Monday, February 14, 2011

Creating Memorable Characters: Communicating From Valued Motivational Styles

For those of you who are new to this site you don’t know that I didn’t blog last week. For regular visitors, I’m confident you carried on fine without me. I’ve been busy working on my third novel, Black Ice, and the first draft is almost complete. Book – blog. Book – blog. Duh, it’s a no-brainer. Finishing the novel takes priority over blogging.

I’m not sure how some authors manage to spend all day at the computer but as yet I have both a physical and creative limit. When my back and my butt start aching and my brain goes more numb than is usual, I’ve finished for the day.

Additionally, I’m determined to have a life. Now that I’m off the road and don’t have to be “on” all the time trying to entertain an audience, there are many extracurricular activities that demand my attention; a body to be re-sculptured, golf to be played when the weather is warm enough and there is no snow on the ground, great meals to cook, friends with whom to dine out, books to read, and movies to watch. In comparison, writing a blog seems a chore.

Okay, I hear you. I’ve stalled long enough. It’s time to get back on task.

In the previous blogs, we examined the seven valued motivational styles associated with relationship awareness theory and the Strength Deployment Inventory , a tool which I’ve employed during my three-plus decades as an organizational consultant in Fortune 500 and government organizations and that lends itself extremely well to character development for novels. In Parts 1 through 7, I presented the basic mindset of each style and provided examples of fictional characters that demonstrate each.

In creating memorable characters it is important that each have their own unique voice. How each of our characters communicates should sound differently. They should choose words that express their unique internal points of view – their valued relating style. By this I don’t just mean sound like a Democrat or Republican, American or Saudi, male or female. We are talking about words reflecting the core internal driving force that motivates one’s behavior.

To keep today’s discussion simple, we’ll examine the language that persons representing each of the three primary motivational styles (assertive-directing, altruistic-nurturing and analytical-autonomizing) choose to express oneself. The four blended styles construct a language that depicts a composite of one of these three styles in a way that reflects their motivational style preferences.

You may recall that the assertive-directing (red) motivational style is characterized by a concern for accomplishment and for organization of people, time, money, and resources to achieve desired results. Such persons are competitive, action-oriented, risk takers who tend to be opportunistic and persuasive, like to be in leadership positions, and are always looking for a new challenge and personal advancement.

Fictional action heroes, as well as villains, tend to be Reds. Their language should reflect their get-r-done mentality. Mostly, they speak in short, crisp, bottom line-oriented dialogue. Such persons have no difficulty in asking for what they want or speaking first person. “I want.” “I need.” “I did.” “I win.” They don’t desire or possess a need to explain themselves to others because they see themselves as the cream of the crop, deserving of whatever rewards their superior performance earn. There is no time to waste explaining things. Act! Act now! Explain later – if there is time.

Reds are often verbally talented. There are times that they must use these skills to persuade others. To accurately portray this style, their arguments should be goal-oriented not feeling-oriented. Show their cleverness by crafting dialogue in which they present an argument in terms of what is in it for the other person. It is not uncommon for our fictional villains to exploit their verbal skills to browbeat or humiliate those they have bested or intend to psych-out an opponent.

A source of conflict for assertive-directing persons is listening to long, drawn-out explanations and interacting with people who aren’t assertive enough to ask for what they want. They are impatient and easily lose respect for long-winded people who have excuses for poor performance. At these times, they have no compunction about lowering the hammer.

The altruistic-nurturing motivational style is one in which the driving motivational force is a concern for the protection, growth, and wellbeing of others. Such persons are open and responsive to the needs of others, friendly, considerate, supportive, sincere, loyal, compassionate and respectful.

Blues use “I feel” interchangeably with “I think.” Both internal and external dialogue should reflect sensitivity to others and an explicit expression of emotion to complement the physical display of these traits - because allegedly good writers show don’t tell.

Since Blues are other-oriented, they are apt to express personal preferences through such phrases as “we need” or “the team would benefit from.” People who use “I” a lot in conversation tend to annoy them. Our Blue creations are likely to want to slow down the action to make sure that everyone is on board and ready to proceed. They should be thinking about how they might be of help.

Remember from previous discussions that any skill over or misused becomes a weakness. If our story involves a protagonist experiencing an emotional upheaval or overcoming a psychological obstacle, it would be appropriate to craft their dialogue initially as overly emotional, self-effacing, submissive, and displaying a lack of confidence. As the work through their internal turmoil we can reflect that growth in the words they choose.

The third primary valued motivational style is analytical-autonomizing (green). These individuals are driven by a concern that things have been properly thought out and for meaningful order being established and maintained. Our Greens are by nature introspective, objective, practical, cautious, thorough, and logical. They respect intellect and knowledge, strive to be unemotional and self-reliant individuals who pride themselves in rationality and sense of what is just and fair.

Such persons think before they speak and choose their words with extreme care. They are more likely to think about what they would say rather than actually say it. There arguments are logical, rational, and informative and presented void of an emotional component. “I think” or “the data suggest” rather than “I feel.” A clearly presented point of view is data laden and there may be a need to start at the beginning to explain concepts to others who may be intellectually and scientifically challenged.

Dialogue is more characteristically slow and deliberate unless they are having an intellectual epiphany or discussing something that is conceptually arousing to them. Then the use of long, run-on sentences may be appropriate because what they are verbalizing isn’t necessarily meant for the person who is listening. Greens may be merely trying to get all the thoughts out of their heads so they can pick and choose which ones having the most significance. Once the concept congeals and their true interest is to convey that information, it’s back to slow and cautious, well thought out sentences.

Our goal is to make every character their own person with their own unique voice.  Applying valued motivational style is a nice finishing touch.

