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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why read this blog?

As I have said before I have written a book based on my posts in this blog and have sent it out to a few readers. One reader got back to me and made an important point. She asked the question why should I read your book? She was emphasizing that in the opening chapter I need to do some more self promoting. If I am going to write a book about characterization it had better help make the person reading it better at writing their characters and I need to be able to say how it will.

In my own mind I think that by understanding psychology I can understand the situations that my characters will find themselves in. It also helps when I am creating the story to understand how far I can push my character and make the reactions of my characters more believable. Using the knowledge that I have written about on my blog has also helped me understand the importance of making a character that is based off of real life human behavior that has been seen and experimented with.

I hope that you will all take a moment (if you have found my blog to be helpful) and let me know how this blog has helped your characterization. Answer the question why would it be important to read a book that uses psychology to better understand characterization? I appreciate the continued support and look forward to reading your in depth responses :)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rorschach inkblot tests

The Rorschach inkblot test is when a subject looks at some pictures made by inkblots and the answers to what the person interprets the inkblots to be is evaluated. It is more than just what the person says the inkblot is but how long it takes for the person to respond and how the person sees movement and color as well. According to Rorschach by having a person look at a random picture and then interpret it weakens the defense mechanisms that the person has built up and the persons unconsciousness is allowed to come out. This in turn allows the psychologist to see into the inner workings of the person.

When we are viewing and seeing things we will perceive them differently than other people do. This is due to our own unconscious thoughts, experiences, beliefs etc... Our characters will work the same way in that they will perceive an object differently than another character in our book. Further, our characters will perceive a situation differently than other characters in our book.

This takes me to another discussion that I had with a co-worker the other day. We were discussing politics and discrimination (you know usual work discussion). It was interesting how a certain situation was seen for one group of people but not for another group. It was easy to observe the faults in one group but not in the other group. This is because of the unconscious and experiences had.

This can easily be tied back to our characters as well. Our characters are fighting for something; they are trying to win the fight/conflict. Occasionally our characters get blinders on and can't see what is happening all around them. This is good because this is what happens in real life. Sometimes our characters weaknesses are there strengths. In other words because the character is so focused on winning the conflict they may not see other options that are just as good and by doing this they may alienate those around them.

The way we perceive an event, experience, object etc. says a lot about who we are.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Circle of Control

When I work with people I try to help them understand the things that are in their control and those things that are outside their control. The way that I do this is I make a circle and have them start to list things that they have control over. This can be true or false beliefs, this is not important at this point of the exercise. The person will list different things like school work, eating habits, different people, etc.. Now as they name them off we also decide how much control the have over these things. The more control they have the closer to the center of the circle they are placed and the less control they have goes farther out inside the circle. We then talk about things that they do not have control over (once again true or false beliefs are not really looked at at this point). These are placed outside of the circle. The less control the person has over the thing the farther away from the circle they are placed.

One item that I like to use as an example is weather. Most people will say well I have no control over that, but then I explain to them how cloud seeding works and if a person were to have enough know how and money they could influence the weather. This is when we start to talk about the beliefs of what a person can and cannot control. We also talk about how a person gains control through money, education, who the person knows etc.... By this time our circle begins to expand or contrast depending on what is going on.

When creating our characters they have a circle of control as well that will determine who and what that person can influence. As we are creating our characters it is helpful to come back to this circle as we write to see how things have changed for that person. It is helpful to remember the things that they really do have control over and those things that they believe they have control over.

Well I have sent my book out to sever readers and I look forward to the feed back. Thanks to all of you for your help and support!!

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Today I wanted to look more on motivation and how it may look in our characters. First though we need to talk more about two different kinds of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation is driven by the good feeling that a person gets from just doing the task at hand. It is important to do the task because it makes the person feel better about who they are. The person will work through the task more willingly than a person working for an extrinsic reward. Some things that affect how intrinsically motivated a person is on three main factors: autonomy, results are not determined by luck, and the task is not rote just to achieve a goal for example rote learning to get a good grade in a class.

