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Thursday, January 28, 2010

T3 - Otter/Sanguine Personality Type

We're in week 3 of this series. We've covered the Golden Retriever/Phlegmatic type here and the Beaver/Melancholic type here. It's certainly not too late to take the tests recommended by the Character Therapist here. I feel the need to let everyone know once again that personality tests are never 100%, and are based on generalities, so just keep that in mind. :)

This week we're studying the Otter. Let's get started!


The Otter is an an enthusiastic, energetic, spontaneous and friendly person. They've got appealing personalities and mix easily with just about anyone. They love people and are often the life of the party. They have great sense of humor, infectious laughter, and often regale groups of people with stories. Otters live in the present for the present. They can be engaging, cheerful, sometimes just bubbling over. Their wide-eyed innocence and wonder keeps them sincere at heart. You might relate them to being a Peter Pan...the little child who never grew up.

At work, an Otter/Sanguine is going to be your visionary. They think of creative new ideas and activities and have what it takes to inspire others to join them in taking risks. They are motivators, charmers, colorful and really put together a nice outer appearance. They'll volunteer for jobs and embrace change and never a dull moment at work with the Otter. They're motto could be, "Trust me! It'll work out!" And very likely, most people will. When it comes to teamwork, they are the quintessential networker, and will use their contact base to gather resources for just about any project. As a leader or manager, they are usually pretty democratic, facilitating open communication with and by others. They also want to gain a consensus to make a final decision. To release stress, they often become more talkative and release nervous energy in a physical way. To recover from stress, they want to spend time with others and rarely need very long to unwind.

As far as friends go, they make them very easily. They are often envied by others for how easy this process is. They are all about relationship. They don't hold grudges because they genuinely love people, and they apologize quickly themselves. They always seem exciting and fun, and simply thrive on compliments of any kind, as they need affirmation on their self. They enjoy the popularity, the spotlight, the center of attention. They like high-impact having an Otter as a friend will prevent lots of monotonous social outings. They are sensitive and want others to be happy, often being quick to offer encouragement and support to others.

Spiritually, your Otter/Sanguine loves worship and fellowship. Potlucks, ground breaks, fifth-quarter fellowships...any corporate church event and they are there. They can be big prayers, talking to God for hours. They are great at loving their neighbor, too. They will give and give and give. When making a spiritual commitment to Christ, they often find it easy to express their faith verbally in front of others, so raising their hand or walking the aisle isn't a big deal. They look forward to sharing their new faith with family and friends.


Okaaaay. These are your talkers. Like, compulsive talkers. They exagerate and elaborate, dwell on trivia and often repeat stories. They can be blustery and a complainer while they're talking, too. Sometimes their voice and laugh are just too loud, and they'll scare others away who are more timid or who think they are just phony and immature. They can get angry easily (but remember they do apologize quickly). These individuals get caught up in their circumstances, and often are controlled by them. They can be naive and get taken in, but they can also be egotistical and not even remember the names of someone they just met. Their restless energy can be put-offish, and people have actually called Otters "too happy." They also should probably read every self-help book on organization and and messiness they can get their hands on.

At work, they'd rather talk and goof-off than do actual work. They frequently get their priorities out of order and don't follow through, leaving a trail of unfinished projects in their wake. They rush and hurry to get the job done, and as a result, the job isn't done as well as it could be. They are a bit undisciplined and have a problem remembering past commitments. Paperwork is their particular nemesis--for school or work. (Teens are so busy socializing that school is a low priority. If they get their assignments done at all, it will be in a last-minute procrastinating flurry of activity.) They aren't detail-oriented and are easily distracted. They lose confidence fast and typically decide by their feelings.

With friends, they can be unpredictable. They hate to be alone and absolutely crave the center of attention. They look for credit wherever they can find it. Otters have a tendency to dominate conversations, interrupt others and not listen very well. They'll also answer for others. They can be fickle and forgetful about important dates and events. They'll fail to really take a stand for things so as not to offend others, but they can also be seen as manipulative. Their impulsiveness can lend itself to ADHD-like characteristics---always on the go, impulsive, airheaded, bored easily.

Spiritually, they can have a harder time with inward experiences, recognizing the Lord's voice. Since they are such talkers, they can pray and pray so much that they never heard a word God was trying to tell them. Since they are also such great givers of themselves--loving their neighbors and supporting them--they have a tendency to pour themselves out until there's nothing left. They don't refuel and get exhausted, which can lead to hard feelings toward the church or members of the body of Christ.