Please feel free to send me your questions or comments. Talk with you again soon.

In the meantime, I have two thrilling novels just waiting for you to latch on to. Check out Troubadour of Peace and Embodiment of Evil on Amazon.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach (Part 7)

We’ve arrived at the last of the seven motivational styles (flexible-cohering) based upon Dr. Elias Porter’s relationship awareness theory, a model for understanding motivational value systems. Utilizing this approach, we view behavior not as an end product but as a vehicle that allows an individual to achieve their goals. A final step to creating memorable, layered fictional characters is showing our readers how motivational style drives behavior.

The Flexible-Cohering (Hub) valued motivational style is a blend of all three of the basic motivational systems: Red (Assertive-Directing), Blue (Altruistic-Nurturing) and Green (Analytical-Autonomizing). Hubs strive to be well rounded and completely flexible in their behavior, readily adapting to changing circumstances. They pride themselves in being open minded and inquisitive, and enjoy experimenting with a variety of approaches and options for behavior. They like to socialize and are curious about what others think and feel, embrace diversity, especially diversity of thought, and are tolerant of different styles and points of view. For the Flexible-Cohering cadre, variety is the spice of life. Hell is being stuck in boring routine.

Such persons know how to democratically exercise authority and understand when to follow rules and when to exercise their own judgment. They tend to be consensus builders and loyal team players that encourage interaction, demonstrate sensitivity to other’s feelings, and enjoy coordinating others in some common undertaking that involves closeness and opportunities for self-reliance.

Two of the most popular Flexible-Cohering contemporary fictional characters are James Patterson’s Alex Cross and Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt (yes, I am aware I listed Dirk as a Green/Red in a previous discussion). At first glance the personalities of these two characters may appear to have little in common. That is often true of Hubs because each individual is a unique blend of the three dominant styles and often favor one or more of the styles over the others.

Alex Cross (an African-American homicide detective and psychologist who eventually becomes a Senior Agent with the FBI before returning to a private psychologist practice) is a Hub with an Analytical-Autonomizing (Green) preference. He is portrayed as a reserved, lonely man, loyal to the memory of his murdered wife, and a model father. He is empathetic in dealing with the public and despite the fact that he is well educated and makes a decent living, chooses to continue residing in the Southeast quadrant of D.C. where he is very involved in community work. Hubs are strong persons, generous with their help, who are patient and don’t lose their heads. They tend to dislike subservience or domineering people or those who isolate themselves, withhold support, let the group down or fail to live up to their commitments.

Cross has had bad luck with women. His wife Maria was murdered. A lover is involved in the kidnapping of two children, for which she is executed. Another girlfriend was kidnapped for almost a year. However, in his choice of women one can see the Hub tolerant and inclusive nature and their desire for variety.

In an earlier discussion, we assigned Clive Cussler’s action-oriented hero, Dirk Pitt, to the Red-Green (Judicious-Competing) cadre but one could also make the case that he is a Hub with a Red/Green preference. Pitt an adventurer with a confident and commanding presence and a quick, sly wit that often infuriates those opposed to him. Stressful situations are desensitized through comical banter with his sidekick Al Giordino. In the course of his work as a marine engineer for NUMA (National Underwater Marine Agency), an oceanographic research organization the highly intelligent and intuitive Pitt thwarts a large number of plans by villains intent on global catastrophe or world domination. It is his added dimension of an ability to develop strong interpersonal relationships and altruistic pov that makes him a legitimate representative of the Flexible-Cohering style as well.

For those who enjoy heroic fantasy, take a look at David Gemmell’s Troy: Shield of Thunder. It is part one of a three book retelling of the Homeric legends of the Illiad and Odyssey and Gemmell breathes new life into the characters of ancient lore. His portrayal of Odysseus is pure delight and an excellent example of multidimensional Hub-ness.

So, too, is Scotty from the original Star Trek television series. Hubs fit in and adapt to their surroundings and their company. Is Scotty ever in conflict with anyone? In his interaction with Kirk, Scotty is a problem solver, unafraid to take action or to think outside of the box to get things done. In Spock’s company, he is a brilliant engineer/scientist and a logical and thoughtful reservoir of information. When socializing with Bones McCoy he is a lighthearted and humorous humanitarian and proponent of team harmony.

Andrew Shepherd, the character portrayed by Michael Douglas in The American President delivers the perfect Hub speech in the climactic scene of the movie. If you can get past your personal politics and want a glimpse of how Hubs think and communicate, observe how the emphasis of his message shifts from Green to Red to Blue to Red and back to Green again. Stereotypical Hub behavior.

reflective of their inclusive nature, Hubs are often the mortar that holds a team together. They model desirable team oriented behavior, recognize and acknowledge the validity of different points of view and frames of reference, build consensus, and assume whatever role is necessary to get things done.

As discussed in the preceding six installments of Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach, within every personal strength resides a potential weakness. Overusing or misusing one’s strength can be dysfunctional, delimit success, and lead to conflicts with others. Since Flexible-Cohering individuals are the most complex motivational style, so too are their potential weaknesses.

In his hilarious movie Zelig, based upon his short story The Chameleon Man, Woody Allen plays a curiously nondescript enigma who yearns for approval so strongly that he physically changes to fit in with those around him and accepts other people’s thoughts and feelings in place of his own. Hubs can be so open minded that they lose sight of what they think or lose a sense of who they really are. Zelig needs so desperately to be in the presence of others that he is afraid to be alone. Hubs who need to fit in too much impress others as having no real convictions and often struggle so hard to keep their options open that they find it difficult to take a clear stand on issues. In Allen’s movie his psychiatrist elevates Zelig's self-esteem much too high and he temporarily develops a personality that is violently intolerant of other people's opinions. When Hubs step over the line they can assume the role of gadfly, disagreeing just to show that there are many ways to do things and annoying others in the process.

