You shout tomayto, I’m too shy to whisper tomahto, let’s call the whole story off

Does this title mean anything to anyone but me?

Before I go on to the post, I found out about this through poetry school: If you’re sixteen and older, you’re eligible, and there seems to be no fee to apply and a nice sum if you win. If you do win, be sure to let us know! Here’s the link: Good luck!

On May 28, 2015 Bug wrote, One of my main characters is extremely different from me. (For example, with Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFP, and he’s an ESFP.) It’s really sort of hard for me to write him sometimes because he’s so…not at all me, I guess. I guess my problem is that I have to write a person who’s very much a people-person, while I’m not (I definitely LIKE being around people, I’m just sort of shy a lot.) Does anyone have any advice for that?

The Myers-Briggs is fun to take for yourself and your characters! I couldn’t resist doing it for myself and for my MC in the prequel I just finished. The test is free, and you find out the names of famous people who share your or your character’s personality type. Also, suggestions are made about careers you may be well suited for, which I would take with a gallon of salt. None of my career options as an ENFJ is writer (Bug’s is, by the way), and none of my famous people is a writer. Actually, I’d take the whole thing with a gallon of salt, in that it isn’t helpful to regard an online personality test as the final word on who we are. Still it’s fun.

Even if you don’t take the test, you may want to read about it, because I’m going to use Myers-Briggs terms in the post, so a little knowledge will be helpful, but I will explain as I go along.

Bug, it’s great that you know all this about your character (and yourself). Now that I know I’m an ENFJ, although just moderately or slightly on everything, and my MC Perry is definitively an ISTJ, I realize how different we are. In other words, she’s an introvert, and I’m outgoing. Feelings influence my decision-making more than they influence hers, because she’s more of a step-by-step plodder. But I didn’t have much trouble writing her, because I knew, and the reader will, too, how she came to be what she is. So that’s one tip: our character’s history, whether as backstory or as played out in the plot, will reveal clues to his behavior.

For example, let’s imagine Harper, a child who’s adopted. She’s wildly intuitive, but her adoptive parents are cautious and logical. If she wants to get her way about anything, she has to defend her choice in terms they’ll understand. Gradually, necessity moves her into their camp, and her sixth sense goes to sleep. In our story she gets older and has to make a career decision. She lists pros and cons; she researches qualifications; she interviews people who are employed in the kinds of work she’s considering. One of her friends asks, “But which one would you like better?” And she answers, “That’s what I’m trying to figure out?” Her friend presses her: “Which one lifts your heart just to think about.” She frowns. “I don’t know what you mean.” Because we know how she got there, we know how she’ll take action and respond in lots of situations. If she feels attracted to someone, she won’t let that feeling take over. She’ll watch her crush and make judgments. Then, maybe, she’ll move forward.

Or, imagine that Bug’s extrovert, Manny, grows up in a family of extroverts. If he doesn’t push himself forward, he’ll get lost, so he does. Or, let’s imagine a more difficult childhood for him. When he’s a baby, his parents flee their home kingdom because of persecution, but they don’t speak the language. Manny, however, learns both languages. Even as a child, he has to represent his family in the new land. His parents give him responsibilities beyond his years, and he has to be effective with adults. Whether or not he starts with an extrovert bent, that part of him is pushed to develop. This knowledge helps us write him.

Addie in The Two Princesses of Bamarre is very shy, and there’s nothing in her past to explain it. I did have trouble with her because, although I’m only moderately extroverted, I still am. At the beginning I wrote Addie as so paralyzed by her shyness that she was almost catatonic. I went to my shy critique buddy, Joan, for advice, and she helped me dial back the paralysis. So outside help from someone who is more like your character than you are may be helpful.

And let me offer you shy ones (many writers are) some info about extroverts (moderate ones, anyway), as represented by me, which you are welcome to use in developing your characters. I like gatherings, even if I don’t know many people. I may start off feeling shy and nervous, but I steel myself. I’ll stand at the edge of a group and listen for a little while. I usually get a vibe. If they’re willing to include a newcomer, the circle widens and people smile. If that doesn’t happen, I move on. When I find a receptive group, I listen and chip in if I have something to say, but staying on topic, because I’m the interloper. After five or ten minutes, I may introduce a new idea that particularly interests me. If others are fascinated, too, I feel even more comfortable, and the conversation develops. In big groups, social gatherings where networking is happening, groups fragment, because most people want to touch more than one base. When the group falls apart, I move on and repeat.

At the buffet or bar (where I get seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice, which looks pretty and vaguely alcoholic and tastes good), there’s a chance to meet people one-on-one. If people are waiting in a line, I may have time to get a little acquainted with the person ahead or behind me, which can be nice.