Because the Otter/Sanguine is so people-oriented, the best foil for them is the Beaver/Melancholy type, because they are so detail-oriented. It would make for natural tension in a novel. What an Otter needs most to be "productive" is accountability, but it's probably what they want least. Their impulsiveness always being tempered by a level-headed Beaver would make for some wicked awesome dialoguing. Remember, Otters essentially speak first and think later...which could lend to some sweet make-up scenes or further ostracizing your hero and heroine, depending on your goal at the time.

Or consider pairing them with a bossy, get-it-done Lion with little tolerance for mistakes. Whew! Sparks would fly when the Lion would encounter the Otter talking it up at the water cooler rather than putting the nose to the grindstone to meet a deadline. Gosh...possibilities are endless. Isn't it fun to play around with natural personality generalities? :)

Join me next week as we conclude this series on personality types with a look at the Lion/Choleric!

Q4U: Otters, how does this sound to you?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Guilt Through Association

This week's assessment comes from Laura. She's writing romance featuring her hero, who grew up with rich parents and all that entails (private education, luxurious holidays, designer clothes). But when he was 18, his dad was arrested and he discovers all the wealth he enjoyed came from crime, causing him to feel so guilty and ashamed that he cuts off all contact in town (including a girlfriend) and starts a new, simple life--one that comes from his own efforts. His career is centered on helping people because he feels he needs to make amends for profiting from his father's crimes.

Laura wants to know: What would his unacknowledged inner need be? What would he need to learn emotionally?

She also plans to bring the ex-girlfriend back into the story 13 years later, along with a child he knew nothing about. Alaura wants to know what type of person would this woman need to be to help her hero grow emotionally? The girl will come from a wealthy background, and Alaura is trying to figure out what the heroine's emotional need would be and what she'd need to learn about life with the help of the hero.

Almost without exception, I'd say his inner need would be validation. Validation that what he has done with his own two hands is good, that it is enough to erase the tarnish of having lived in plenty while in the shade of crime, however unknown to him at the time.

This rings true for almost every one, but males have a different ruler to measure up to. Most males want this validation from their father. Beginning back with Freud, psychologists have attempted to quantify the effects of needing a father's blessing, but really, I don't think anyone can guess just how much can ride on it for an individual. In your hero's case, his ruler no longer compares with his dad. I imagine he'd probably seek some other man he could model and emulate. Just because he might despise what his dad did, and the circles he ran in, doesn't mean that the inner need to have some sort of fatherly validation--some sort of blessing--wouldn't be as high as the next guy's.

As to what he'd need to learn emotionally, I'd probably start with learning to trust again. As a young boy, he probably trusted his parents to do right by him and others. To learn of his father's affairs would have been akin to learning his father was a traitor. It would not only throw him into a guilt-fest, but it would also bring to question everything he thought he knew about someone he probably loved very much--maybe even admired for being so "successful." Your hero probably wanted to be just like his dad when he grew up...before he knew the ugly truth.

Not everyone will betray him in such a fashion, but once bitten, twice shy. An emotional wound from childhood (and yes, 18 is still young enough to experience a wound that lasts for eternity), even not a romantic one, will color how he views other relationships. I imagine the 18-year-old harbored quite a bit of anger toward his father, and even though he picks a field of work where he can help others, that doesn't mean the anger isn't latent, lying there under the surface. You might want to think about him having some sort of physical outlet--like a hobby that involves blood, sweat, and tears--for him to pour out his underlying frustrations at a cruel world.

It would make for a nice character arc in the end for him to work through the anger (or what-have-you) and no longer have the need for that outlet (would make the reader sigh in relief if you maybe made the hobby a dangerous one--like rock climbing or something). Of course, to be truly in a healthy place, he's going to have to come to a point of at least acceptance, if not forgiveness, of his past and of his father. Forgiveness doesn't have to entail forgetting, of course, but just coming to a place where he is no longer driven by a need to remedy having condoned his father's actions.

So now let's factor in the heroine's return into his life. With her being from a wealthy family, another point of growth for the hero will be to accept the fact that not all wealth is bad. If she can be sensible about her wealth, lie not-living-in-excess-just-because-she-can about her wealth, then she could show him that money isn't the evil. It's what people do to get money...or what people do with money...but the green bill itself is neutral in those schemes. It'd be great for her to be in some sort of charity work, really doing something worthwhile with her money.

