What a Character!

This morning I was searching for something on the web and when the options came up I knew I'd put in the wrong search terms. But one of the articles looked interesting so I clicked on it. It was from the 11-29-08 edition of The New York Times and titled "Never Let Them See You Sweat." You can read the full article here. It's about regulating emotions and what we expect from certain people.

Anyway, the article delves into the major parts of personality and how these are divvied up in each of us. How some rely more on genetics and others appear to be more environmental. You can remember these personality parts by the acronym OCEAN:
  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeability
  • Neuroticism
Each of these attributes should be present in all your characters. But they should be different in all your characters. Even if you have a story about twins. By using this as a guide, you can build a solid base for Mary and Joe and Tom and Jane. And everyone else you create.

Here are two examples from opposite ends of the spectrum:

1. Mary is an open book. She never hides anything from herself or her friends. If it happens to her, the world knows it. She has a hard time saying no to any requests, and she is always busy. Everyone in town knows her because she always makes time for everyone and never meets a stranger. Year after year the PTA persuades her to serve on one committee or another because she's able to get the members to come together quickly and get things moving. All is fine until it's not. Mary is unable to take any form of criticism without it eating away at her. If one of her children is sick, she zooms to panic mode in thirty seconds, certain her child is dying.

2. Jane is a private person. The few friends she has know little about her, only what she chooses to tell them. She isn't too reliable either. If she feels like not working one day, she won't think twice about calling in sick and then going to the beach. And when she does work, she gets the job done but if there's a mistake . . . oh, well. She'd rather be caught dead than ask anyone if they'd like to go to lunch or shopping. And if they ask her, she often says no just to be disagreeable. But in an emergency, Jane's the one everyone wants. She's cool, calm, and collected. She can jump into any situation and take charge.

See how this works? It's like buying mix-and-match separates. Or selecting the pieces for your own bed-in-a-bag. Everyone has the same choices, but each look will be unique.

Take this list and go character shopping!

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