There is a tendency for we humans to project one’s own motivations onto others. It is not uncommon for non-Hubs to view the ease with which Hub’s adapt with suspicion. Hubs can be seen as uncommitted, two-faced, slippery, manipulative and conniving. Consequently, Hubs must be on guard against being so flexible that others view them as inconsistent, wishy-washy, or lacking in focus.

An essential component to developing good characterization comes down to helping our reader understand the inner subtleties of a fictional creation’s motivational style – the core beliefs about what is most important in life. We have looked at seven motivational value systems, each with their own unique driving forces and corresponding potential weaknesses that might lead to conflict with others.

Next time, we’ll examine subtleties in verbal communication that distinguish these motivational styles from one another. I hope you this discussion interesting enough to leave me a comment or question and will come back to visit me again. I’ll look forward with enthusiasm to hearing your thoughts.

My name is Bill Hubiak and I am a novelist. You can find links on my website to both my novels: my latest, Troubadour of Peace, a political thriller, and my first novel, Embodiment of Evil, a psychological thriller / horror. My current project is a third thriller with the working title, Black Ice.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach (Part 6)

My late mother liked to tell a story about how her three sons had completely different personalities. She was a control freak and in our home it was her way or the highway, a motto that really didn’t work all that well for her. If you remember Part 1 of this series, she was a Red (Assertive-Directing). It wouldn’t be inappropriate to think of her as Conan the Barbarian with an sense of humor. She could have played Tom Cruise’s role in A Few Good Men.

Jill was a fantastic cook who fed us all like kings. Apparently we boys weren’t sufficiently appreciative of her efforts in the kitchen. As part of a scathing lecture on our deficiencies she demanded that when we come to breakfast the following morning we comment on her culinary gifts. The way she tells it is that I comically bounded into the kitchen and sarcastically commented on how wonderful every little thing she said or did was. My brother, Tom, whined and complained about everything she cooked. My brother, Bob, walked straight through the kitchen, out the door, and didn’t bother to even say good morning. My brothers and I are to this day, at least to some extent, those same boys.

I had three children and allegedly fathered all three. They, too, were as different as night and day. They came out of the womb with their own distinctive and unique personalities and gifts that they then modified and refined as they grew.

As human beings we all have a different way of seeing and interacting with the world. According to motivational models in psychology, in order to understand individual human behavior we must understand what motivates any given individual. In the first five blogs in this series we have been employing the model of psychologist  Elias H. Porter, Ph.D. to describe seven different motivational styles.

The basic premises of this approach professes that (1) motivation shapes behavior, (2) behavior is generically predictable both in normal circumstances and when the individual is faced with opposition or conflict when we understand one’s valued relating style, (3) misapplying or overusing a personal strength results in a character flaw, and (4) interpersonal conflict arises from the tendency to perceive and judge others through one’s own valued motivational style.

I have proposed that an essential component of writing memorable characters involves allowing the reader to experience what is going on inside the minds of the characters we create. To do so requires going beyond projecting our own motivations or imposing our values on our creations. Painting a realistic portrait of each character involves slipping into their skin in order to understand the subtleties of their motivational style.

In today's blog, let’s look at the defining features of the Assertive-Nurturing or Red/Blue motivational value system, a blend of Red and Blue styles.

One of my all time favorite literary characters is Cyrano de Bergerac, the creation of Edmond Rostand. Cyrano is witty, passionate and full of vitality. He is known for a big nose that preceded him by fifteen minutes and he falls in love with his beautiful cousin, Roxanne. However, a large olfactory organ or unreciprocated love isn’t a prerequisite for an Assertive-Nurturing motivational style. Cyrano, however, did allege that a great nose is the banner of a great man, a generous heart, a towering spirit, and an expansive soul.

Red/Blues are driven to actively seek opportunities to help others and understand the compassionate use of power. They utilize their verbal gifts to support the underdog and persuade others in ways that ensure maximum growth and development. Red/Blues tend to be strong and decisive, enthusiastic, friendly, trusting, compassionate, positive and through leadership tend to pursue progressive initiatives and act promptly in matters concerning other people’s welfare.

J.R.R. Tolkien provides us with two contrasting Red/Blue characters in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Frodo was more dominantly Blue and Aragorn, who favors his Red tendencies. Both feel deeply, are prudent and tenacious in pursuing goals, strive not to be superficial in their relationships or inconsiderate of others, and lead for the betterment of others rather than their personal glory. As Cyrano noted, his life's work has been to “prompt others and be forgotten.”

Another Assertive-Nurturing example in literature is Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s uproarious series character. Stephanie is outgoing, strong and friendly, a confident risk taker, witty, always looking for a challenge and enthusiastically tackles obstacles to success. She doesn’t like people who refuse to get involved, are self-centered, and who are or indifferent to inconsiderate of the needs of others. Red/Blues don’t exploit people. She is also rebellious and not good at taking advice, can be argumentative, likes to haggle prices and at times has a biting sense of humor. Remember from earlier discussions that when we overuse or misuse our strengths we can turn them into weaknesses.

If you want to see an excellent example of an Assertive-Nurturing type on film, check out Legally Blonde. The protagonist, Elle Woods, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon is a trusted and devoted friend, perpetually enthusiastic, never mean even to those who are mean to her, and achieves every goal she sets for herself with a smile on her face and without doing harm to others. I have found that Assertive-Nurturing types make great managers and leaders and I usually enjoy their joyous humor. They get things done without exploiting others or breaking the necks of their subordinates.

As you sit down to create your next protagonist, remember if you want to create a memorable character go beyond plot driven, external events. Show both in behavior and thought what intrinsically motivates our hero to action.