Her emotional need could be to know without a shadow of doubt that his man won't leave her again. She must have been pregnant when he left, and not being in contact for 13 years...she must have really held a grudge or not wanted him to have any place in her child's life. Assuming you work through the logistics, and she now wants to introduce her son to him, she would never do so with the thought that the hero would jump ship again. So she might introduce her son as her son, leaving out the hero's relationship to him. Innocent encounters that would win over a hero reluctant to get involved connected (for lack of trust). And once he finds out the connection, he might still have to work through his fear that he'll disappoint his child like his father disappointed him.

Hopefully this will get you started with some internal conflicts to work with! I appreciate you writing in. As always, any additional questions sparked by my assessment are welcome in the comments section.

Q4U: How many of you have written in a character with an internal problem revolving around their parents? What kind of problem was it? I'm doing a little research here for my next Thursday Therapeutic Thought series and would appreciate your help.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

T3 - Beaver/Melancholy Personality Type

If you are just now joining me in this series, be sure to click by here to take the two Character Therapist-recommended personality tests. To read the analysis I did on the Golden Retriever/Phlegmatic type, click here. Remember, I'm working in generalities, and not everything under a given type might apply specifically to you! So without further ado...


This week focuses on the Beaver, the folks who revel in the details others despise (and, in fact, live for them). They are creative, practical, factual, perfectionist, detailed, orderly and predictable. Emotionally, they are sensitive--to others and about themselves. They're thoughtful and serious, and talented. They tend to be artists and musicians, wax philosophic and poetic, and appreciate beauty wherever they find it.

At work (as well as at school--for you YA writers), Beavers turn in the best, most thorough, and neatest reports and homework. They will fret and stress needlessly over exams or upcoming personnel evaluations. These are efficient, organized individuals who know where everything is in their drawers and could recreate a diagram from memory of their desk for a coworker if need be. They are schedule-oriented, punctual, and you can rely on them to carry out any directives or see a project through to completion. Their motto might be, "How was it done in the past?" They aren't real big on sudden changes.

Beavers find creative solutions and are disciplined enough to make it happen. They will be committed, industrious, and have high productivity. They have an intense need to finish what they start and problem solve everything. Working within a team framework, melancholics are more likely to offer design, technical skills or quality control. As a leader, they're more like the Hall Monitor, emphasizing proper procedures and company policy or school handbook rules.

When it comes to friends, they will sacrifice greatly for those they love and care about. They respect people and are purposeful and serious in their relationships. They might be a tad cautious when making friends, and likely avoid trying to cause attention to themselves, preferring to stay in the background. But when they do make a friend, they are faithful and devoted. They will listen to complaints and work hard to solve those problems for others because they have a deep concern for others and can be moved to tears with compassion. When dealing with the feelings of others, Beavers take a very pragmatic, analytical approach: the way a person feels about life and how its going for them it the consequence of the choices--good or bad--that person has made.

When dealing with stress, the Beaver just wants to get away and be by themselves. They prefer to tune out stress, and might be more likely to stick their head under the sand. They just don't like chaos. To recover from stress, besides needing time alone, a Beaver will read a book or pursue their hobby as a way of recovering from emotional stress.

Spiritually, these people are great at scripture memory, and usually can easily recall a verse (along with it's "address"). They love the idea of God being a God of Truth and Justice, as these are traits they can relate to and value themselves.


Ah, well, Beavers tend to be overly critical, often with unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. This can lead to them being judgmental. They're a bit picky, and can in general be difficult to get along with because they are prone to depression, revenge and being moody. They can be dogmatic--once they make a decision, they will not change their minds. This can be translated by others as them being stuffy and inflexible.

Friends might think the Beaver is sometimes too moralistic. They can be suspicious of people and dislike those in opposition to them. They might be vengeful and unforgiving and even antagonistic. Beavers tend to hold back affection and be withdrawn, remote, and insecure socially. They like to live through others. They also frequently are skeptical of compliments.

Emotionally, a Melancholic Beaver remembers the negatives and almost enjoys being hurt. They can have a low self-image and be considered self-centered because they are too introspective. False humility is sometimes a problem, as is selective hearing and this idea of a "persecution complex"--when they think that some people really just have it out for them. Beavers can carry a lot of guilt about things, even from times long past. Also, a Beaver might have tendencies toward hypochondria.

