Postivity for Character Development

I have followed the tried and true character development methods including writing out a detailed character description, interviewing my characters and, most important of all, determining what kind of ice cream each of my characters crave. After all of this work I sometimes still look at my characters on the page and see flat, lifeless, uninteresting people who merely do what I tell them rather than the other way around. I want my characters to drive my story, taking me to places I have not thought of even if it ends up turning my plot completely upside down.

I have just finished reading a business book that has just the recipe to help bring my characters to life. If you’ve read any business books, most are about understanding behavior or changing behavior to generate improved group, team or company results. This book is no different in that respect. What the book does offer, that made my mind go straight to character development, is an interesting twist that the same ideas can be used on personal relationships.

Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential AND HOW YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOURS by Shirzad Chamine has a formula, once I turn it in on itself, to generate evil, sweet, struggling, depressed, and over-achieving characters we all love and love to hate.

home-book

The main premise of Positive Intelligence explains that we all have Saboteurs in our brains that were originally responsible for keeping us safe and helping us survive. As we grow and mature the Saboteurs want to keep control, not letting the Sage in our mind come forward. This book shows when the Saboteurs are influencing our thoughts which helps diminish their power and let our Sage come forward.

For most, our primary Saboteur is the Judge. The book describes in detail nine other Saboteurs that exert influence over us in different situations. Our individual personalities help determine which ones are more powerful in each of us. I know several people who definitely have strong Controllers and others who are strong Sticklers. For me, my Pleaser and Hyper-Vigilant Saboteurs are quite influential.

As I neared the end of the novel I began thinking about how these ideas could be used to help me develop the characters in my novel. Then it clicked. The strength of the Saboteurs may be the key to fleshing out each of my characters. I reviewed my character development pages that still felt unrealistic and two dimensional, and I began assigning Saboteurs to each of the characters.

My main character is definitely a Controller and Avoider which got him into his current situation. The antagonist was more difficult to pin down which is probably why she seems so flat, but now see her has a Hyper-Achiever with tendencies toward the Victim and the Pleaser. As a rewrite many of her scenes it will be interesting to see if anything else comes through as a dominant Saboteur. I’m committed to working through this with each of my major characters by asking myself which saboteurs resonate in each character?

Saboteurs
1. Judge
2. Controller
3. Stickler
4. Avoider
5. Hyper-Achiever
6. Pleaser
7. Victim
8. Restless
9. Hyper-Vigilant
10. Hyper-Rational

Next, I took the idea of the main character developing his Sage powers to more realistically show his evolution throughout the book. The interesting thing about developing Sage powers is that we all will fall back to the Saboteurs at one time or another. Showing success with his Sage will help him escape some precarious situations while falling back on his Saboteurs will result in setbacks that place him further from his goal. Other characters may have to make similar changes over the course of the story, so I asked myself which of the five powers of the Sage will each character use in his or her evolution?

Five Powers of the Sage
1. Empathize
2. Explore
3. Innovate
4. Navigate
5. Activate

Positive Intelligence may not be for everyone, but it has helped me see find more realism in my characters. It won’t be the only tool I use which is why we have many tools in our toolboxes. If you are struggling with your own character development, perhaps this will give you the insight you need to bring your own characters to life. Even if it doesn’t help with your own character development, there is still much more to learn from this book to help anyone become a more positive, empathetic, productive and happy person.

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Urges

I recently read an intriguing article in Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine about writing Flash Fiction and decided to give it a try.  Flash fiction is generally stories under 1,000 words which was quite the challenge.  For me the most difficult was providing enough details to make the writing interesting without wasting words.  Additionally, ensuring there was enough development to allow the reader to connect to the characters and the plot.  Enjoy.

Have you ever had that urge to yank your steering wheel hard and sail off the edge of a mountain road?  What about wanting to run as fast as you can with your grocery cart then let it go?  Where do these urges come from?  Hopefully most of us never act on these, but the urges are there.  

My unusual urges sprung to life one day driving home from work, luckily I don’t drive canyon roads.  Speeding home I remained in the far left lane even as my exit approached.  Three miles to exit 60.  Two miles.  One.  Gone.  Usually a cautious driver, I try to move right early, so I don’t cut anyone off.  Today was different.  I stayed in my lane without even glancing toward my exit.  Of course there were other exits, alternate routes, ways to turn around, but I didn’t.  I continued to heading north toward my unknown destination.