Next time, we’ll examine another of the seven motivational styles: Flexible-Cohering. Come back to visit me again and please tell your friends about this blog. I’ll look forward with enthusiasm to hearing your thoughts regarding the blog content.

My name is Bill Hubiak and I am a novelist. You can find links on my website to both my novels: my latest, Troubadour of Peace, a political thriller, and my first novel, Embodiment of Evil, a psychological thriller / horror. Currently I’m working on a third thriller, Black Ice.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach (Part 5)

I love to eat. No, really I mean I love to eat. So much so that Carole has expressed some jealously about my relationship to food.

Despite – or maybe because of - her concern about my lascivious obsession with food, we eat at the best restaurants, take cooking classes together, and have a ball trying new recipes and cooking together in our kitchen. We are constantly looking for new tastes that tingle our senses.

I look for that same primal, sensuous experience when I read a novel and thrive on tension building titillating action like that offered by J.A. Konrath. I just finished Shaken and hated to put it down.

Adrenaline junkie that I am, however, what I find most memorable about any book are the characters. Flavoring a story with interesting and unique personalities is like eating at Bella Bistro – our favorite restaurant in Arvada, Colorado. I want to savor every last morsel and can’t wait to be served up another course.

Providing our readers the opportunity to crawl around in the grey cranial matter of our fictional characters to experience the motivational core that drives behavior is equivalent to adding a to-die-for icing or sauce to any already mouth-watering thriller. In Part 1 through 4 we employed Dr. Elias Porter’s  relationship awareness theory as the model for understanding motivational value systems.

We have already discussed the three primary and one of the blend motivational styles utilized in the Strength Deployment Inventory: Assertive-Directing (Red), Analytical-Autonomizing (Green), Altruistic-Nurturing (Blue) and Judicious-Competing (Green-Red). I provided examples of fictional characters from novels, television, and movies of each of these motivational styles and hopefully conveyed how each style motivates behavior, presents unique points of view, and presents potential pitfalls for persons with such personal preferences. If you missed out on reading the earlier blogs I invite you to visit them in the archives section.

The goal of today’s blog will be to examine the Cautious-Supporting (Green-Blue) motivational value system. Green-Blues are driven by a concern for affirming and developing self-sufficiency in themselves and in others. Such persons are thoughtful and helpful and have a strong regard for justice. At work, they are likely to build effective, user-friendly processes, provide resources to enhance the welfare of others, and support intelligent activities that facilitate personal growth and bring forth the best in others.

If you ever had a science teacher in school that provided entertaining experiments that made the class laugh and provided humorous memory aids to help students internalize complex ideas, chances are they were a Green-Blue. A real feel-good comedy that Carole and I enjoy to watch on gloomy days is Multiplicity, starring Michael Keaton. Keaton plays a contractor stretched to his limits by work and family obligations. A scientist convinces him to clone himself so he can be in more that one place at the same time. One of the clones, meant to represent his feminine side, portrays the Green-Blue style beautifully. In one scene he instructs his wife on the proper technique for wrapping meat products to avoid the meat going stale. TTF. Tuck, tuck, fold. Two tucks and a fold. Think of Elizabeth Taylor. A tuck here and a fold there. For Greens there is a right way to do everything. Blues want to help you succeed. Green-Blues are motivated to facilitate your growth, to enable you to become independent and self-sufficient.

I’ve read all the Alex Delaware mysteries by Jonathon Kellerman. The retired psychologist, Alex Delaware, is a consultant to the LA Police Department. He is a warm and compassionate person who combines compassion and intellect in solving child related crimes and to provide enlightened guidance for others. He is thoughtful and respectful of other’s feeling and goals and thorough in whatever he undertakes on another’s behalf.

The ranks of certain areas of specialization (e.g., child psychology and family therapy) and schools of thought in psychology (e.g., humanistic psychology) are filled with Green-Blues. Other psychology specializations, such as behaviorism and Freudian therapists, are often dominated by persons who are more Analytical-Autonomizing (Green).

Mikael Blomkvist from Stieg Larsson’s popular Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is another popular character that fits into this category. Like Alex Delaware, he is not driven by a need to be top dog or to win at all costs and his involvement in intrigue is a side effect of a burning desire to know the truth and be of assistance, not of a competitive psyche. He can be overly trusting and his blind faith in others has nearly ruined his career.

Leonard on the situational comedy, The Big Bang Theory is another character from this mold. A congenial and brilliant physicist, he is conscientious in his work and habits, patient with his anal retentive roommate, respectful of the Sheldon’s oft outlandish rules, and a devoted friend dedicated to acting in a fair and just manner that is considerate of all concerned parties.

As is true for all Green-Blue blends, Leonard must be on guard against the amplifying effects of overusing or misusing any of his personal strengths. Both Green (Analytical-Autonomizing) and Blue (Altruistic-Nurturing) types strive to maintain harmony. In order to avoid conflict, Leonard often withdraws from confrontation or submits to other’s arguments when he cannot overrule them with his logic. He can be overly cautious in his relationships, not wanting to offend.

I often find that in real life where blends include a Green component, Green is more dominant of the two styles. Many of the high tech companies in which I have consulted have a Green-Blue organizational culture. Intelligence and techie-ness are essentially but there is no reason we can’t have fun doing this work. The biggest differences between Greens and Green-Blues is that the latter often has a more external focus (an authentic concern for people based on empathy rather than a reserved emotional logic and appreciation for justice and fairness). They are often much more openly funny and usually deliver a punch line to a joke with more enthusiasm.

Greens are more common character types in thrillers than are blends. If you can think of some others, I hope you comment on this blog and share your insights.

