finally caved and let Wally behave like sociopaths behave.

Just for fun, I filled out the questionnaire while pretending to be my ex-husband. And again, while pretending to be my other ex-husband. I diagnosed them both, but I'm not going to share those diagnoses here. :)

Mary Anna
Blogging at "It's Like Making Sausage: Sometimes you don't really want to know how books are made...",

Anonymous said...

I'm in complete agreement with Rob and Terry too - it's not what happens primarily (plot-crime) but how the characters handle it. In every one of my favorites the characters are what made it on my list of favorite reads.

Jackie Griffey

Unknown said...

Hey everyone - great comments all, and I appreciate your remarks. I am a great one for thinking a character needs be run through a "gestalt" in psych terms, a fully-realized character in lit terms. I pretty much LIVE with my characters as I am writing the book which is why I can be hard to live with in the real world!!

Again thanks and keep the cards and letters coming...heheheh.
More Psych 101 for writers, readers and their characters to follow next week.