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.
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.
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!
2. Creative Direction
E.L. James. Love her. Hate her. The fact is, there are many people that have purchased and read the 50 Shades books, and they have been wildly popular. I myself have not read them, and based on what I have heard, they are not my cup of tea. One thing these books have really seem to have contributed to is that openly reading sex stories, and talking about sex openly, have become more normal. A really big thing has been that it has become more normal for women to have a sexual identity and a sexuality. As a therapist, I think this is all great.
My point with this is that this book has opened up something of a social movement. I think that society has already been moving toward a more positive view of sexuality and feminine sexuality, so this is not the only factor, but I think it is still hard to deny that these novels have had an impact. If you are not aware, they are fan fiction, based off the Twilight novels (which I have also not read, but they are in my wife’s teacup.)
These novels are fan fiction, and are riddled with raunchy sex that no one has ever openly admitted to enjoying, outside of the red light district in any major city. By every traditional metric, they really had no reason to be successful, and yet they were wildly successful. There is even a movie adaptation coming soon.
As I stated in the previous post on this topic, I do think there are great reasons that traditional publishing has worked for many years. However, I also think there are reasons that self-published novels are rising in popularity. The 50 Shades books would have never been published by a traditional publisher. As I understand the history of this story, it started on websites dedicated to fan fiction, and was later picked up by a small, nontraditional print-on-demand press. From there, E.L. James went on to be named one of Time’s one-hundred most influential people of the year in 2012.
Whether the books are on my “must read” list or not, I have to recognize their reach and impact. I have heard the writing is very poor, yet these books started a movement often referred to as “mommy porn,” that helped many women get more in touch with their sexuality. By all traditional rules and reasoning, this should never have happened. Whether you love E.L. James and her writing or not, you have to respect the impact. This new direction was only possible through a nontraditional means, forging new ground, with new rules.
So that was my point with all this. I truly believe that writing is an artistic expression. Yet no other art form has so many “rules” that people have to follow. Try to find the equivalent to “show don’t tell” in the world of painting. Realistically, I do not think you will find it, because no other medium of art is bound with so many rules regarding how to express yourself in an acceptable manner. I want to reiterate that I am not a black-and-white, all or nothing type of thinker. I do very much strongly believe that authors should have their books professionally edited, regardless of how they choose to publish them. Therefore, I am not a completely “throw the rule book out the window” type of person. At the same time, I do not know of any other art form that is so rule bound as the writing industry, and artists at times should test the limits and functionality of those rules. E.L. James tested those time honored rules with the 50 shades books, and not only proved some of them to be outdated, but also had an artistic impact on society.
Traditional publishing uses the antediluvian rules that are the very foundation of publishing since before the Gutenberg press, and those rules have a reason and a purpose, because they have been proven to work. I myself would use a traditional publisher in a heartbeat if the chance presented itself, and I believed that the contract would be beneficial for both parties. However, I really believe that the ability to self-publish has become more than a vanity, it has allowed for creative expression by artists that would have normally not have been allowed to publish, and one may argue the impact has been negative, but one cannot argue that those artists have had an impact. In the end, I think society generally benefits from less fettered, creative expression from modern artists, whether it comes from paint or pen.
More on this topic in a later post, stay tuned! Please also comment below, and let me know what you think!