As always, I’ll look forward to your comments. Don’t forget to take a look at my novels if you need reading material for your next vacation or business trip. I’m making terrific progress on my third thriller, Black Ice, and hope to have the first draft complete by the end of February. Talk with you again on Thursday.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach (Part 4)

Back story, cultural differences, gender perspectives and the curves that life throws at us are all essential components for developing character. In the previous three blogs I proposed that in writing memorable, multidimensional fictional characters the finishing touch in helping readers appreciate our creations is to expose the motivational core that drives each characters behavior. We employed Dr. Elias Porter’s  relationship awareness theory as the model for understanding motivational value systems.

The real source of motivation is internal. One may create an external focus as a measure of their self-worth, such as power, money, or the accumulation of material possessions, but the driving force is still to feel good about one’s self.

I’m motivated to find humor in every situation (eventually). When I was a teenager, I remember a classmate accusing me of not taking anything seriously. I find the greatest joy in life and am happiest when I’m laughing. My wife and I find lots to laugh about every day. Of course the object of our hilarity is often me. A current friend appeared totally shocked to hear that laughter was one of the most important ingredients in my marriage relationship. “About what?” he asked. How does one explain humor to someone who doesn’t have a sense for it.

I bring this up now for two reasons. First, because at times it is difficult to laugh - like now, for instance. My back is out and sitting at the computer is difficult. Writing is a task. When my heart is full of laughter I’m far more productive. Yesterday, I wrote a hysterically funny scene to my current thriller project, Black Ice. Maybe I used up all the ha-ha in me for a day or two.

Secondly, as writers we can make the motivational styles of our fictional creations more transparent by displaying their sense of humor or lack thereof.

We looked at the Assertive-Directing (Red) valued motivational style in Part 1 of this blog, as personified by the results-oriented, win at all costs, out-of-the-box problem-solvers like David Morrell’s  protagonist, Cavanaugh, or William Diehl’s Martin Vail. These characters know how to get around the system and never lose sight of their goals. Neither were very funny guys. Reds are often so concerned about finishing on top that even their humor can be a form of one-up-man-ship.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes depicted the Analytical-Autonomizing (Green) valued motivational style examined in Part 2. Holmes is intelligent, scientific, logical, fair-minded and practical; a data driven individual who strives to derive order out of chaos. So does the searcher for truth, Robert Langdon, in Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Neither of these guys will be going out on the comedy circuit any time soon. Greens often are very serious minded. Not that a green can’t be funny; it’s just that they tend to deliver their punch line in the same monotone and serious style as they do everything else. We have to think about what they said a bit before catching the joke. The deadpan comedy of Stephen Wright is Green. “The other day, I went to a tourist information center and asked them to tell me about some of the other people who were here last year.”

Part 3 addressed the Altruistic-Nurturing (Blue) style, which reflects an authentic caring for the protection, growth and wellbeing of other people. The tortured Johnny Smith will surrender his life to save humanity in Stephen King's The Dead Zone and the affable Tom Wingo, the self-sacrificing school teacher in Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides, is above all else desirous of doing no harm. Both characters are also presented as playful and with a need to connect to others through humor. My wife is a Blue, has a loud and distinctive laugh that lights up any room, and is the best audience a fool like me can ask for. She’ll laugh at almost anything. Sharing laughter is just another way of bonding with others.

Relationship awareness theory also identifies four blended styles that combine two or more of the aforementioned three: Red/Green or Judicious Competing. Blue/Green or Cautious-Supporting, Red/Blue or Assertive Nurturing, and the Flexible-Cohering (Hub) style.

Today is a Red/Green or Judicious-Competing day. Why, because I say so? Green/Reds enjoy sarcasm as their particular brand of humor: it has the intelligence of the Green style and the cutting aggressiveness of the Red. Check out Will Smith’s character in Men In Black.

Dirk Pitt, the scientific adventurer provided us by Clive Cussler typifies the Judicious-Competing (Red/Green) motivational style. Pitt is intelligent, assertive, and natural leader who believes in fair play and is willing to help others without hesitation if the cause is just and fair. Red/Greens display a rational leadership style that can unemotionally assess risk and opportunities. They are decisive and proactive, and challenge opposition through a thoughtful process and strategy rather than on emotional impulse. Work smarter not harder, but also expediently. Smart humor; sarcastic, friendly teasing.

Mitch McDeere, the protagonist in The Firm by John Grisham, is a determined young attorney who clearly understands the rational use of power, seeks to compete on his own terms, and possesses an ability to plan complex and challenging strategies. He also wishes he had avoided acting impulsively. One wins through the use of cunning. Mitch combines the over the line Red and Green traits and so appears humorless. Life is a serious business.

A more action-oriented version of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, a (Green) Analytical-Autonomizing intellectual prototype, is Thomas Lourds, the thrill-seeking Harvard linguist and archeologist, protagonist in The Atlantis Code by Charles Brokaw. While Robert Langdon is an unwilling participant in adventure, Thomas Lourds thrives on it. Lot's of Red there to mix with the intellectual Green.

A film equivalent would be Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. Not known for his warmth and compassion, Indiana can be arrogant, abrasive, combative and rash to act when he overuses his Red style. The potential hazard of being a blend is amplifying the potential weakness associated with both styles. Blends need be doubly on guard against misapplying their strengths. When over-stepping or misusing his positive Green traits Indiana Jones can appear suspicious, cold, rigid, unfeeling and stubborn. His humor is often a biting sarcasm. Even without a very well defined touchy-feely side, however, he’s still really cool, and Mr. Rogers and I love him for just who he is.

