Tag Archives: character development

What’s at the Core of Character Development?

Some posts I make are informative and useful and some are just the rambling inside my head type posts that may or may not be of interest to anyone else. This is one of the latter.

 

Luckily, I managed to breeze through my CEUs and finished them up over the weekend. That surprised me after seeing the material I had to cover. I only missed one question out of six test modules. It was one on domestic violence concerning House Bill 1099. It was a trick question.

 

Admittedly, it made me feel pretty good to ace these tests. It affirmed my professional expertise.

 

Monday, I took up some research for a project that’s still in the planning stages. I’ve been re-reading Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Thomas Harris, and a barrage of scientific journal articles on paranormal psychology.

 

Although I am a scientist, I’ve always been interested in parapsychology. For several years of my career, I worked in psychiatric nursing in both crisis stabilization and in a forensics unit that managed the criminally insane and the incarcerated. I’ve seen some really weird things occur in the spiritual realm (not scientifically explainable). I’ve also had personal experience with clairvoyant dreams/nightmares.

 

With the medical model of psychiatry, so much has been scientifically explained through the understanding of neurotransmitters. These are endogenous chemicals that transmit signals across a synapse from one neuron (nerve cell) to another ‘target’ neuron. Their exact numbers are unknown but more than 100 chemical messengers have been identified.

 

Pharmacology and chemistry have worked hand-in-hand to learn the mechanisms of action and create drugs, primarily those that affect monoamines like: dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, histamine and serotonin, which have profound effects on the brain, mood, personality and behavior.

 

Millions of people who would have otherwise been crippled by brain anomalies have received treatment that resulted in them being able to live productive lives. The organic component of human behavior can be changed with mind altering drugs. This organic, or biological, aspect is just one component of who we are. In nursing, my training program was a biopsychosocial model that considers three dimensions. The brain and the mind are considered separately.

 

In considering the mind, one dimension is spirit. Humans are spiritual by nature. Apart from all theological considerations the human spiritual capacity is wondrous indeed. As elusive as its definition, the human spirit includes our intellect, emotions, fears, passions, and creativity.

 

In the two most widely accepted contemporary definitions, human spirit and psyche are considered to be the mental functions of awareness, insight, understanding, judgment and other reasoning powers, entities of emotion, images, memory and personality.

The soul is the self, the “I” that inhabits the body and acts through it.

The soul can be the essence or embodiment of a specified quality, like the soul of a piece of composed music. It is also an immaterial part of a human being, regarded as immortal.

I didn’t set out to write a dissertation on the human spirit and soul, but was seriously considering character development. So often, I read in reviews that characters are one dimensional or not fully developed, and I was pondering over what exactly makes a character well-rounded, fully developed. The ones who stay with us, that we remember forever, that never die, are the ones who have soul. The author has managed to make them immortal. They have awareness, insight, understanding, judgment and other reasoning powers, entities of emotion, images, memory and personality. They will live on long after their authors are gone.

It takes time and words to create spirit and soul in a character. In this day of fast food, fast everything, readers want both. They want fast action and character development. I’ve read tons of character development posts advising people on how to draw up their character profiles, and while there are hundreds that speak to character traits and appearances, few speak to the soul of the character.

The “I” that inhabits the body and acts through it is the most important feature of character development, whether endearing or wicked. This “I” is at the core of character development.

In metaphysics, the “I” is the ego, a conscious, thinking subject, the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity, self-awareness.

I thought of Scarlett, Hannibal, Merlin, Lastat and Louise, Pennywise, Rowan Mayfair, Odd Thomas, Jane Eyre, Chablis, Jack Torrance, James and Catskinner, Ryan Lemmon, Bilbo Baggins, Catherine and Heathcliff…I could go on and on, but the point is that these characters all have soul, good or bad. They have been richly developed so as to be unforgettable. They think and they act. They aren’t characters that I particularly relate to, but they have an admirable depth. They aren’t simply entertaining, but embody complex psyche that penetrates deeply making them memorable.

When you read, do you get invested into the spirit of your characters?

When you write to tell your stories do you consider spirit of the characters?

Can you name some unforgettable characters that had soul?

Complexity: Simplicity in Reading and Writing. #amreading #badbooks

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We all read for different reasons and some of us like variety in our reading. There are times when I want deep and meaningful prose that is intellectually stimulating and there are times when I want a fast, fun little story. I feel the reviews I write might also reflect what I was looking for when I sat down to read and whether or not my expectations were met.

I was looking on my iPad at the books I had to put down. A few of them I went back to many times trying to absorb the words and get into the story. I discovered something about these books that I felt I should share with you. I don’t know if you are reading or writing, but you are either the audience or you are trying to reach an audience.

Complexity:

I’m not going to touch the YA audience with this post. Writing for children, pre-teens, teens, young adults, new adults all carry a host of intricacies that I can’t touch on.

