Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Character Profiling

Music Choice of the Week: Oblivion (Lacuna Coil, Shallow Life, 2009)



Effective communication just isn't your day to day conversations. You need effective communication conveyed through your characters to reach your readers.


About a month ago I attended a state conference for what I do as a day job. I needed to get some credit hours to make it seem like I keep up on the business. You could choose through a few different courses. I try to take something different every year depending on what's offered. This year I picked two courses that really interest me as a person, not to mention I wanted to see how one could effectively help me run an office. Personality Profiling was extremely interesting. I like to dig into what makes people tick, what traits are associated with certain personalities and how to deal and defuse situations based off those traits. The course was four hours. Best four hours I've ever spent in a conference room. I knew my type before I went in but the course instructor had a different test than the one I've taken before so I enthusiastically paid attention and honestly filled out the questions.


Still the same personality.


But you can really tell what type of personalty people have by the way they assert themselves with others, by the way they take a test, by the way they interact with the rest of the class and with the instructor. You could tell the course instructor was really paying attention to this detail. Fabulous information.


Next was my course on effective listening and communication. I took this course because I thought it would be a no-brainer for me. It's no secret I'm not much of a talker in life. But I like to listen. Listening gives me the chance to learn how to communicate with others on the off chance I have to do it. Listening allows me to learn how to make my characters interact with one another. Listening is the chance to just quiet observe others. Because let's face it, lots of people like to talk about themselves. They want to brag to anyone who will lend them an ear. And I might lend you that ear, and I might listen but that whole profiling thing from above? Yeah, I'm doing that while you're talking so I can give you exactly what you want to hear when you finish.


So I walk into the conference room with a few other gents and ladies and take my seat at the front. I learned this a long time ago. There are certain parts of the room where you can effectively listen from and take part in a conversation. The reverse triangle effect. I need direct eye contact to effectively listen and I sure as hell was going to pass this class. So to the front I went. Effective listening is just what you think it'd be. Making eye contact, being interested and invested into the conversation. Asking questions, taking mental notes so you can relate to the conversation.


Listening is an active exercise. If you're being lazy you aren't listening. How many times have you said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm listening,” then two seconds later after the person walked away you think, “Now if only I could remember what they said.”


I can effectively listen all day. Then we get to a little exercise I'd like to call Hell. There are all types of listening. When dealing with people who have issues you need to dial in a little empathy to let them know you understand what the person is dealing with and want to help. I can relate to people. Some times. So it's no surprise the instructor calls upon me for a little exercise.

Instructor: Can you help me with something?

Me: Sure.

Instructor: Pretend I'm a teenage boy who just graduated high school. For my graduation present, my parents were supposed to buy me the brand new pick-up truck I wanted. Instead, they gifted me with a rusty old truck. How would you deal with that?

Me: Be glad they bought you anything. Thank them for being great parents to you. Stop being ungrateful for their generosity. Don't be a brat.


The Instructor waved that off. Several people in the course agreed and added a few more comments onto mine.


Instructor: Okay, let's try another one.

Me: Sure.

Instructor: Pretend I'm your best friend. I've applied for this job that I really want and I've interviewed twice for it. The interview process couldn't have gone better. I was made for this job. But I've just found out they gave it to another girl in my office.

Me: Obvious the girl was a better fit. Better luck next time.

Instructor: Flabbergasted.

Class: Stunned silent.


I shrug and go back to my seat. Obviously, this is why I don't have many girlfriends. Apparently, I'm lacking a whole bunch of empathy. Go figure. Remarks from instructor, “Great listener. Excellent memory. You need to work on your empathetic communication skills. Good luck.”


Bite me. I know a whole bunch of hand gestures. Do those count as empathetic communication?


So how does this work into writing? Easy. Your characters have to listen. Have to be able to communicate with one another to make the plot work. You have to weave personalities together and those people have to listen to one another. Breakdowns in communication happen all the time and everyone knows the consequences. Black moments, misunderstandings, the silent treatment. By learning how to effectively convey those abilities into our characters it gives the reader a sense of reality.


What kind of personality traits do your hero/heroine display? Do you know what type of personality you have?  And how does your personality play into the characters you write (or read)?


Hellion said...

*LOL* I love this story. This sounds so you. And I wouldn't feel sorry for the bratty teenager either, but that was the teacher's fault for having a bad example to work with. I don't think anyone with sense will empathize with that. "Oh, boo-hoo, you didn't get a shiny NEW truck. You got a crappy OLD truck for free instead." Tool.

Now the second person...well, we had this discussion. *LOL* Even I know to go, "That's OUTRAGEOUS! I'm so sorry! They're undoubtedly pulling inner office politics and you wouldn't really want to work there anyway if this is how they treat people." I mean, that's what you say: it's your FRIEND.