The traumatized Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s popular Girl With the Dragon Tattoo gives us a glimpse of what can happen when a Red/Green is pushed to her limits. She’s an antisocial computer hacker with a lust for danger and propensity toward violence – well planned violence because Red/Greens are brilliant planners. She finds humor in wicked and ironic pranks. I’m being kind here; she's a nasty little devil.

Despite all the suffering Salander is forced to endure by the men in her life, she, nonetheless and against her rational intentions, falls in love with Mikael Blomkvist. See, we all have a little Blue in us. An important point.

Everyone is a combination of Red, Blue, and Green traits. It is rare – and probably psychologically unhealthy - to be totally absent of some aspects of all three primary styles. In all the thousands of persons to whom I’ve administered the Strength Deployment Inventory, I have seen very few zero or even single digit scores on any of the color scales (each scale ranges from 0 to 100). As humans we simply chose – or dare I suggest, are predisposed – to value one or more styles over any other.

It is convenient to make an evil character all bad with no redeeming qualities. However, wouldn’t it add a little flavor to the character by showing in what ways they find humor, to have them love and be totally committed to their dog, or dream about chocolate ice cream cones? I once sat next to a freakishly Blue woman at a dinner table who told me that every human being was basically good and that even Adolf Hitler loved dogs and small children. I don’t necessarily enjoy it but I do tolerate fools (because I realize that I, too, am one) and try to find humor in their foolishness. I told the woman that Adolf was still alive and babysitting our children that very evening. She didn’t laugh.

Allegedly, people who laugh a lot, live longer. The implication is that living longer is a good thing. So laugh long and prosper.

I’ll look forward with enthusiasm to hearing your thoughts regarding this blog. And once again, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you picked up one of my novels to read and if you liked it told your friends. Talk with you again next time.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach (Part 3)

Welcome to a new year!

Last year at this time Carole and I were on Maui. This year we spent at home. Winter in Colorado is not nearly as exotic but we had fun nonetheless. To battle the potential stuck-in-the-house blues provided by the cold, snowy weather we spent New Years Eve and Day reading to each other from our current Kindle selections.

Carole read to me from Sara Gruen’s engaging Water For Elephants. I pleasured her with Stephen King’s The Dead Zone (this is how some chronologically challenged persons orally stimulate their partners) while she dismantled our three Christmas trees (half the number she had up last year) and puts up two new trees in honor of Todd the god of interior design and patron saint of decorative birds crafted from paper and cloth remnants. My wife has made for us a home that is both warm and inviting - if only I were ever to shovel snow from the house’s entrance.

You’re probably thinking I’m off target with this discussion; what’s with all the personal crap? Be patient. This is my sequeway to a discussion of the Altruistic-Nurturing (Blue) valued motivational style – the third motivational system in our series.

My wife is the personification of Blue – an enthusiastic, compassionate, socially sensitive humanitarian, ever seeking ways to be responsive to the needs of others. We spent the entirety of our Christmas Day at the Chop House in Denver helping to feed the needy - an annual occurrence. While I bussed trays of food back and forth between the kitchen and buffet tables, she found time to also talk to patrons and one old man that she kissed on the head asked for her phone number. If there weren’t a policy against doing so, she probably would have invited a hundred people back to our house. Blue. Very, very Blue. Carole loves people and it shows.

To ensure that the less fortunate feel valued and are well clothed, she undertakes an annual spring and fall spelunking through her wardrobe and donates last year’s fashions to charities. Admittedly, this practice isn’t totally selfless since her wardrobe does have to be replaced after all.

The books that Carole reads are of the bestseller variety that one often also finds on Oprah’s booklist. Since that isn’t my typical fare, what I glean from our conversations is that these books are filled with heart-wrenching stories, acts of kindness, and about empathic and nurturing relationships less common in the action based or intellectually challenging novels that are my cup of tea. She reads tales about women who make a difference, who start cancer foundations, who find or share their hearts. Lots of Blues – warm, considerate, supportive persons whose enormous hearts and souls survive even life’s harshest tests – persons who are sensitive, sincere, loyal, and who authentically care about the feelings and the needs and welfare of other persons.

Oh, why beat around the bush? She likes chick books – and chick flicks. There I said it! Touchy-feely stuff that often only skirts my reality and library.

Even though I’ve worked most of my life as a helping professional, I can honestly say that compared to my Blue spouse, my feelings are superficial and transitory. I feel few things as deeply as she does. When a Nurturing-Altruistic type says they love you, they are talking about a feeling that permeates to the cellular level – something that the rest of us (or maybe just lowly emotionally evolved males like me) may never understand. In contrast, when an Assertive-Directing Red says, “I love you,” it often means, “I want you.” For the Analytical-Autonomizing Green, the experience is a more intellectual experience – “Our time together is far more pleasant and preferable to that time I spend with others and almost as intrinsically satisfying as a good pizza or a great loaf of bread.”

Now we all have some Red, Green and Blue within us, and so too should our fictional creations – but for some, the motivation that spurs action is primarily altruistic. Einstein, the genetically enhanced golden retriever from Watcher’s, one of my favorite Dean Koontz novels, is the paragon of altruism, willing to risk his own safety and jeopardize his newfound freedom to protect a total stranger.

Unlike his arrogant and abusive father, Ben Meechum, Pat Conroy’s character in The Great Santini, is a kind-hearted boy who is more concerned with doing the right thing than the popular thing. He befriends a social outcast and provides to his younger siblings the guidance and care an absentee father cannot.

Conroy also gives us Tom Wingo in The Prince of Tides, an affable and sensitive character who above all wishes not to be a burden to others. He is modest, devoted to his sister, loyal to the memory of his brother and willingly sacrifices his needs to protect others.

Johnny Smith, the protagonist in The Dead Zone by Stephen King is a Blue – a tortured but other-oriented schoolteacher.

