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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Functional analysis and functional assessment part 1:

So, in class yesterday we were discussing functional assessment and analysis. This is a very interesting thing because it is going beyond the topographic view of things. Topographic view is looking at the things everyone can see. For example look at the room you are in and describing it. There may even be a clear container that has liquid in it but if looking at it from a topographic point of view you really don’t know what the liquid is that is in it. You can make assumptions but you don’t really know (unless of course you put the liquid in it, but that is beside the point).  

When doing a functional assessment it is taking into account all of the things that cause the problem. What causes the character to blow his nose: because he is allergic to something, he has a cold, he just bumped it.

Functional analysis is going from learning who the person is to manipulating the person’s environment to see how that person reacts in the given situation. We purposefully change things in their environment to get them to react a certain way or see how they react.

When trying to create a believable character we need to go beyond what they look like and what they think to the point where we understand how they will react in certain situations. Four things to know about human behavior: is understandable and predictable (if we have all the information), is malleable and can be shaped, occurs within a context and not a vacuum, is learned (can be taught) and can be manipulated.

How well do we need to know our characters to write a good novel? 


  1. It's definitely important to understand some depth of our characters, so that we know how they will react to certain situations. Not the way WE would react, but how THEY will. So if we only have a topographic view of our character, the story won't be believable.

  2. In my first draft I don't know the characters as well as I should, but that is what the rewrite is for. Though I don't ever know the characters as well as myself, I do have a feeling about what motivates them and how they will react in certain situations. I do like putting them in different situations because my plot demands it or because it is in their history.

    I have a writer friend who knows all of her characters as if they were her best friend. She can tell you exactly what they will do in any given situation. While I find this completely amazing, I also see that it affects her writing. In all of the stories she's started, which numbers in the several dozen, she rarely finishes any of them.

    Knowing your character is important but in my mind there also has to be room for plot. Whether you have plot driven characters or character driven plot doesn't matter so long as there is something there to keep the reader involved in the story and give them a feeling of satisfaction when they finish. I love to write but even I get bored if there is no plot.

  3. I agree April it is important thanks for the comment.

    Emily you make an excellent point and actually I fear that by my posts I am giving readers the impression that in order to have a good story you must know the character inside and out and spend hours upon hours on getting to know the characters in your book. I think that you should know the main character very well and maybe a couple of hours on getting to know the main character but the others a topographic view is good enough. Don't get so involved with the characters that you have no plot. Going to far in anything will cause problems. Thanks again for bringing this up.

  4. At the same time, no one wants to read a book where the characters are shallow, inconsistent, or un-relatable. Having a good novel is a blend of plot and character. Without one the other still falls flat.

    I really enjoy your posts because I need to know my characters better. I am most definitely a plot driven writer and there are times I know that my characters are inconsistent and shallow and I don't know what to do about it. The information you present in this blog is the information I need to get my story that much better. Please. Keep it up.

    Your description of the topographic and functional analysis is perfect for someone like me to understand how to go about learning about my characters like I should.

  5. Yes, I think it's very important--especially in romances where you're dealing with two screwed up internally flawed people trying to get over whatever their issues are before they can commit to one another. LOL Plus, digging deep can really create better motivations for their actions or wants.

  6. You need to know things about your characters that may never find their way onto the page. It's our job.

  7. Thanks for the great comments. I agree with you Wendy it is our job to know our characters well enough to give the best story we can. Yes and the internal problems are the things that come out in relationships especially in romances.

  8. Dude. Hi Josh. I saw your comment on Elana's blog, so I decided to come follow yours.

    Nice ta meet ya!

    Also, I noticed you like Dragonlance, which rocks.

  9. Thanks for following Mathew. I hope that you find my posts helpful and enjoyable to read. Dragonlance is a great story one of my all time favorites.


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