Extrinsic motivation is driven by an external motivator i.e. working for money. People who are extrinsically motivated will not be the best workers in the company unless the extrinsic motivator is highly motivating. Studies have shown that too much extrinsic motivation can reduce intrinsic motivation. This is seen in school as well. Students are working for the grade rather than to learn and so they really don't learn other than the answers to the test. In order to increase intrinsic motivation extrinsic motivation can be used as long as the task is tied to an internal value or belief of the individual.

When working with our characters in our books we need to determine what motivates them and that thing that is motivating them is it going to last or at what point will another motivator change the characters view on the task. For example think about the difference between a man fighting to save his country and family and that of a  mercenary hired to fight for a country. In the first case the motivator of the man is family, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the second the motivator is money. What motivator would change the first man's will to fight for his family? What motivator would change the second man's will to fight?

Our characters all have motivators whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic and those motivators influence the decisions that those characters will make.

After thinking my goal through a little I realized that if I wanted to be published by the end of January a beta reader would have to read my book in about a week, a little unrealistic :) My new goal is the end of February (it will be a good birthday present anyway). So if you would like to beta read my book I would appreciate the help and hopefully this new goal will give more people the opportunity to do it.

Thanks for all of your support.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Overcrowding the Behavioral Sink Hole

"The Behavioral Sink Hole" is a term coined by Calhoun after conducting a study on overcrowding of rats. In his experiment he was studying how behavior was affected by crowding. There were four things that he observed: 1) Rats that wanted to stay on top were required to fight more often than they would have normally needed to fight in a less crowded environment; 2) Other male rats became very submissive and would avoid all of the other rats including female rats; 3) Some male rats became sexual deviants in which they would pursue female rats with out following usual courting protocol. Some would become hyper-sexual pursuing any rat including young and other males; 4) Females were also affected in that they stopped preparing their nests when they became pregnant.

Additional studies have looked at high density populations in humans as well. One study looked at the differences between populations in a high density prison compared to a less densely populated prison. The researchers found that those in the more populous prison had more suicides, violence, murders, and less compliance than those in the less populous.

This leads us to characterization and how our characters should act. It seems that as we are creating believable characters we need to look at the different stressors that they may be going through including the stress of overcrowding. Also, as our characters are put into high density situations they will need to fight more for available resources. As our characters are trying to complete their "quest" they will need resources that may not be readily available. How do our characters react to these stresses. Do they become aggressive, are they submissive, do they become sexual predators?

Update: I have completed my book and my wife is going through it. I hope to have it ready for beta readers by next week (Monday). It is about 37,000 words (115 pages) long and I am shooting to have it self published by the end of the month. If anyone is interested please let me know.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Interview with Daniel Coleman - Co-host of the Create or Die Podcast

Hello everyone today I hope that you have all had a good weekend. Since I am planning on self-publishing my next book I wanted to find out more about it from a friend of mine who has done a  great job of self-publishing two of his own books, JABBERWOCKY and HATTER. Wonderful books by the way you should buy. Here is an interview with him. You can check out more on his blog which he has a link to below.
Hope you enjoy and please visit his podcast to let him know your appreciation. 

1) Is it worth it or should we hold out for traditional?

It’s not that clear-cut for all authors.  Some books and some authors are better for self publishing and some are better for traditional.

For example, memoirs of someone who is not famous are next to impossible to get published through a traditional publisher, so if you want that book out there look at self-publish.  Short story collections, or individual short stories for that matter, may do better as ebooks.  Or if you are someone who has a huge audience, or can build a huge audience or loves self-promoting, self-publishing might work for you.

Trad pub is better for people who want to less promotion, editing, formatting, covers, etc, they just want to write and let someone else do as much as possible.  Keep in mind, those people all take their share of the pie, and have their own best interests in mind over yours every time.

The reason I got into self-publishing is because my first book, JABBERWOCKY, is too short for traditional publishers.  It’s right around 40,000 words, about 140 pages.  That’s why it’s only $2.99 right now, but more and more I think I’m better off raising the price.  There’s a lesson in self-publishing right there – you gain control but you sacrifice experience. 

2) What length is the best to publish with?

Wow, right off the bat you are hitting a couple highly debated questions on forums and in debates.  But here is the answer:  The best length is whatever length the story is.  That’s one of the huge benefits of epublishing.  You don’t have to conform to a publisher’s guidelines.