If you saw the movie, Dave, starring Kevin Kline, you’ll remember that Dave is the doppelganger of a sleazy American President.  Enlisted to stand in for the President who lays in a coma, Dave uses the opportunity to do good things that benefit the American people. This enrages the corrupt power monger behind the throne, who leaks evidence indicting the real President. That forces Dave to resign a presidency that doesn’t even belong to him. Not before, however, Dave makes a public apology to the American electorate on behalf of his corrupt counterpart. Our Altruistic-Nurturing protagonist explains that the real purpose of serving as President is not to make one’s place in history; the American Presidency is only a temp job that should concentrate all of its power on doing what is right and best for the American people. Now that’s Blue.

When a Blue says they are sorry, that’s exactly what they mean. It probably physically pains them that they did a disservice to another human being. Does an episode of Star Trek go by without Dr. Bones McCoy commenting on how barbaric and inhumane the intrusive medical practices are on whatever planet the crew of the Enterprise is currently visiting?

When Reds are required to utter, “I’m sorry,” they might really prefer to say that, “You’ve got me confused with someone who gives a crap but I better save face and pretend I’m concerned about your feelings.” The justice conscious Greens might adequately weight and apportion blame but rather than create conflict assume the burden of responsibility, believing that they are infinitely more psychologically prepared to do so then others.

Let’s pull out the balance scale again from Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog. On the left side of the scale are people, defending the rights and dignity of people, developing relationships, building teams. On the other side of the scale is achieving goals, winning, getting ahead, data and things. Down goes the left side. It’s not that Blues aren’t intelligent, successful, confident achievers. They are. It’s just that from their perspective what good is it to win the world if you leave everyone else behind. People come first.

Remember also that any strength over or misused becomes dysfunctional. Overly trusting Blues can be gullible, allow loyalty to blind them to truth, and be so devoted that they become subservient to others. Being too supportive or helpful can be smothering and promote co-dependencies, and caring too much may make one submissive, self-sacrificing and overly sensitive.

When we create Altruistic-Nurturing characters for our novels we must make sure that they are on guard against wanting so much to maintain harmony that they don’t push hard enough for what they need, allow others to take advantage of them, or compromise when they shouldn’t. Great sources of conflict for our Blues is to allow them to trust their thoughts and feelings to the wrong people or force their help on people to such a degree that they become a nuisance. They can blame themselves for anything that goes wrong, act solely to please others, sacrifice their dreams so others might achieve theirs, or refuse to face the fact that our antagonist is just a bad person.

In writing memorable characters, writers strive to help the reader understand what is going on inside the mind of our creations. Dr. Elias Porter’s relationship awareness theory and the Strength Deployment Inventory are perfectly suited to helping get under the skin of the characters we create to show the core motivation that drives their behavior.

Talk with you again next time when we’ll examine another of the seven motivational styles. I hope that you will tell your friends about this blog. I’ll look forward with enthusiasm to hearing your thoughts regarding this blog content. It also wouldn’t hurt my feeling if you picked up one of my novels to read and if you liked it told your friends.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Writing Memorable Characters: A Psychological Approach (Part 2)

I wake up every morning at 5:00 a.m.; that’s when my internal alarm clock buzzes – and when my high maintenance cat, Itty, demands to be fed. I’ve tried ignoring her but Itty kicks up such a racket, scratching at the glass shield on the fireplace or panels in the French doors and knocking as many objects as she can off of furniture. However, this morning I was bright-eyed at 3:45 a.m., my mind abuzz with ideas for today’s blog. I went out of my way to wake up the cat. It really pissed her off. Karma’s a bitch.

In Part 1, I proposed that an essential component of writing memorable characters involves allowing the reader to experience what is going on inside the minds of the characters we create. To do so requires going beyond projecting our own motivations or imposing our values on our creations. Painting a realistic portrait of each character involves slipping into their skin in order to understand the subtleties of their motivational style. This task, of course, is a lot easier for paranoid schizophrenics with multiple personalities. The rest of us need to work at it. Maybe I’m giving myself to much credit; my sanity has been questioned a time or two – or three.

Our last discussion employed the model of Relationship Awareness Theory and the Strength Deployment Inventory  developed by psychologist Elias H. Porter, Ph.D.  The basic premises of this approach professes that (1) motivation shapes behavior, (2) behavior is generically predictable both in normal circumstances and when the individual is faced with opposition or conflict when we understand one’s valued relating style, (3) misapplying or overusing a personal strength results in a character flaw, and (4) interpersonal conflict arises from the tendency to perceive and judge others through one’s own valued motivational style.

Today’s blog investigates the Analytical-Autonomizing (Green) valued motivational system that is in marked contrast to the goal-oriented, competitive, control-oriented Assertive-Directing (Red) style explored in Part1.

Sherlock Holmes, the methodical and intellectually curious creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, serves as the poster child for this second cadre. For purposes of this discussion, we’re talking about the literary, cerebral Sherlock Holmes not the latest U.S. film action-oriented iteration. (For a hilarious discussion on the difference between American and British films – or just to laugh until you choke - check out British comedian Eddie Izzard’s Dress To Kill DVD).

Holmes is on a constant quest for understanding and knowledge. Life is a puzzle to be solved, a truth to be discovered, and a theory to be proven through judicious and thoughtful observation and by the accumulation of objective facts. Introspective, cautious and thorough, our analytical-autonomizing types value self-sufficiency and independent thought above all else. One should meticulously think things through before taking action or jumping to conclusions. The journey, following the correct process, and getting things done right the first time far outweighs winning, competing, or achieving an end. Intellectual ideas may compete for prominence but competition between people is often viewed as a pointless waste of precious resources. Very thrifty.

