Friday, December 5, 2014

Celebrate the Small Things: Motivated in the Doldrums - A Lesson on Character Development

Doldrums: a state or period of inactivity, stagnation, or depression. Or, an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with  calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds.

Whoa, all of the above! 

When my husband retired last May, my life went from calm to the unpredictable over night. We went from coasting on neutral to a fast overdrive. First, the idea that we wanted to move closer to family, then the finding of our home in Desert Aire. then the prep and more prep, giving away stuff, carting what no one wanted to the Goodwill, and at last the big move. It took awhile before I caught my breath. When I did, I found myself floating in the doldrums. All writing (books and blog) had been put on hold till further notice. 

Sailors in the past first used the term "doldrums" to describe areas in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where the wind would die and ships sometimes floated for days waiting for a puff of wind. Weather scholars call it the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. 

Yep, that was me. Calm at last, but short on motivation.

Then, a puff a wind. Maybe a knot or two, nothing extraordinary. A compass point. I started blogging again. I worked on my book one afternoon, too, thankful that part of my life hadn't died. I read several SCBWI Bulletins and got inspired. 

One day I learned something new about character development. It stuck like glue, kind of like when I discovered the beauty of linking scenes together to construct a book, as script writers do in Hollywood. 

I refer to the article, "Character Personas" by Jaimie M. Engle in the SCBWI Bulletin (September/October 2013). Her article caught my interest when I read how she had drawn her inspiration from Orson Scott Card. I had read his Ender series, and also had been wowed me with his style and character development. (He also writes on the subject of writing, if you have never read his fiction). 

Engle pulled it all together in a nutshell. She began by quoting Card: "...when a storyteller has to create three characters, each different relationship requires that each character in it must be transformed.....shaping his or her present identity." 

Okay, I know this, I thought at first. Nothing new. But here is where I woke up and listened, and paid attention. She writes, "Basically, this means that each of those characters would need four separate personas to carry them through the book without seeming flat to the reader." what does this mean? 

She assigned an exercise. Go somewhere and observe the people around you, a coffee shop for instance. Watch how each person reacts differently to the people around them. They act one way with their best friend maybe, but differently with the barista, their not-so-good friend, their sister, brother, or parent, etc. 

So, going back to the idea of three characters and four personas, and assuming they all know each other, that's three different relationships. A character may be secretive with one, outgoing with the next one, and motherly to the third. That leaves the fourth persona, which she doesn't really describe. 

The fourth persona, the more I thought about it, is probably how a character reacts to the group as a whole. It could also be...and I like this one.... 'the person a character becomes' when they are alone, perhaps a side of their personality they are afraid to show. Ha! Love it. Using myself as example, I sometimes dance around the house like a giraffe. Now I guess that makes five personas! Hmm....

So if you find yourself in the doldrums, take advantage of the time. Sailors scrubbed the decks and repaired the sheets and rigging. Better yet, study your craft and write something.... Anything will do.  

And remember, the winds will pick up
eventually. They always do!

Hope you are enjoying the Christmas season. I'm looking forward to two days in Spokane. Vince and I are blending eye appointments with a mini vacation. The Christmas decorations are beautiful this time of year. We may get a little snow, but no problem. Our trusty Subaru has four-wheel drive. Walking along the river and through Riverside Park should be lovely. It is one of the best times to visit Spokane.


  1. I hope you "see" perfectly, the sights of Christmas while on the mini vacation!
    I'm not doing bloghop - may rejoin later - posted a short story instead... a true story about myself. Have a great weekend.

    1. Thanks, Dixie. I'll check out your story in a bit. Sounds good :)

  2. Very meaty post! I sure hope you get out of the doldrums at least by the new year, if writing is still important to you. I don't quite understand the four personas thing, but it sounds a lot like the way Dramatica says you need four story lines, in order to have a full, rich story. I read almost every craft book there is; it's informative and fun. I read a jaw-dropping lay insightful one this week on hooks. I'd had no idea that there's a science to writing strong hooks. learned so much.

    1. I haven`t read as many as you. So many writers on the craft seem to say the same thing so I struggle with taking the time to read. But
      probably should, huh. This
      article was short. Basically, she was referring to the different
      relationships a person has or, as I see it, the different masks a character may wear or the personality they project. As for writing, of course I'll continue :)

  3. Hi Sharon - you've had a lot going on this year and adjusting to 'retirement' ... the break away sounds good - and some more character writing .. enjoy and it sounds very therapeutic .. cheers Hilary

    1. Thank you, Hilary. I really appreciate your comments. Always encouraging :)

  4. You were and are one busy lady. Did you know that relocation is in the top 5 for most stressful event? Even if it is a good thing, it is stressful and when all of it seemed "done", there is always a letdown. It is sort of like coming back from vacation and having to go back to the normal life. I am glad you got out of the doldrums and you learned more about character development etc... Sometimes we need to go to the doldrums to regroup and recharge

    1. Hi Birgit. One of the top 5? I'm not surprised! Thanks for being such an encouraging voice.

  5. Sorry to hear about the doldrums! That's never fun to experience. Love that bit about the different personas a single character can have. It's making me think about my own characters' personas!

    1. Hi Heather! Nice to hear from you again. I need to check out your blog and see what you (and your friends) have been up to :)

  6. I'm glad your move is over and that you were inspired by the 4 personas idea. I hope your doldrums go away and you find a refreshing breeze. Have a great weekend! :)


"Stay" is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary
(A.B. Alcott). Stay and visit awhile. Your comments mean a lot to me.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...