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 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.
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.
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.
Setting and achieving goals is an important part of therapy, and also very important in everyday life. As a therapist, I have to be able to help people set and achieve goals. As a writer, of course my goals are about making sure I fit writing into my life.
There is something motivating about starting fresh. When I was in public school, I can remember the start of every new academic year would begin with my proclamation that I was going to be more organized and do better in school that year. I graduated high school with a 2.79 GPA, so you can guess how that went.
Similarly, I think there is something to the new year that welcomes setting new goals and trying to achieve new things. Many people set resolutions for the New Year, but New Year’s Resolutions are notoriously not followed through upon. If you have already failed in your New Year’s Resolutions, then don’t give up! You can still do this, and here are a few suggestions to help you.
Is Your Goal Realistic?
It is important that goals are achievable. Losing twenty pounds a month may be hard. When the going gets tough, the tough grab a milkshake and watch How I Met Your Mother re-runs. Make sure your goals are actually achievable, or you are setting yourself up for failure. There is something intrinsically motivating about setting goals. There is also something intrinsically motivating about a achieving goals. Keep your long term goals high, but consider re-evaluating your short term goals to be more realistic. You can celebrate each small victory, which will be motivating as you continue toward your long-term goal.
Make a Public Commitment
When we make a commitment to other people, we are much more likely to follow through on it. My wife and I have been encouraging each other to eat healthy, exercise, and lose weight. It is motivating for both of us that we get encouragement from each other. It is also helpful knowing that we will hold each other accountable for achieving our goals.
Consider a Further Breakdown
I alluded to this above, but consider making short term goals that use the “baby steps” mentioned in the film, What About Bob? One gentleman I knew came up with a goal that he would exercise before opening a beer after work each night. He started by walking around his living room. Then each step was only slightly larger than the last. Since each step was only a bit bigger than the last, it was easy to stay motivated and follow through. The last I heard, he was up to several miles.
People all work for positive reinforcement, recognition, and rewards. This is something that sounds true for kids, but do rewards really work for adults? Think of it this way, would you still go to work if you did not get paid at all? Probably not. Consider rewarding yourself with a trip to the coffee shop, a new CD, or whatever works for you. It can be incredibly motivating to know that you get to go to have a coffee because you worked so hard for it.
Most Importantly, Never Give Up
If a goal is important to you, then keep working toward it. Avoid the all or nothing type of thinking that often leads to abandoning a New Year’s Resolution. Just because it didn’t work out for you one week, does not mean that you have to let go of the idea of meeting your goal. It may be time to re-examine the goal, come up with more baby steps, or find some way to motivate yourself some more, but don’t allow yourself to give up over one small defeat!
I have thought recently about some of the principles that I believe in when it comes to fiction stories and genre. I am not speaking about genre in the more traditional sense. When I go to Amazon, I realize that if I go to the Fantasy section, then I will get results that reflect books having to do with magic, mythical creatures, swords, and the like. I am speaking in this post more to the general idea of a fantasy. A fantasy is something created in one’s imagination. Something that has not actually happened. See how that fits into fiction? Fiction is a story that never actually happened, created from someone’s imagination.
Of course the next question you have, after accepting that premise, is, “So what?” I hear you. I notice many writers and readers get caught up in the “reality ” of stories. In science fiction, I have seen some argue about whether or not space travel in X manner (notice I dodged the argument by using a variable instead of mentioning a specific method.) Some people only want to write or read those science fiction stories that reflect realistic technology. My take on it is that it is called science FICTION for a reason . If it was real, it would be called a science textbook.
What I see many authors gloss over these days, however, is what I call internal consistency. This applies to everything that is created within the story. It applies in many ways, and it requires the writer to be somewhat cerebral. Before he became delusional and arrogant, M. Night Shyamalan created the Sixth Sense. He created certain rules that he followed throughout the movie. For example, anything the dead interacted with in the physical world was red. After the surprising ending, one could go back and see all of these rules in place throughout the movie. I remember seeing an interview with him, where he described going through scenes and looking for discrepancies in the color scheme, sometimes finding a problem right as they were starting to shoot.
This, to me, is internal consistency, and is very important to me in the stories that I enjoy. I want stories to be consistent with the rules created in that world. If this is a story where the ghosts cannot speak to the living, then I do not want to catch a ghost talking to a living person, unless there is a development in the story that accounts for this. I don’t want to see a character that acts wildly outside of their established personality. Internal consistency, in my estimation, is critical in any fiction story. As far as whether or not certain elements are realistic? It is all fantasy, which is not real by definition.
The USA Today does not always publish the most reliable of polls, but this recent article on how eBooks are changing reading habits seems significant. It also just makes logical sense. More people are purchasing and using eReaders to read their books. Along with this comes a transformation in the way that people shop for books. When one relies on an eReader, then it is less desirable to go to a brick-and-mortar store to browse books. Particularly, when people stated in the poll that their biggest reason for not reading is because they do not have the time. With a time crunch, who wants to strap on galoshes and traipse to the bookstore?