Data and things are more intrinsically interesting than people; people’s behaviors are things to be studied and examined. That’s why Green fictional characters tend to be persons of science, college professors, or investigators. In The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, Robert Langdon is driven not by the need to win but to understand. He is not an adrenaline junkie seeking new challenges to overcome. Langdon would rather spend his time in a library or studying in the field, but instead is thrust into the middle of thrilling action in which he will resolutely use his rational and practical mind to unravel a mystery. He doesn’t need to physically best anyone; he derives a sense of meaning and self-esteem from intellectual accomplishment and persevering.

More action-oriented versions of this intellectual prototype create a different internal world. Thomas Lourds is a thrill-seeking Harvard linguist and archeologist, the protagonist in The Atlantis Code by Charles Brokaw. A film equivalent would be Indiana Jones. Both characters are green-red blends, a topic left for discussion in a future blog.

Greens are fair minded, principled, serious, and value being in control of one’s emotion - like Gene Roddenberry’s Spock. Quite honestly, I’ve never read one of the Star Trek novels but I loved the television series and once stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.

Does a single episode of the original television series ever pass without Leonard Nimoy’s Spock remarking that Vulcans were once a people ruled by their emotions and bent on self-destruction? That was a million years ago before they evolved. That’s right, we humans are a million year down the evolutionary ladder and behind the learning curve. He doesn’t say stupid but we know that’s what he means when he tells us we are irrational. Parents with a Green valued motivational style are likely to ask, "if all your friends jumped off a roof, would jump off the roof too?" Yes, they fear the rest of us are just that stupid and lacking of an internal compass. Spock is also in a constant internal battle with himself. Why? His mother was a human and he has within him the recessive gene predisposition toward emotionality.

One certain way to lose the respect of an Analtical-Autonomizing type is to react emotionally rather than logically; especially in a crisis.

I can’t remember what happened five minutes ago, let alone three days ago but I’m hoping you’ll remember from Monday’s blog that within any personal strength can be found a potential weakness. If we overuse or apply a strength inappropriately, step over an invisible line in the sand, the trait becomes dysfunctional.

Captain Nemo, a recurring character in Jules Verne stories but most remembered for 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, is a cutting-edge scientist who sinks merchant vessels not because he is an evil man but rather to battle unchecked and ill-conceived progress that is destroying the environment and to protect humankind, especially the downtrodden. He is unbending in his principles and severed all ties with the world. Sherlock Holmes archenemy Dr. Moriarty is his intellectual peer, but uses his brilliance towards different ends.

Valuing non-emotional, reserved behavior, Greens can come across as cold and unfeeling. Dr. Temperance Brennan, the forensic anthropologist created by Kathy Reichs, is not as socially challenged nor terse as her television counterpart on Bones but Greens can be. The literary Brennan isn’t a cold fish but rather steels herself emotionally in order to practice her profession, an aspect hinted at in the television series but not essential to the character. In writing a novel, we have the luxury of hundreds of pages to draw a more sophisticated persona by allowing readers access to innermost thoughts and motivations. They may be set adrift by events but their personalities aren’t predetermined by what happens to them.

I’m a huge fan of the situational comedy, The Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon Cooper provides an excellent depiction of overusing and misapplying personal strengths. He is nit picking (analytical), stubborn (persevering), suspicious (cautious), and rigid (methodical). He prides himself in being his own person to the extent that he has no qualms about considering himself the most highly evolved person on the planet and maybe even a new species (that’s only because he hasn’t met me). While his intelligence quota cannot be measured, neither can his emotional quotient (but to the other extreme). He can be smug and condescending to all lesser beings. I'm talking about y'all now.

Struggling with the external markings of our character’s persona offers the writer lots of opportunities to generate psychological pitfalls. Greens need to be on guard against being so concerned with what is right or wrong, facts and issues, that they don’t pay enough attention to other people’s feelings. If neurotically cautious and self-controlling, they may find it difficult to trust in other people. By keeping their own thoughts and feelings to themselves, others may find it difficult to get to know them; thus concluding that they are secretive, unfeeling, indifferent, antisocial, or feeling superior. Greens, of course, believe that such conclusions are ill-founded and often don’t care what you might think anyway.

While our Reds (Assertive-Directing) types are bottom line, action and results oriented, Greens expect others to be as concerned with details, logic, quality and matters of principle as they are. Their answers can sound long-winded, judgmental, self-righteous and pontificating (no, not me – I mean other people) if they over apply their motivational style. Their self-sufficiency and independence can cut them off from others or push others away. My current project, Black Ice, starts off with my protagonist, a college professor of physics who is responsible for the death of her child in a car accident, living as a street person, feeling isolated and alienated from the rest of humanity.  The Green prototype often is their own worse judge and jury.

Greens also need to be on guard against their perfectionist tendencies and delaying decisions until all the facts are in. In my first novel, Embodiment of Evil, Alan Ciani is left impotent by his inability to act upon his current circumstances. He suffers from analysis paralysis, his world is lived in between his ears not on the real stage of life. Of course, in today’s world anyone who thinks for longer than fifteen seconds suffers from analysis paralysis. Real leaders take action – yesterday! ACT! ACT! ACT! This reality provides another excellent source of conflict in our stories for our Green protagonist.

In writing memorable characters, writers strive to help the reader understand what is going on inside the mind of our creations. Projecting our own motivations and imputing our values to others paints an inaccurate description of reality. By exposing the subtleties of their motivational style, we preserve the integrity of each personality.

Next time, we’ll examine another of the seven motivational styles. I hope that yow will visit with me again and please tell your friends about this blog. I’ll look forward with enthusiasm to hearing your thoughts regarding the blog content.