Wednesday, March 8, 2017

CHARACTERIZATION: THE ELEMENT EDGE


Before my first novel debuted the publisher sent it to several beta readers. One was a gentleman whose comment I'll never forget. He said to the editor, "The author is spot on with the dialogue. She did a phenomenal job of giving all the characters different voices to where the reader could distinguis them easily." He went on to say that he didn't know if I took extra care with that aspect or if I were a natural, but that either way, I nailed it. 

Wow, that was really nice to hear! And he was right, I did take extra care while developing my characters—four women friends who were too old to be young, but way to young to be old! The method I use when creating a character is personality profiles. 

If you are not familiar with these profiles, they are simply a tool to identify the strengths and challenges of a person's temperament. All of them are basically the same, but some are more understandable than others. My first introduction to this study was through Tim Lahaye's Spirit Controlled Temperament where he tells of Hippocrates' belief that people can be categorized into four groups based on dominant body fluids. I found this fascinating. I could easily identify myself and everyone in my family after reading this book and it helped me to more readily accept them. It also helped me to work on my challenges and develop my strengths. A few years later Florence Littauer wrote Personality Plus. I liked this book because it was written from a woman's point of view. She also used Hippocrates' theory. Then Pastor Gary Smalley used animals to identify the four personality types: A lion, Golden Retriever, beaver, and otter. However, the profile identification I like best is the one Laurie Beth Jones's book, The Four Elements of Success, uses the elements: fire, water, wind, and earth. (Not the Zodiac signs by the way. She just uses what we can identify by observation) My only regret about this book is its focus on team building on a corporate level, but it still gives a great visual and shows how each element interacts with the other. 

All teach that people have all four elements but usually two are dominate. For instance, my dominate trait is water and wind. Like water, I'm reflective. I carry the heavy loads of others, lacking the ability to say, "Oh well, he will just have learn from that mistake." Oh no, I want to fix it and make people feel better. Other people's problems keep me up at night. I flow with most any situation and I can conform to any group. If something gets in my way, I go around it. Like wind I'm playful. I like to lift people up, scatter idea seeds, give breath to the weary. I'm also very scattered. My office looks like a tornado blew through! 

I won't take the time here to teach the elements, (which I do at conferences) but I will give a short explanation of how my characters are unique from each other according to the personality I assigned them. 

Avalee is earth/water. Like earth she is solid and supportive, grounded and nurturing, she is productive and goal-oriented. And as earth is the source of materials, she can be materialistic. 
Like water she carries heavy loads, is reflective and has deep feelings. 

Jema is water/earth, but she is very different from Avalee because her dominate element is water and you will see her acting more like water than earth. In addition to the water characteristics of Avalee, Jema is refreshing and sparkles. She easily conforms to any situation and has a tendency to give in. She doesn't seek the spotlight, rather is more comfortable seeking the lowest level. As in earth she is nurturing and supportive.

Lexi is fire/wind. She blazes paths no one else will try. She wants to shed the light on every situation. Her temper easily flares and she is impulsive. And just like fire draws everyone's attention, so does she. Her wind makes her funny and playful. She can be her own firestorm.

Molly Kate is earth/fire. She is supportive, grounded, productive and nurturing. But you better believe she will shine the light of truth and set you straight.

As I write scenes with all four women, I know how they will act, react, and interact. I know what their body language will be like, how they will phrase their words and what they will be thinking. This method has served me well. So if you want to give it a try, read about the personalities. Don't worry about reading all the books I mentioned. Below shows how each is grouped:

Earth/Beaver/Melancholy
Water/Golden Retriever/Phlegmatic
Wind/Otter/Sanguine
Fire/Lion/Choleric

Have fun with this!










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