Three things I never do:

∙ Hold forth and deliver monologues about myself or pass myself off as an expert on anything. I’m more likely to be asking questions than asserting anything.

∙ Worry about making a fool out of myself. There’s always that risk, and I’ve swallowed my foot more than once, but I haven’t died, and usually a funny story is the result.

∙ Rehearse what I want to say before saying it or go over it for flaws. That road leads to silence and feeling alone, because even if I finally approve my contribution, the conversation has moved on. I plunge in.

Internally, I’m irrepressible, which fuels my extroversion. If I care about a topic and have ideas, I think I have an obligation to share, to spur conversation and even to create fun.

My extroversion is fueled by enormous curiosity about people, which I bet I share with many shy folk. The difference, I think, is that I’m not restrained from coming out with it. I mean well, but occasionally I cross into nosiness, which may be welcomed–or not!

What about the shy among you? Any tips about how to write shy characters?

If our opposite character type has to act, we can list possibilities, starting with what we would do, what an opposite action might be, what our outgoing cousin Naomi would do, what Anne of Green Gables would do, and the possibilities that just pop to mind. If nothing seems right, we keep going with more possibilities.

It will get easier as the story progresses, I believe. Once our MC performs like an extrovert, we’ll see him at work and come up with more extroverty actions for him the next time. We’ll also discover how he reacts to other characters, whose natures are established. How is he with a shy friend? How with his brother who’s more out there even than he is?

Here are three prompts:

∙ The Match-Made-In-Heaven dating service puts people together by similar Myers-Briggs scores. Your MCs, Michael and Addison, are identical shy ISTJ’s (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging). Write their first date. Write the journal entry of one of them afterward. Decide if they ever want to see each other afterward. Keep going with the relationship if you like, which can go in any direction. They can fall in love or become opponents in a struggle that has galactic proportions.

∙ The Opposites-Attract dating service takes the opposite approach. This time, Jordan (INFP-Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) is matched with Peyton (ESTJ-Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging). Write the date and the journal entry. Keep going if you like.

∙ Let’s work with Harper, our MC who’s methodical, careful, and cautious. But, remember, her nature before she blended into her family was intuitive. Put her in a situation where being methodical and careful land her in trouble. Her intuition has to wake up. Write the situation and the story.

Have fun, and save what you write!

Objective: objectives

On March 26, 2015, Kenzi Parsons wrote, How do you brainstorm a non-cliche plot when you have the characters and situation already? I find I have a really hard time coming up with a plot if I already have characters–I LOVE my characters but struggle with the story. Any ideas?

These two responses came in:

Erica Eliza: Look at the relationships and the conflicts that will arise between characters. Sort through other story ideas that never took off because they weren’t big enough to carry a whole book by themselves, and see how your characters would handle them.

Tracey Dyck: If you have your characters in place, they can help drive your plot. Look at their individual goals (which might conflict with each other!) and what obstacles, both personal and physical, might stand in their way. The Rafe-Stella situation Mrs. Levine invented in this post kind of touches on that. (March 18, 2015)

Kenzi Parsons answered: These are all great!! Reading these, I think my problem is that my character doesn’t have an objective to motivate the plot. Huh… I’d never thought of that before! How do y’all come up with goals/objectives for your characters if you created them before the plot?

More ideas followed:

carpelibris (Melissa Mead): I almost always come up with character before plot. (I have a dickens of a time with plot!) Usually who the character is helps determine what she wants, whom she hangs out with, what she will or won’t do, etc., and the plot grows out of that. For example, a lot of my characters are loners/misfits, which tends to make them either want to fit in, stand out, or get out of where they are.

Tracey Dyck: What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are their desires–what they want more than anything? What do they want almost as badly, something that may run contrary to the primary desire? Could be situational, personal, etc. Maybe one person wants to feel needed, another wants to gain confidence, someone else wants to fix a relationship, and yet another person wants to stop an impending disaster.

These are wonderful.

In case Kenzi Parsons’ concerns weren’t completely resolved, here are some more thoughts:

It’s hard to believe any idea is good if we’re worried about cliches. My entire writing career–my whole body of work– wouldn’t exist if that were much on my mind. A Cinderella story? Fairies? Dragons? Princesses? They’ve been done repeatedly. I’d be sunk!

We all build on old ideas. We have to. Originality comes from what we do with those tired tropes. Yes, sadly, it is possible to write a story that sounds like a dozen other stories, and we don’t want to do that. My strategy for avoiding such a fate is notes, and within notes, lists. It’s a strategy that can help in plot-from-character creation.