I also think empathy is useful in writing your characters; without empathy, it will be difficult to create/write the deep emotion needed to satisfy your readers. If you don't care about why your characters are doing the things they're doing, why should the readers?

My women characters are usually intelligent, neurotic, and very empathetic/compassionate. My male characters are usually the opposite. *LOL*

Hellion said...

My personality, btw, is ISFJ.

Sin said...

I logged into facebook with the sole purpose of finding the INTJ strategist for a link and logged out without checking it. WTF. My brain sucks.

Sin said...

Yes, but you need opposites to balance them out. Can you imagine your characters both being neurotic people pleasers? OMG.

Heroine: "I'm sorry."
Hero: "No! I'm sorry."
Heroine: "Oh no! I'm sorry for you being sorry!"
Hero: "Jeez! I'm sorry for you being sorry that I'm sorry that you're sorry!"


Hellion said...

I'd have to shoot both those people. *LOL*

Sin said...

I think I'd have to prolong their torture.

Janga said...

I place a lot of credence in personality tests. Understanding personality differences made me a more tolerant and more effective teacher. I find it helpful in writing too. I did an informal Myers-Briggs for each of my protagonists in the early stages of writing when I was working on character biographies. Doing so paid off in a number of ways once I started writing.

I'm a good listener too, Sin, but I'm an INFP and big on empathy. Sometimes I'd do better with more T qualities in the mix, and my sister tells me often that I'd get further in my writing if I overcame some of the Perceiver's propensity to delay closure.

Sin said...

And that is why you're an excellent teacher Janga! You care about how your students work individually.

It's interesting to me the differences in personalities but same the qualities are present. Like the listening thing. Perceiver listeners versus Strategist listeners. Even the tiniest hint of empathy goes a long way. I can be empathetic but it's like getting a sprinkle of rain in the desert. It feels great but it doesn't last very long.

Bosun said...

I read this blog then spent 30 minutes (felt like 400) trying to take the personality test. Got to the "enter your city" and the fucker wouldn't take ANY answer. I even tried New York and it DIDN'T RECOGNIZE THE CITY!! So I quit.

I took that 4-letter test thing like 15 years ago and I know I'm extroverted (duh) but can't remember the rest. And I'm so mad at the quiz now I don't care. (Is Irrationally Angry Bitch an option?)

My current heroine is a people pleaser and my hero could care less what people think of him. Which is why he doesn't like the idea that what the heroine thinks about him matters.

Demi Spawn said...

I like SIN's parenting skills. Honest. And to the point.
I'll be there to support you. But. Earn it yourself, dear. That's my motto.

"Do you know what type of personality you have? "
Quiet & subtle.

"And how does your personality play into the characters you read?"
I like to read stories that are quiet on the surface. But underneath that calm quiet there is storm raging. I like being surprised. I like to be caught of guard by emotional turmoil, angst, life changing events & difficult choices to be made. Give me a story that starts out quiet & subtly … and then hit me with hurricane force winds.

"And how does your personality play into the characters you write?"
I never thought about this before but ...
I am a quiet & subtle writer. On the surface.

P. Kirby said...

What a great story!

I'm an extreme introvert. I'm also a fabulous actress. Which is why folks who know me from certain venue--the local artist society, for example--think I'm an empathetic, extrovert type. I (unintentionally) pick up accents and dialects and tend to sound like whomever I'm around at the time.

The problem is, after a full day of hiding my misanthropy, playing well with others and being cheerful, I come home and pass out on the couch.

Which is why I usually ace job interviews, but suck at staying employed. Eventually, caustic, straightforward me starts leaking out of my pleasant shell.

OTOH, my ability to read people and fit in is probably a huge asset with character development and dialogue.

Hellion said...

I am a quiet & subtle writer.

This is clearly Jules masquerading as a different name. How's that Witness Relocation Program working out for you, Jules? *grins*

Demi Spawn said...


*waves-blows Kiss-kiss*
Its great, Hellion darling. My mother-please-don't-blog-you're-embarrassing-us-kids haven't found me yet!

And blame SIN. She sudgested the name. Actually? She recommended ... Demon Spawn.
But Demi is a bit more Quiet. And subtle.

Bosun said...

Now I know Jule's voice is unmistakable. Even if we didn't have the email address to go on.

Thanks to a nifty link from Hellie, I can say I'm an ENTJ. The description is so right on it's almost scary. And I'm not good with the empathy stuff either. I can do it, but I've had to learn how over the years.

Hellion said...

You're the only pirate around here who even uses the words "quiet" and "subtle"--the rest of us don't recognize those words at all. Subtle? What's that?

