A Pint with the Professor: Heuristics and Character Archetypes

Heuristics and Character Archetypes

One thing people are not often aware of is the sheer number of shortcuts the brain takes when processing information. We see what we see, right? Well, not really. Believe it or not, human vision is actually full of many problems, but the brain sorts it all out, and pulls it together into the image that we perceive. Since this introduces quite a lot of opportunity for error, one might ask why this is something that the human brain does instead of working toward more accurate processing of information. Well, the reason for that is because the brain only has a finite capacity to take in and process information. So the brain has to work to limit the amount of information that comes in. Also, the brain works to reduce the processing time in order to be most efficient. The brain uses heuristics, which are mental shortcuts that we are not even aware are occurring. About.com provides an effective and efficient definition, “A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action.”

Dramatica Character Archetypes

This is why I think character archetypes can work well in writing fiction. The brain, already primed to seek familiar information so that it can efficiently process information, is already primed to look for the familiar. Heuristics are things that have worked for us in the past. For example, we tend to judge people based on our experiences with similar people in the past. Instead of starting over with learning about this new person, our brain tries to take some mental shortcuts to help us formulate an opinion of this new person, based on our past experiences. For example, we may see someone with a nifty hat, and remember a brilliant psychology teacher that had a smart collection of sharp looking hats. This might help us to immediately trust the opinion of this handsome new devil, based on our experience with such a person in the past.

Wikimedia, Creative Commons License

Wikimedia, Creative Commons LicenseThis is why I think archetypes work, to a certain extent. We look for the familiar in the characters we read, and archetypes help us to quickly identify and classify a character. I love the Dramatica character archetypes, because they are broad enough to allow for creativity in exactly how the archetypes are applied, but we can quickly find the familiar when we are presented with them.

Unfamiliar Familiarity

In my consumption of fiction, I think that a really well crafted story is one balances novel stimulus with familiar stimulus. For example, if I write, “The man spat on his hand as he hopped around in circles with one toe in his ear;” that is wacky, odd, and not likely to be something I would identify with. In other words, it is too unfamiliar because it is well outside my familiarity with how people behave. A story that is too predictable can be boring. In my estimation then, it is that delicate and artistic balance between enough familiarity to help the reader feel like they know what is going on, with enough surprise to keep the reader guessing and turning the pages. Archetypes then help the writer present a character that has enough familiarity to help so that the reader does not feel completely lost. The Dramatica archetypes are also broad enough that they allow for creative application, so that each character can still be unique in meaningful ways.

Minfulness at the Writing Desk

Licensed for use under Creative Commons

Chef’s use the term “mis en place” in reference to having everything ready prior to starting to cook a meal. I will be honest, I have only begun to cook that way recently myself. Last night I made four different dishes for dinner, and I completed the prep work of chopping, slicing, dicing, and putting the sauces together before I started cooking.

I believe I mentioned in a previous post that I see working in the kitchen as a perfect time to practice mindfulness. This has been a place and time that really works well for me. Since it means being present in my current state and task, it has really reinforced my adherence to preparation as an important step in my cooking practice. One potential drawback is that I tend to tune out my children whining or arguing, and my wife nagging.

Okay, a drawback for them really, as it works out quite well for me.☺

I have done the same when I am writing. For example, when cooking, things might get scorched if I wait to chop up the onions in the middle of cooking. When writing, coming up with character names is one of those tough things for me. I tend to scorch my brain when I try to do it while writing. For my writing mis en place, I will often brainstorm a whole list of names, ready for me to use while I am writing. I can cross the names off as I use them, all while barely breaking my stride.

Another thing that I borrow from the kitchen is the idea of there being a finishing point to the preparation. Even if I prepare for multiple meals, there is a finite number of preparatory tasks before I settle down to cook dinner. Preparation is a starting off point, not a destination. Admittedly, this is less well defined at the writer’s desk.

Vampires Don’t Suck Again

Okay, pun intended, let’s get that out of the way real quick. After you are done groaning, check out the trailer though. I have been anti-vampire ever since a certain series of books and some subsequent WB shows debuted. Of course, there was one notable exception. Now there is another! Check out the trailer below! It comes out right around my birthday too, so maybe I can get my wife to splurge for IMAX!


Time, Tablets, and Titilation

Wow, it has been a few months. I have been busy, doing some really great things. Obviously, I haven’t spent as much time writing as I would ideally like. I plan to let go of some of my extra commitments later in the year, to hopefully allow me to concentrate on other important things more, such as writing!