Let’s start with what we’ve come up for our character, whom we’ll call Tamara. On the good side, she’s loyal, kind, and funny. On the bad, she has a one-track mind. When something captures her attention, all else sinks in importance. At those times, she’s irritable or even angry with anyone who tries to divert her. She has curly hair, long fingers, a wide smile, and small eyes. Kenzi Parsons may have gone much further than this, but for our purposes we have enough to get started.

We review Tamara’s attributes and think what her objectives might be. Her one-track mind suggests possibilities, so in our notes for this story we list what she might be obsessed about right now, and we keep in mind all the other things we know about her. We pledge to ourselves that we’re going to come up with at least ten possibilities, and, further, that we won’t judge any of them. Nothing is stupid or cliched when we write a list:

∙ She’s raising money for a daycare center in her town.

∙ She’s working on a stand-up comedy routine.

∙ She’s determined to rescue her best friend from a bad romantic relationship.

∙ She’s researching plastic surgery to make a person’s eyes bigger. Once she finds out what she needs, she’s going to devote herself to making it happen.

∙ She’s preparing to join the army (real army or fantasy army).

∙ She’s preparing to rescue the child hostages from their captors in the warring kingdom of Kuth.

∙ She’s developing plans for a flying machine.

∙ She’s trying to save from extinction a species of tiny frogs that still exist only in her rural county.

∙ She’s deep and dark into magic books to cure her brother of the mysterious condition that caused him to stop speaking.

∙ She’s plotting revenge against a relative who sabotaged her frog project.

There. Ten. But if nothing pleases us we can go for fifteen.

Tied up in her obsessions are objectives. She wants to succeed! We can move the plot forward by placing obstacles in her path, some that come from within her, some from circumstances, and some from our other characters, who may want her to fail or may bungle helping her. We can list possible obstacles.

I chose her one-track mind to concentrate on, but I could have picked another of her qualities, although long fingers might be hard, but I bet we could do it. Anyway, her loyalty is suggestive, too. Here’s a prompt: Think about where her loyalties lie. List ten possibilities. Then think about how they might morph into objectives. Create a story around one possibility.

Kenzi Parsons has created more characters. If we have more, we can keep them in mind as we invent our lists, and we can give them the list treatment, too, remembering as we do that their objectives need to relate to Tamara’s in helpful or unhelpful ways.

I love lists. If you read the notes for any of my books, you’d find lists cropping up every few pages (I often have over 200 pages of notes for a novel).

After we we’ve come up with our objectives and have thought of obstacles, we start imagining how they might play out in scenes. And we’re off with a starter plot!

More prompts:

∙ Pick one–or more–of Tamara’s obsessions and use it in a story.

∙ I decided to go with Melissa Mead’s misfit idea and imagined ten ways in which Tamara might be different. Pick one and use it in a story. Melissa Mead already suggested a few objectives, and you may think of more. Here are the ten ways:

  1. She has only one arm (with those long fingers)
  2. She has the same genetic condition that caused Abraham Lincoln to be so tall and ??? At the age of twelve she’s a foot taller than everyone she knows.
  3. Her family have been farmers for centuries. She lives in a farming community. Nobody cares about anything but the size of pigs and pumpkins. She hates all of it. She has a brown thumb, and the livestock hate her.
  4. She has a different fashion sense than everyone else. She looks wrong on every occasion.
  5. She’s way smarter than everyone else around her, off-the-charts smarter.
  6. She’s the stupidest in her family and her school.
  7. She can’t pronounce the long i.
  8. Her brain is oddly wired. Psychologists keep diagnosing her with an alphabet soup of acronyms, but nothing really fits.
  9. She sees other people as numbers. People who appear as long numbers scare her, but she feels close to people who have a 9 in their number. (Look! This is the ninth in my list! What a coincidence!)
  10. She’s an identical twin, but although she and her sister look exactly alike, that’s where the similarities end.

Have fun, and save what you write!


A short interim announcement: We’re snatching the blog away from Blogspot and moving it entirely into my website, so that people who don’t have gmail accounts can comment, too. This is an experiment for now. My worry is that unwelcome comments may come in. I’ll delete them, of course, but they’ll be there until I check. If that happens even once, I may moderate comments before they get posted, as I do on the Guest Book, or I may go back to Blogspot.

You’ll find differences, and I want to know what you think. Please say if you’re happy or unhappy, because that will make a difference in how we go forward. My feelings won’t be hurt if you say something negative.

If you signed up as a follower of the blog, your follower-status will move over, so you won’t have to do it again.

I’m eager to hear from you as you give the new blog site a spin. And, as always, I look forward to your writing ideas and questions.