Over the next couple hours my phone vibrated frequently with new messages.  I let it go to voicemail, then I followed through on another random urge—I turned it completely off.  I knew who was calling; knew I should answer; even knew what she wanted.  We had been growing apart for some time as she focused on moving up the corporate ladder while I wanted out.  She needed her friends while I only wanted to be with her.  Were we really this different when we met?

I was over two hours away from home with no explanation or destination in mind.  Hunger came over me like a tidal wave.  My stomach assumed control and headed toward the nearest exit.  I couldn’t recall which state I was in or the nearest major city, but I knew there wasn’t much around including light.

Turning off the highway, my conscious mind figured neither direction was likely to resolve my hunger, yet my stomach chose to go east.  Both directions were pitch black like tunnels with the starless sky above and towering pines growing close to the berm of the road.  The darkness grew darker.  My headlights didn’t pierce far enough ahead to insure my safety.  Another half hour passed before light seeped in through the edges of the tunnel walls.

The town wasn’t much.  Aging neon lights announced the barber shop was closed and the diner was open.  Dim street lights struggled to reveal the unlit signs for a woman’s clothing store, drug store and bank.  The movie theater marquee was dark, but I could make out “CLOSED” as its coming attraction.

I parked in the empty space waiting for me in front of the diner.  For a brief moment, my rational side broke free and turned on my cell phone.  Ten missed calls and 28 missed texts, all from Audra.  The last text read, “Thought we were going to talk.  Can’t do this by myself anymore.” I clicked it off knowing I would never read any more or listen to the voicemails.

An engine roared to life; bright lights shone in my rearview mirror.  A beat-up pickup pulled out into traffic, sputtered down the road, and disappeared where the street lights ended.

The greasy smells pulled me through the diner’s door.  For the middle of nowhere, the diner was not lacking for business.  Heavy, flannel-clad workers hunched over their meals at the counter while ageless waitresses refilled their coffee.  A lone man in a suit read a folded newspaper in the corner booth while a young couple giggled and slurped milkshakes near the door.

“Anywhere you want, hon,” a waitresses offered from behind the counter.  I shimmied into a window booth and the waitress pushed a menu and glass of water in front of me.  She departed as quickly as she arrived.  Hunger gnawed at me but my eyes stared out the window at the shadowy, deserted street.

“What can I get you, hon?” the waitress asked.  I ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a coke.  Without another word, she floated away.

Headlights flashed as a familiar looking car parked behind mine  A woman rose and her tense gaze caught my eyes over the car roof.  Her face flushed, she shut the door and entered the diner.  Both waitresses stopped like statues, neither acknowledging Audra, as she plodded toward my booth.

Water and a menu appeared before Audra’s arms touched the table.  We stared in silence until the waitress returned.

“What is this place?” Audra asked.

“The Way Station Diner, dear.”  Our heads tilted in mirror images.  “A place to refuel before taking the next step in your journey.”

“Together?” we both blurted out.  “But, we broke up.”

“I don’t even know where I’m going or how I got here,” I said.

“No one here does.  We usually only see singles and the occasionally couples, but they arrive together.  The two of you are the first couple that I have ever waited on who arrived separately.”

“What does that even mean?” we asked in unison.

The waitress shrugged.  “When you figure it out, hon, you let me know.”  She floated to the next table.

I stared at Audra and she unexpectedly stared back.  Slowly, smiles grew on our faces like on our first date.  She began to laugh and quickly clasped her hand over her mouth.  I threw my head back, shaking it and laughing.

The waitress returned with my meal.  Audra snagged a fry from my plate, just like she boldly had done on our first date.  I raised my water glass and offered “Cheers!”.  She responded, clinking her glass with mine as we had done at every dinner out since.

Reaching across the table I gently took her hands.  Her eyes softened and our smiles grew wider.  We slid out of the booth without losing hold of each other and left the diner.  Audra headed toward my car, so I trotted ahead and open her door chivalrously.  Hopping in the driver’s seat, I pulled out into the deserted street with no clue where we were going.

I’d be interested to hear what you think, so if you are so inspired, please leave me comment.  Thanks!