I feel that I am a reasonably intelligent adult, maybe above average in some areas (I can recite the Krebs cycle and tell you all about adenosine tri-phosphate, and Acid-Base balance is an easy topic for me).

The majority of times that I had to put a book down and not go back to it has to do with its complexity in word choice.

Here is a list of words from one such book (I stopped at about 25%.) This is supposed to be a contemporary fiction but so many words are archaic. I think the author was striving for artistically archaic, but having to stop and look up every third word made for terrible reading. These words were all used in the first three chapters.

Ignominious

Abjured

Orison

Sepulture

Quixotic

Abrogate

Fallacious

Obstreperous

Expiate

Execrable

Hegemony

Nascent

Peregrinate

Troth

Varlet

Poltroon

Malapert

Truculent…okay, I’m going to stop now. I think I made my point, but the list goes on and on.

The story, at least what I could make out about it, after pausing to look up the words, was very interesting. But really, the effort required???

 

I like to be intellectually stimulated, and some of these words I knew…just not in the context that they were used in the story. I like to learn new things. But this was NOT entertaining in the least. It was a bothersome chore.

 

In other words, I felt more common words could have told the story better. The complexity of this “contemporary” western fiction required far more brain energy than I was willing to spend.

 

Writers, don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for us! The fact that you can use a thesaurus or know well the meanings of these words does not impress me. Tell me your beautiful story in words that paint me pictures. Don’t pull me out of the flow of you story to look up and contemplate the meaning of your words.

 

Simplicity:

 

On the flip side, the other books I set down and did not go back to were not overwritten, but underwritten. More often than not, they were dialogue with not much narrative prose. This is tricky when telling a story and is frequently why people complain about “show” and “tell”.

 

In trying to cut out exposition and back story, I think we sometimes go overboard and that leaves a very simple skeleton of a story with no substance.

 

I am going to admit some guilt here. With Alliances, I feel that some of the rationale for me being dissatisfied with it has to do with lack of narrative prose. I cut so much of the exposition. Character development is critical, and without some history, descriptions of behavior, setting the stage, a hint of some thought processes, a life before your event and the like, we aren’t going to get to know the characters very well or bond with them and the read is going to seem critically superficial.

 

Reaching your audience requires more than a plot. You can have the most beautiful, fascinating setting in the world, the best thought through plot ever designed, but if you complicate with your choice of words, or leave me wondering who, what, when, why and how…I’m going to put the book down.

These are just a couple of reasons I stopped reading. The two that jumped out at me. There were other reasons, but I won’t go into those now.

What makes you put down a book and never go back?

Have complexity or simplicity stopped you from finishing a story?

Have you ever returned a book after a few pages?

I’m looking for balance.

Book Review: The Worms of Heaven by Misha Burnett

A while back, March 15, 2014, to be precise, I posted book reviews for Misha Burnett’s first two books in the “Book of Lost Doors” series, Book One: “Catskinner’s Book” and Book Two: “Cannibal Hearts”. You can read those here if you like:

I recently had the honor of reading an ARC of Book Three, “The Worms of Heaven”. This is more a series review than a book review. I don’t usually post the book descriptions with my reviews because you can read those on Amazon, but I will for this book review to give you an idea of where this book: “The Worms of Heaven” is coming from. This review is a lot longer than my typical review. You will see a much shorter version on Amazon:

Book description: “Catskinner’s Book”:

Catskinner’s Book is a science fiction/urban fantasy novel set in a surreal world unlike any that you have seen before.

James Ozryck has a monster in his head.

All of his life the entity that he calls Catskinner has made him a fugitive, afraid to get too close to anyone, afraid to stay in one place for too long. Catskinner kills, without compassion and without warning, and is very good at it.

Now James has learned that Catskinner is not the only monster in the world, a world that has suddenly become a far stranger and more dangerous place than he imagined. In order to survive he will have to become something more than a monster, he will have to learn what it means to be human.

 Book description: “Cannibal Hearts”:

A year ago James Ozryck was a loner, forced to keep the world at bay by the alien entity he calls Catskinner who shares his body. Now he has found a community of others whose lives have been changed by the Outsiders.

Along with Godiva, his half-human lover, James runs a property management company that serves as a front company for Outsider activities.

When the pair’s mysterious boss, Agony Delapour suddenly shows up in town with a new project, however, things get dangerous fast as events unfold that threaten the life that they have made.

Book Review: “The Worms of Heaven”: 

I have mentioned in previous reviews in this series that Misha Burnett’s works are genius. His Catskinner character enmeshed with James Ozryck in both physical and psychological form; yet, really quite separate, is in and of itself remarkable. I fell in love with the singular duality of the character in Book One. Burnett worked wonders to give this (these) character (s) unique voice and personality.