In the meantime,  fitting at least some writing time, and handling work tasks means being efficient. At one point, I advised people that they would never be able to completely give up the laptop for a tablet. I am really wanting to do just that though. My current tablet is not quite up to replacing my laptop completely,  but I find myself wanting to shed my bulky laptop as often as possible.

With the upgrades in Google Drive and the office apps there, I really find that my tablet can handle my writing needs much of the time. In fact, in a pinch, even my smartphone is a capable platform. I can also do research, listen to music, stay apprised of important work communications,  and even watch adorable pet videos on Netflix.

Making Soft Pretzels at Home

CompletedPretzels Making those soft, buttery mall pretzels is really easy to do at home. It is a fun recipe for the kids to help make, and a great snack for them too! These can be great for movie night, or game day.






Making the dough

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve 1 package (or 2¼ teaspoons) of yeast in 1½ cups of of warm water and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Stir in 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 cup of bread flour and 1 teaspoon of salt. Continue slowly adding 2 more cups of flour until the dough comes together. Kneed until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place in a bowl sprayed with nonstick spray, and then spray the top surface of the dough to prevent it from drying out. Cover and let rise for one hour.



Prepare your Factory/Cut the dough

Preheat an oven to 450º (230º C).

In a small baking dish, combine 2 cups of warm water with 2 tablespoons of baking soda. This helps to give the outside that brownish, crunchy texture. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Note in the picture to the right, I have a little assembly line set up.

After the dough has risen, roll into a log, and cut into 12 pieces.


RolledOutRoll out the dough

Roll each section out into a three foot long rope. The pretzels will swell quite a bit when baking, so don’t worry too much about making them too thin.


PretzelShapeRoll each rope into that familiar pretzel shape. Push down on the ends a little to get them to adhere to the pretzel body. Dip into the baking soda water, and place on the parchment lined baking sheets.




Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown. While cooking, melt the butter and prepare your surface for  adding the topping(s).




Top and Serve

Once they are done, brush with melted butter, and top with coarse (Kosher works) salt, or other desired toppings. We love cinnamon and sugar as a topping as well!






It makes one dozen pretzels.









1 package (or 2¼ teaspoons) of yeast

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

1½ cups of warm water

3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 cup of bread flour

2 cups of warm water

2 tablespoons of baking soda

2 tablespoons of melted butter

2 tablespoons of kosher (or other course) salt







Google Drive as a Tool for Writing

Writing on the go, to me, is just called writing. I am always on the go. I have an active life, and I am busy with many things. Therefore, an important part of any tool for me is portability. I have a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop that I use for writing. I prefer my desktop over everything else, but I have the others because life has other demands for me. One big thing I looked for in my writing tool is the portability, and the ability to work across multiple platforms.

Google works well on my windows desktop and laptop, and also works via apps on my smartphone and tablet. One drawback to the android app is that spell-check does not work. This can be an advantage sometimes, when I need to keep writing and suppress my need to constantly edit as I am writing. As it is, I switch to the desktop or laptop for final edits, and access to the spell-checker.

Another great tool inside the online version of the Google word processor program is the ability to research topics. I can highlight a word, and then go to the tools menu and select research. This will open up a side pane with relevant links. This is nice when I am doing some quick research for a story I am writing. It can be distracting, as I do have a tendency to love research.  The word processor offers all of the basic formatting features I need, and allows for the exporting of documents in commonly used formats, so that I can port it over to Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Word as needed.

The spreadsheet also comes in very handy. I use it to keep a “plot workbook” as I call it, with my notes for each chapter, POV, and character and place notes. This helps me to keep ideas, and to re-orient quickly when I resume working on a particular story.

In the future, I hope to band together with some other authors and publish an anthology.  Google Drive allows me to collaborate easily with others. I believe it is even now possible to track who made what specific changes to a document.

It took me a while to settle on my writing tool. I do not like to post public criticisms, so I will not mention specific software, but I did try many. I tried dedicated writing apps, designed specifically for writing stories. I tried various combinations of software in conjunction with cloud storage, I even tried some popular note-writing apps to see if they would work out for me. Google docs is what I ended up coming back to.

I remember reading a review of an app, and it really resonated with me when the author of the article stated that power users often like more simple app interfaces, whereas newbies usually like “flashier” apps. I am not sure about the power user versus newbie distinction, but I know that I do appreciate a simple interface. Google Docs does provide that simple interface that I appreciate.

One more great thing about using the Google Docs on Google Drive, is that Google Docs do not count toward the space limit. In other words, you can have an unlimited amount of Google formatted documents on Google Drive.