2015 Annual Plan

They say it is never too late to start, so I picked May 1st as the beginning of my new year.  In April I finally cleaned out my personal inbox.  Cleared out all the junk, filed away the things I wanted to keep, and left all of the blog/newsletter e-mails to read.  It took a week or so, but I finally made it through all of the Writing Practice and Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine e-mails from the past several months.

I started a new notebook in Evernote to save all of the important blog posts that I didn’t want to keep in e-mail, as they tend to get lost or forgotten in folders and sub-folders, never to be seen again.  Evernote works great and whether I was reading the e-mails on my MacBook or on my iPad, Safari on both devices has an Evernote plugin that sends the page I want to whichever Evernote notebook I choose.

Since many of these e-mails were from 2014 as well as 2015, there were a number of year-end/beginning of the year suggestions that I had never done.  The one I latched onto from Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine was drafting a personal Annual Plan.  Since I did not do much writing and had not made a plan for 2014, I skipped this initial evaluation phase, jumping right into creating my plan for 2015.

Writing and blogging is not my full time job, so I began by estimating the number of hours I had available per week for creativity.  Beginning May 1st left 35 weeks in the year. I estimated I had 8 hours a week for a total of 280 hours of creative time.  This seemed like a huge number, but then I considered that 280 hours is really less than 2 months of working full time.  Based on my own experience, I estimated that I could write 800 words and hour, so assuming 100% writing productivity I should be able to generate 224,000 words.  This seemed unrealistic since some of the goals I planned to accomplish would include planning, outlining and generating ideas.  I revised the estimate for actual writing to be 60% of the total time, thus setting my word count goal at 134,400 (or 3,840 per week which is far less than the 11,667 required to win NaNoWriMo!)

The next step was to list the projects I wanted to complete by year end along with time and word estimate, where applicable.  This was a bit tricky to ensure my individual goals did not far exceed my time estimates.  I came up with the following seven goals.

1.     Edit 2014 NaNoWriMo novel (50 hours)

2.     Complete 2nd Novel first draft (75,000 words/94 hours)

3.     Plan next project (30 hours)

4.     Develop business plan for Edited 2014 NaNoWriMo novel (20 hours)

5.     Blogging – Write and Post 1 to 2 articles per week (40,000 words/35 hours)

6.     2015 NaNoWriMo novel (50,000 words/63 hours) – participation only in November

7.     Track progress toward plan

Once I put these down in writing, it didn’t seem as daunting and having them banging around in my head.

Number 7 was going to be my nemesis.  I’m a spreadsheet guy, so building a spreadsheet to track and analyze my time was right up my alley.  The problem for me is that I can easily get sucked into messing around with a spreadsheet, making it better and better until I have wasted so much time I never get to the writing.  I decided to search out a time tracking app to eliminate this time suck.

I’m a Mac user, so my first stop was the App Store.  I had a couple of requirements – it had to be able to track multiple projects (at least one for each item above), it had to have an easy to use interface that would track the time for me, and it had to have a free option.  I wasn’t opposed to paying for something that would work, but I prefer to give things a test run before committing any cash.

After two failed attempts with preview version apps, I found a completely free, cloud-based app that had a computer app, iPhone app and a similar browser interface.  TrackingTime (iTunes link) was going to be my app of choice.  The features are far more expansive than what I need for my writing, such as the ability to track multiple team members, but I can set up multiple projects, multiple tasks in each project and multiple to do items for each goal.  I kept the set up simple by setting up a Writing Production Plan 2015 project and added the first six goals from above.

To track my time, I simply select the task I will be working on and click the button to start the timer.  When I’m done I click to stop and it records my time.  If it detects that I am being idle, it gives me a warning and asks if I would like to remove my idle time automatically.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 6.33.40 PM

One caveat is that you must set up an account before using.  I was a bit skeptical of this, but they only ask for your e-mail address and a password to establish an account.  Now my data is synced and I can access the same tasks from any of my devices to track my time anywhere.  Although I do not do a lot of writing on my iPad or iPhone, for those brief times when an idea over takes me, I can easily track my time while jotting down these notes.

If you are in the market for time tracking software, I highly encourage you to give TrackingTime (homepage) a try.  It’s easy to use and I expect this will be a valuable tool to keep my writing goals on target.

I made May 1st my goal to start and I have already logged over 2 1/2 hours in 2 days.  I’m well on my way to complete my 2015 plan.