This brings up an interesting problem though. When something transforms in this way, there becomes a new way. I have often struggled with how to find new books to read. I feel much like I am stabbing in the dark, rather than using a reliable method of finding new, quality books.
I love to support independent artists as well. So for me, that introduces another layer. How do I find indie authors that have amazing books that I have not heard of? I do really believe in quality as well though. That means I also want to weed out those poor quality works.
An example here is that I recently read a book that has been recommended on my Amazon page for numerous months. Probably years. I jumped into the first book of the series. There were typos, but not so bad that I could not enjoy the book. However, there were numerous, gaping plot holes, where the book did not follow its own logic (a big problem for greens such as me.) There were also numerous instances where characters acted outside of their given personality, with no explanation. One example: there was a king and a queen, where the king absolutely adores the queen. The queen is a horrid, evil, power-hungry person, while the king is compassionate and just person who is touted to be able to read and know people very well. If he knows people so well, and is so compassionate, why on earth would he adore this horrid person as his wife? The book offered no explanation. I loved the characters, and I loved the world-building, but the inconsistencies were a huge disappointment for me, such that I will not be reading any further books in the series.
So, how do I find books from indie authors that are high quality, that fall within what I like to read? Right now, I use the Amazon recommendations quite a bit, but I must admit that it is really hit-or-miss, and I end up buying many books that I do not finish reading. Yes, I do read the reviews for the books before purchasing. I also cannot help but to think there are some gems out there that I would love to read, but I have just never heard of the books.
If you would not mind responding please, I would love to hear from you.
Do you primarily read eBooks, or psychical books? What methods do you use to find new books to read? Do you ever read indie authors, and if so, how do you find indie books to read?
There are many different personality tests, and they are often used in organizational psychology, where consultants work in the workplace to help co-workers understand one another. I recently took one at work, as I have also done in the past, and I thought of how it applied to those who read or write fiction. I have decided to use the True Colors personality type here because of its simplicity and applicability, but as I mentioned before, there are many others available.
True Colors was started by Don Lowry in the seventies, and still has a strong following. It categorizes personality types into four broad categories, based on a color. The green in me (you will know what that means soon), feels compelled to warn you that the human condition is not easily simplified into four discrete categories. In other words, the accuracy and applicability of this personality test will only get you so far. You know you the best, and you may have more than one color personality type that influences you, or it may vary based on the particular topic or situation. Overall, however, I think this is a good metric for building understanding.
For those in critique/writing groups, I think that understanding ourselves and others also goes a long way toward dealing with conflict. When we see these personality colors in ourselves and others, we can appreciate our differences, and view others as different instead of viewing them as wrong.
I am going to explain each personality type is it applies to fiction writers and readers. Please note that this is based on my own subjective view of writers and readers, as well as my knowledge of the True Colors personality types. I like to think I am a pretty effective therapist and manager, but I am also human.
Click here to take the personality test. Then return here to see what you personality type means for you as a reader or writer of fiction.
The gold personality is one that thrives on rules and traditions. They have a strong sense of duty and commitment. They desire things like punctuality and organization. They measure worth by completion. They are likely to be a part of groups, and like to be respected. They enjoy being in positions of authority, and like to bring stability.
As a Reader
These are the so-called “grammar nazis” that everyone refers to. Rules exist for a reason, and golds do not like to read the work of people who refuse to follow the rules. They appreciate worlds, characters, and stories that are internally consistent, and follow the rules of writing. They have no use for works that are riddled with grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. Golds can sometimes get lost in the nit-picky details, to the exclusion of the more emotional aspects of writing. Writing is a science, not an art.
As a Writer
Great at editing, golds go the extra mile to ensure every last typo is tried, convicted and executed. They tend to put a lot of thought into their stories, and like it when all of the rules of their fictional worlds are explored and adhered to. The three act structure. show don’t tell, and other traditional rules of writing and publishing are their bread and butter.
In a Writing/Critique Group
They make it a point to be on-time, and to follow through on their commitments. They appreciate others who are also punctual and follow-through on their commitments. They like to set up the rules and to help govern the group. They have little tolerance for people who are late, do not follow the rules, or do not follow-through on their commitments. They are the person everyone turns to for grammar advice, or when they believe a general rule or guideline will assist them. They can come across as harsh, rude, judgmental, and overly concerned with “rules.”
The Blue personality values nurturing, relationships, and emotions. They are very much drawn to literature and love symbolism. They love expression and creativity, and encourage the same in others. Blues need harmony, and make decisions based on feelings.