Sin said...

Is subtle one of those things you use an ice pick for?


Yeah, I didn't think so.

Demi Spawn said...

"Subtle? What’s that?"

My figure?

Visuals are always sooo helpful when trying to visualize an abstract idea.

Sin said...

Dear, may I remind you that there is nothing subtle about your figure?

Demi Spawn said...

"Dear, may I remind you that ..."

Oh? Well yah know I just read somewhere that " Breakdowns in communication happen all the time and everyone knows the consequences."
It makes for a more interesting story.

Bosun said...

Pat - I've often heard that many great actors are shy introverts. (Though I guess saying "shy introvert" is redundant.) I know a lot of writers struggle to get through conferences because it's so exhausting for their introverted natures. I'm amazed they make it at all since I'm a total extrovert and conferences exhaust me.

2nd Chance said...

I'll have to look up my results somewhere...I do know I'm a shy extrovert.


That much I remember.

Sin, the tendencey to be truthful to the point of lack of tact is an interesting trait to write into a character, but it is tricky to do it so the reader will still like the person.

No, in RL, anyone who knew you would know that you're really polishing the ice pick to go after the candidate who got the job so your friend will get it in the long run...

Sin said...

Does that have something to do with men whining Jules?

Sin said...

I'm also a "shy" introvert. I'm more wallflower like. I prefer to observe.

Pat, you're an interesting character. It's almost like your method acting! So neat.

Ter, sorry dear about the link. My bad.

Bosun said...

I just typed a comment and the blog ate it. That's it. The web hates me today! (It's not you, Sin. It's the internetz!!)

Janga said...

Ter, ENTJ would have been my guess for you. :) I'd also bet you fall fairly close to the dividing line on N-S. Am I right?

Sin, in the first Myers-Briggs class I took, the instructor used reactions to being the victim in a non-life-threatening auto accident to illustrate the differences in Thinking and Feeling responses. The Thinker's first thought is "The fool better have good insurance"; the Feeler's first though is "I hope no one is hurt." The Thinker may be concerned about others' injuries as a second thought just as the Feeler may be concerned about insurance later. But the first reaction reveals personality.

Bosun said...

I might be, Janga. I honestly have no idea. I figured my ENTJ by reading the description, not taking a test. But I'm often torn between what I'm feeling and what I'm thinking. My thinking side usually wins out. My first thought would be of the insurance too.

Demi Spawn said...

Do you prefer to direct energy towards the outer world of people
and things (E) or the inner world of ideas and information (I)?
Yes. and ... Yes! I just took a personallity test. it said that I was an xSFP, where x denotes an equal preference.
Though the test did say that The Whole Type approach suggests that my nearest personality type is ESFP.

Yep, I've got the X factor! I'm subtle & shy in an extroverted way. Like my figure?! LOL

Sin said...

Yes, Jules. You definitely have the X-factor. Like in X-Files.

Sin said...

I'm a thinker but my first thought is not on insurance. It's on who is about to get a beat down of epic proportions.

Demi Spawn said...

SIN, have you been snoopin' around my basement again? I thought that someone had been messin' around with my neutron machine!

And I do seem to have a strange X-Files kinda thing going on. I blame those Westie people ...
*innocent look*
Trust me. Don't ask, cuz you don't really wanna know.

2nd Chance said...

I'm just invisible...

2nd Chance said...

Okay, my first thought in the accident is ... "I hope no on is hurt."

Sin said...

Chanceroo, dear, you are anything but invisible.

Demi Spawn said...


Demi Spawn said...

Accident? As in car?
Hope that all is well with you, Chanceroo.

2nd Chance said...

Oh, I'm fine. I mean the auto accident question Janga posed... I'd wonder if anyone was hurt.

On the flip side, whenever someone does something stupid in front of my car, even when they are technically right...I think to myself, "Is being right really going to make you feel better in the emergency room? Even if my insurance does pay for all of it?"

I mean, there is technically right and there is being aware that the other person may honestly not see you through no fault of there own!

Like when you back up in a parking lot and can't see around the massive Hummer parked next to you, so you creep out, slowly...and some twit goes darting behind you... Yes, they have the right of way, but really? That's gonna make you feel better?

Hellion said...

Ha! I'm usually the "That fool better have insurance!" realm. But then this is crossed with "Is everyone all right in MY car?" I don't care about the other car, esp if it's their fault. *LOL*

But the ISFJ fits my profile better than the ISTJ--though I imagine I'm about half and half for most of these.

Enid Wilson said...

Are you the only one "caught out" by the instructor? I can relate to that well as people often call me blunt. And that's why I like Jane Austen's characters so much. JA people profiled well.

Every Savage Can Reproduce