Book Three brings Catskinner back in full force and has James and Catskinner interacting with the entire crew of Outsider affected characters in ways that are sure to keep you turning the pages. Agony Delapour has been kidnapped. Havoc has been wrecked on the Blue Metal Boy camp. Catskinner, the Butcher, has vowed death in revenge, facing his most formidable opponent yet, the Orchid.

Burnett’s ability to draw and create a colorful cast of characters was well illustrated in Books One and Two. Book Three takes that ability even deeper. There are humans, yes, but there are also Orthovores, a hive of Thomases, Ambimorphs, Pale Surgeons, Minraudim, Necroidim, and Blue Metal Boys, with depth; motivations, actions, and consequence, and these partial humans or undead have their own unique cultures.

Though most entertaining, this book moved me emotionally in ways that I really was not expecting. Existing within our culture, these Outsider affected “alien” beings have feelings and emotions (or lack of them), lifestyles and practices, if different from our own personal human experience, that are part of who they are in their society…like the cultural differences we find in our real world wide society. There are significant parallels here that cannot be ignored. Burnett has brought these beings together in stories that demonstrate the meaning of community without prejudice. The concepts of honor, love, loyalty, devotion and dedication are proven to be as “alien” as they are human.

So what does this mean for a fiction read? Some of it is grotesquely creepy, and some of it is profoundly beautiful. All of it is a bit weird, but weird is good. It’s supposed to be strange. It teaches us things about others and ourselves. I’m not talking about tolerance and acceptance. Those prejudicial concepts actually appall me. I’m speaking of the manner in which Misha Burnett has written non-judgmentally integrating worlds within worlds. There is much insight found in the methods of Burnett’s brilliance.

In conclusion, “The Book of Lost Doors” series has characters that have the ability to make decisions and affect the story. The characters have agency and push the plots more than the plots push them. They are much more than plot puppets. While the plots are fascinating and exciting, the books are also very much character driven, and that is where Burnett excels.

If you like urban fantasy or sci-fi, or anything in the paranormal realm, and have not started this excellent series, I highly recommend that you do.

5 of 5 Stars

You can follow Misha Burnett on his blog here, where he engages readers in interesting and insightful topics.

“The Worms of Heaven” available soon.

Mental Illness in the DSM-V, Character Development, and Damnation Hospital

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I am writing a book about my mother and my aunt, two sisters who both suffered from bipolar in an era when there was even more stigma, and less effective treatment…one committed suicide and the other survives. I hope to be able to represent the familial genetic component, in an honest and realistic observation of mental illness, without contributing to the negative stigma of the disorder.

Kristen lamb wrote a blog post today recommending many books to aid writer’s in learning about structure, character development, motivation, and social media. She stresses continued self-education and I can’t agree more.

One book I was surprised to see in the character development list was DSM-5 (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders 5th Edition) Helpful for characters, dating, the workplace, and family reunions ;).

This is a book, a Bible, if you will, for categorizing mental disorders. It was originally complied for two basic reasons: 1) To aid physicians and research scientists in their practice, and 2) For labeling purposes for insurance companies to use in strategizing reimbursements. I never really thought of how useful it would be for character development.

I had to learn this book from cover to cover when it was DSM-III, and again when it was DSM-IV, so I am feeling one step ahead. It has grown by thousands of pages since it first started out as the wee DSM-I in 1952. Not because we became sicker, though that may be true, but because science fine-tuned research and the labeling process. I know psychiatrists who proudly exclaim that they could attach a DSM-5 label on any living breathing human. Just so you know, we’re all a bit unwell.

I usually have volumes of research books that I use when I am writing, not so many about writing, but about the topics I research when I am writing.

One I am reading now, “Damnation Hospital” is very interesting.9781257193646_p0_v2_s260x420

It is a two book collection, “But for the Grace of God” by the late Peter G. Cranford. This is a look at the history of Milledgeville GA’s Central State Hospital that opened its doors in 1842. World’s Largest Mental Institution and one of the nation’s oldest, located in the center of my home state. Peter G. Cranford was a chief psychologist there in 1952, and along with the institution’s history, there is a diary of his daily experiences. There are many patient profiles, but little about actual treatments…which has been disappointing, as there is so little documented about the era.

Also included in the Collection is a fascinating little story titled “Posey with the Insane and Sane” by Lois W. Lane (yes, that’s her real name). It is about a young black woman while she was a patient (inmate, they called them) at Milledgeville’s hospital (not sure of the time period, I have a letter out to the publisher now, trying to find out), a long time ago. As the story progresses, she gets released, and lives the rest of her life outside of the institution.

I believe there will be much useful information to be gleaned from these two books.

Here is a postcard image of the hospital from the 1950s: Struck me as odd to see a postcard image of a mental institution. Not exactly like visiting Niagara Falls or Yosemite.

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