As a Reader
They want to connect with characters, and love stories that convey an inspirational message. They tend to like stories that have happy endings that neatly tie of all conflicts with a nice, silky bow. They love stories that are creative, and can be bored with stories that are too far “inside the box.” Some typos and mechanical errors are okay, as well as some minor holes in the plot, as long as they have a good feel for the characters and the characters are creative and compelling.
As a Writer
They tend to be “seat-of-the-pants” writers, and really like to develop their characters to the fullest. Conflicts in their stories will often force their characters to examine their feelings and character flaws, and grow as “person.” They thrive on positive feedback from others, as that is really why they write. They strongly believe in ideals, and bring that into their writing. They have a difficult time dealing with confrontation, can move at a slow pace, lose sight of important details, and do not tend to initiate.
In a Writing/Critique Group
The group cheerleader, they want to make sure everyone knows they are valued and heard. They can sometimes have a hard time with not taking criticism personally. They often do well at finding compromise. They love opportunities to be creative and connect with others emotionally.
Innovative, and logical, they like to be seen as being competent. They are curious, require intellectual freedom, and can question authority. They seek perfection in all that they do, including play activities. They seek intellectual stimulation, and value trying to solve intriguing problems. They can be oblivious to emotions at times and can be seen as being detached.
As a Reader
Grammar, spelling and punctuation errors bother them, but a small amount can be overlooked if the rest of the story is compelling. They prefer stories that are well thought out, and have little tolerance for poorly developed magic or other systems that do not seem to follow a logical trajectory. They value brevity and concise communication. They like to analyze any systems that may be at play in the fictional world.
As a Writer
They tend to spend a lot of time thinking and researching. No detail is too small to spend an inordinate amount of time researching and thinking about before proceeding. They tend to overlook the more emotional aspects of stories, such as scene descriptions and emotional expression by characters. They like to bring innovation to their writing. They are constantly seeking to improve their writing skills. They can be hesitant to try new things. Sometimes they can get so lost in the details of a story, and “thinking things through,” that they forget to write the story, or get bored and move on.
In a Writing/Critique Group
They are curious, and value differing viewpoints. They want people to respect them, and to feel valued as a part of the group. They are good problem-solvers, and at organizing a workable system for the group and the group structure, such as how and what is reviewed in the group. They can have a hard time making decisions in an effort to fully think things through. They can be seen as being cold, detached, on unemotional to others, particularly those strongly connected to feelings. They do not tolerate “fools.”
Oranges are free, spontaneous, and impulsively take risks. They are active, optimistic, and thrive on crisis. They are animated and dynamic, love to be the center of attention, and are very competitive. They are generous and optimistic. They are fun, and bring excitement. They need public recognition of their abilities. They are enthusiastic, but tend to over-commit and overestimate results. They act first and think second.
As a Reader
They appreciate stories that cater to their sense of adventure. They like bold books, and love variety on their bookshelves. Formulaic novels bore them to tears, and they may often switch from one story to the next, depending on their current whims. They like stories filled with adventure, in one form or another. They will tend to avoid stories that they see as overly depressing.
As a Writer
They don’t like deadlines. Rules can be important, but sometimes it is just as important to find creative ways to break all the rules. They do not like to feel controlled in their creative endeavors. They like to write big, bold and beautiful. They like to write about action and adventure. Writing is an art, not a science. They are the ultimate, “seat-of-the-pants” writers. Oranges can “figure out the details later, when they get there.” They believe stories should be fun to read.
In a Writing/Critique Group
They can sometimes have trouble fitting in and finding acceptance. They can be competitive, when others do not perceive something as a competition. They bring a spark of fun and adventure to the group. They do not like to make commitments, and may often not keep them, as they prefer to live in the moment. Logic and objectivity do not factor into their behaviors, and they may have a hard time connecting with people who are driven by logic. They prefer a casual feel to the group, rather than a formal structure. They love to talk, and can sometimes dominate conversations.
Anything that is a generalization will always have some margin of error. I meant for this to be fun, and maybe useful, but it no way is it a rigid rule manual for all human behavior. So definitely take things with a grain of salt. Be aware that people usually have one color they are really strong in, one that is a runner-up, and then a distant one (fourth place) that they have the most difficult time with in others.
I would really love to get your feedback. What did your personality come out as? Did the description fit you as a person who loves to read or write fiction? What parts did not fit? Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!
Sandy Hook was an absolute tragedy. There is no denying that. Particularly to see such amazing little boys and girls lose their lives before they even had a chance to start them is something that is probably so hard for any of us to quite put into words. I came across a poem recently, and I do not wish to criticize, but I had a reaction to it. It was the Newton children looking down from heaven, and assuring their parents they were doing just fine, better off where they are now, and telling their parents not to worry. I had a reaction because to me, it felt like trying to sweeten up a tragedy. When a little kid spends their last several breaths in absolute horror, and they die before ever even knowing what puberty even is, or what it is like to go to their first dance… I just do not know how such a thing can ever be sweetened.