Monday, March 14, 2011


"We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin.

This incredibly important concept is one of the keys to creating authentic characters . Understanding the very different world view of a character's type can make an tremendous difference in defining every thing a character does right down to his dialogue or the road he takes in a story.

A character’s world view is how the character believes the world works, his or her perceived role in the world, the character’s philosophy of life and love and a definition of what constitutes a personal goal worth pursuing.

 But a character's personality  is said to be  composed of a psychological set of three.  These are: the character’s immediate tactics, long-term orientation, and strategic approach. In a recent workshop, John Foxjohn explained Immediate Tactics in this way: "how a character viscerally reacts to an unexpected challenge, opportunity or threat."  Immediate tactics are where the character goes first emotionally. These tactics are a character’s automatic responses when startled or caught off-guard.

A character's long-term orientation is the character's  ordinary actions based on his or her belief system and personal values. This orientation  defines what a character does based on how he or she views the world, and how he believes the world works.

 It is impossible for a character to act inconsistently with how the character sees him or herself. Lori Wilde says in her excellent workshop that a character's world view is exhibited over and over in his or her dialogue.
 Examples are:
  • A Power of Truth character believes the world is full of hidden pitfalls and secret agendas. 
  • A Power of Excitement character sees the world as as a grand playground filled with unlimited opportunities.
  • A Power of Conscience character sees the world as a moral proving ground. 
  • A Power of Ambition character sees the world as a ladder of status, success and achievement.
  • A Power of Idealism character sees the world a canvass on which to make a personal mark, unique statement or work of art. 
  • A Power of Imagination character sees the world as an opportunity to collaborate and build a community with others.
  • A Power of Reason character sees the world as a logical puzzle to be solved with intelligence and factual expertise.
  • A Power of Love character sees the world as an opportunity to love and be loved.
  • A Power of Will character simply sees the world as a battle ground or jungle divided into predators and prey.
Each of these Character Types will react very differently to any challenge, opportunity or threat that comes across their path. which is a character's strategic approach.

This is how a character takes charge to achieve a goal over the long-term. It is how he tackles obstacles and gets what he wants or desires.

Everything the character does, says, and believes is all bound up in who he is inside and how he views the world outside.

If you liked this post,  share your thoughts and add your expertise. We'd like to hear from you.


Bailish said...

Thanks for the post.I'm sure this will improve my writing of characters. I'd love to read more about character motivation.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Very well said, Ruby. I like to say we are the sum of all our experiences, but I think you said it better. True our experiences shape us, but people who survive the same experiences react differently, so it must partially be due to an internal regulator. Are we the most amazing creatures, though?

Ruby Johnson said...

Thank you for your comment. Keep reading as motivation will be coming up. At least that's our goal for now!

Ruby Johnson said...

Thank you for your comments. It took me a while to realize that characters had two different personas-the one they kept inside and the one they showed to the world. Lori Wilde has this great class on Dazzling Dialog which really takes these things into account. I've had some big light bulb moments in her classes.

Claire said...

I love the way you present this Ruby. It will help me leaps and bounds when writing my novel. This will really help bring the characters to life. Thanks! :)

Kimberly Walton said...

This is a great post, Ruby! It's so spot on as to how to make characters much more multi-dimensional. I think of my characters as real people who have lives before and after the story I'm writing - I just happen to be eavesdropping on a particular moment in their lives. One tactic I use to get to know my character is to "interview" them. Nothing is off limit, I want to know their religion, political leanings, what happened in 5th grade - all of it. The funny thing is, I have one character who tries to spin his way out of the interview and tends to lie, that is going to come across in his story, so it's helpful for me to know.

Ruby Johnson said...

Thanks for your kind comments. Glad it may help in developing your characters.

Ruby Johnson said...

Thanks for your comments and for your added tips on interviews of interesting characters. I think the idea of a character telling lies is ROTFF!

Anne said...

Really enjoyed this article, Ruby and sent it to a few people.

The Anais Nin quote is brilliant. I haven't read her for years, but I think I'll dig out my old copies of her books and reread them. Thanks.

Ruby Johnson said...

Thank you for taking the time to comment and for sending my post along to others. I hope it is helpful to them. There are so many things a new writer has to learn. I feel if the character is not likeable or has no recognizable motivation for his actions, then the writer hasn't delved deeply enough into the inside of the character. Having read your books, I know this isn't a problem for you, and your readers benefit!

Laurie Hutzler said...

Hi Ruby-

I'm very happy you quoted my material and here is the link to my website

All the Character Types are explained in greater detail there.

Thanks. Laurie

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