Anyone who has submitted to a publisher has seen word count limits: If it’s Urban Fantasy, it has to be at least 100,000.  If it’s YA, it has to be under 80,000 words.  With epublishing whatever length your story is, you can make it work.  Short stories, novellas, epic length – you can make it work.  You don’t have to pad your work or hack major elements out to fit someone else’s idea of how long it should be.  Keep in mind that the people who set the limits know what sells best on bookstore shelves; they’ve been doing this a long time and readers have developed expectations.  If you don’t meet the expectations, you could make very important people (i.e. readers) very angry.

3) Where do we go to get info on how to do it?

There’s a post on my blog: Oversimplified Guide to Self-publishing.  You can find that here

Other than that, I am going to take for granted the cover and the editing and focus in on formatting because that was the part I needed the most help with step by step. 

I recommend one of two free guides for that: The Smashwords Style Guide can be found at  ePublishers don’t like Word documents, so you’ll have to transmutate your document.  There’s a reason that sounds so daunting.  It will take you at least a few hours if you’re very good with a computer.

The other guide is Amazon’s Simplified Formatting Guide.  It’s also available for free.

4) What is the best site for self publishing?

My recommendation is to upload your book to KDP, which is Kindle Direct Publishing.  That will get it on Amazon so it’s a must.  Also upload it to and they will distribute it to Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Sony, Kobo, Diesel and a couple other more you may not have heard of.  Their cut is very small for the service and exposure they provide.  Those two will get you in front of 99% of ebook customers. 

If you’re going to do paperbacks (expect a bigger investment in formatting, inventory, time delays with proofs, etc), I recommend CreateSpace.  Their prices are affordable for books, whether you order 1 copy or 10,000.  CreateSpace also ties into Amazon, so paperback and ebooks appear right next to each other.

5) Should we pay to have it professionally edited?


I’m tempted to leave it at that, but I want to drive this home.  Writing groups are great, friends and beta readers are great, and I’ve received some excellent free critiques, but there is affordable professional editing out there.  You should be able to get either content or line editing for around $300 depending on the size of the book. 

If you want your book to be on the shelves next to Dean Koontz, Stephanie Meyer, and Dan Brown, you don’t want to release a book with plot holes, grammatical issues, or any other major issues.  (Go ahead and gripe about your beef with whatever New York Times bestselling author is your favorite target before reading on.)  Ok then, their books have been through thousands of dollars of editing by the best editors money can buy. 

How much did you invest in the book?  You can invest a little money in some editing. 

6) How important is the cover?

I’m going to assume that everyone reading this post has bought a book at some point in their life, so here’s my question:  How many books have you bought that had a horrible cover?  I’ve done it, you probably have too, but it took a lot for me to do it.  Either it was written by someone I knew or was recommended by multiple people I trust.

A cover is a billboard for your book, the 1-second pitch to the reader.  Don’t hurt yourself right out of the gate by putting an unprofessional cover on your baby.

7) How are you qualified to answer these questions This is where you self promote your books and stats and anything else :)

This is such an exciting and changing field that within 4 or 5 months of jumping in I was doing presentations at writing conferences on epublishing.  That’s how long it took to become an expert.  And it was all by jumping in and doing it.

Self-publishing and creativity are topics I’ve studied for years.  I’ve learned from mistakes along the way and tried to share what I’ve learned with other authors.  I recently launched a podcast to give practical and creative advice to artists of all genres: writers, painters, dancers, musicians, photographers, actors, etc.  My co-host is John Berry, a 20-year, professional easel painter, and the name of the podcast is Create or Die.  It’s available on iTunes or at  We’ll put a new episode up every Tuesday.  

8) what do you wish you would have known before getting started?

This won’t apply to everyone, but I didn’t realize that my target audience for JABBERWOCKY, young teens, doesn’t own e-readers.  I didn’t realize it until my paperbacks started selling better than ebooks when I went on book tour.

Final words: Work hard to put out a quality product; don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong.

Daniel Coleman is the co-host of the Create or Die podcast.  He is also the author of two YA books: JABBERWOCKY and HATTER.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Hope is when we think that the best is going to happen and that all is going to work out. Our characters need to have this hope in order to make it through the dark times that lay ahead of them. As writers we need to understand what hope is and how it works. We need to know what the emotions are behind that hope when it is realized and when it is crushed. I think we can all rely on those rejection letters in order to understand the hope that is crushed. We can also look to those moments when our work is critiqued and it is liked.

Our readers also rely on us to deliver them these emotional highs and lows by creating a character that feels like they do when hope is involved. By understanding how these emotions work in our own lives we will be able to create the reality in our stories.

Understand your characters so that you know what situations will increase their hope and how far you can push them before they have given up. Know your characters breaking point and at what point you will need to step in with others to help support your characters hope.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Transtheoretical model of change

As I was writing my book How to Diagnose Your Character I was at the section about change and realized that I have not yet discussed an important model of change. Below I have described that model. 

James O. Prochaska in 1977 developed the Transtheoretical model of change. This model includes five stages of change that a person goes through. The first stage is called the pre-contemplation stage. In this stage the person does not want to make the change and really don’t realize that they need to change. Contemplation is the second stage in the model. In this stage a person is beginning to weigh the costs and benefits of change, the person is still not changing but are starting to see that change is needed. The third stage is called the preparation stage and it is in this stage that a person has finally decided that change is necessary and that they are going to do something about it. Action is the fourth stage and it is in this stage that a person is actually changing and doing something different in their lives. The final stage is called the maintenance stage. In this stage the person has changed and is learning to maintain the change.

As I point out in my book it is important that our readers see a little bit of this process in our characters as they are going through the changes in our stories. 

By the way the book thing is much longer than I expected but I should have a rough draft done by next Monday!!! I am very excited about and hope that it will be helpful to other writers and of course that other people will want to read it :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wired to be Lazy

In a study participants were given a candy bar to either delivering a questionnaire that was a 15-minute walk away or delivering it just outside the room they were in but then needed to wait for 15 minutes to receive the reward. 68% of the participants chose to deliver the questionnaire just outside the room, but those who walked to deliver it reported higher on happiness scale than those who waited the 15 minutes. This experiment emphasis the fact that we prefer to take it easy but are happier when we work.

This certainly applies to me and I find that the days that I'm happiest are the days that I put in a full day of work even compared to days that I play all day. I feel better about myself and about what I have accomplished. The problem is that it is so hard for me to want to start to work, I would rather just play a game or be lazy. Another example of this is exercise. After exercising I feel much better, but it is so hard to actually start exercising.

I bring this up because of the characters in our books. They are hard wired to be lazy as well, but prefer to work (generally speaking of course). We need to write this into our characters bring out their reluctance to work and their desire to just sit around and be lazy. Of course if this happened too much we wouldn't have much of a book, but it would be fun to read about the hero taking a day off once in awhile :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


In this blog I have decided to look at characterization from the viewpoint of psychology, but have never really defined what characterization is. Today I decided to look it up and get a little more information on it. It was interesting to find out that one of the reasons that characterization became important in the 19th century was partly due to the rise of psychology. This makes sense since psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior as well as animal behavior. Since this is what psychology is all about it only makes sense that it would influence how writers write.

There are two ways in which a character can be brought to life in a book. First there is the direct method. This is where the author tells the audience exactly who and what the the character is. The second method is called the indirect method. This is where the audience infers what the character is like through the thoughts and actions of the character and through the reactions of other characters around the character. I think that today more than ever we present our characters in a more indirect method. We want to show our audience who and what our characters are rather than telling our audience who and what our characters are.

It is important to have a well-developed character in our stories in order to catch not only the audiences attention, but also the agents attention. Agents are looking for good characterization and they want to see that the characters in our books are changing and progressing. For this reason it is important to understand the psychology behind characterization. That's why you should read my blog !! (That was some self promoting sorry that it slipped in there :)

I know that for me by posting about the things that I have learned in psychology and then relating it to characterization I have learned a lot about how to create my characters and some of the things that I was missing in earlier works. I hope that it has been just as helpful to you.

In what ways have your characters come to life by using what you know about psychology in creating them?

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