At work, the Beaver might be looked at as slow, with a need to move faster, but due to streaks of perfectionism, the Beaver likes to take their time. They spend a lot of their time planning, which can make them hesitant to start new projects. They might prefer analysis to actual work (or for you writers out there...research instead of butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard). Beavers get depressed over imperfections and can be self-deprecating, hard to please, and have a deep, deep need for approval. They usually can't see the optimistic side of things because their standards are often too high and the glass is half-empty.

Spiritually, Beavers have a difficult time separating performance from God's grace, deeds from faith. As a result, they have hard time accepting grace when they mess up, because a Beaver has a hard time forgiving themselves. In general, they also have a hard time giving grace to others. A Beaver might very well struggle internally over whether they have done everything right (according to the Book...literally). They might also battle with the issue of eternal security.


A great kink you can throw at a die-hard Beaver will be to force them to deal with something "imperfect" that they oh-so-wish to correct, but can't. Or give them a set of romantic, personal, or professional standards so incredibly high that not even the Pope could meet them all. Throw them together with an Otter (who we'll cover next week!) in a position where they have to work closely. This will drive the poor Beaver insane and really ramp up your tension.

Beavers also really thrive on affirmation for their performance and approval on their personal qualities. Have your Beaver heroine work for a person who never gives affirmation for anything. Or make them interact with a sidekick with a propensity to skirt corners and break rules. That kind of person would be a perfect foil to bring out your heroine's idiosyncrasies and quirks.

Next up is the Otter/Sanguine personality type, so stay tuned for next week!

Q4U: For you Beavers out's this ring for you? True? So-so? I want to hear from you!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Fictional Therapy Session How-To

Recently, Nicole O'Dell, a published YA author and creative mind behind Scenarios for Girls and interactive fiction where the reader chooses the ending, wrote in for my opinion about an excerpt from her current WIP. Essence of Lilly, which releases in Spring 2011, features a scene with a therapist and a family.

As a result, I had the thought to do a little how-to post on writing a fictional therapy session in your manuscripts. So here are a few tips to consider when a therapy session makes it way into novel.

1) Consider how the therapist will approach clients in session. I never approach people in the same way. For younger children, I'll go for Miss Jeannie instead of Mrs. Campbell. For teens and adults, I usually go with just Jeannie. I want to build rapport the fastest way possible with whoever I'm seeing. Children are so used to calling their friends of parents Miss Janice or whatever that they are comfortable using this terminology. They also understand when I ask them to call Miss Jeannie instead of Mrs. Campbell that I want to be friendly. They call their teachers at school Mrs. Wilson and Ms. Buckley. So right away, they put me on a different intellectual a family friend or church member.

2) Consider what role the therapist will play in the story. If the therapist is just going to be minor secondary role, then it's not important to go into credentials or framework of therapy (how the therapist conducts therapy). If the therapist will have a recurring role, then it's more important to give them more of an introduction. Readers will want to get the idea that this therapist is someone who either knows what they're talking about or not. How do you do this? See #3.

3) Give the reader a glimpse into the therapist's office. This is an easy way to paint the therapist as an ally or enemy, intellectual or wacko. Have the characters notice the degrees on the wall, or the nice furnishings to suggest business is going well for this therapist. Vice versa if you want to set the therapist up to be incompetent. Picture frames on the desk, crayon masterpieces on the wall, papers piled high or not a one in sight...each description gives the reader just a little bit more about the therapist as well as gives you a chance to share the main character's internal thoughts.

4) Don't write too much of the actual therapy session unless it really moves the plot forward. It's way too easy to start the session with introductions and mindless chitter-chatter. I sometimes don't start actual therapeutic stuff for 10 minutes. that doesn't make the initial 10 minutes void of worth, but it's setting up the bond between the client and me. It's crucial to having a good session. A reader won't necessarily be interested in this portion, though. Get to the meat of the session and don't give the reader any new backstory while the clients "fill in" the therapist on why they are seeking help. Just skip that portion...readers will get it.

5) Identify who the client(s) will be. A therapist can see an individual or a family or any combination of family members. But if therapy will play a large role in the book, then it's important not to mix clients with therapists. In Nicole's book, the father was seeing a counselor who recommended for the family to get counseling. This is an appropriate referral, because once you've started to see a person individually, they are the client, not the family. It would be too difficult to include the entire family when your loyalties already lie with one member. When an entire family comes in for counseling, that counselor can see one child or both parents for individual or marital counseling and that's okay. The idea with those sessions, though, is to always bring it back to the family. This might seem a trivial distinction, but to anyone in the field, this is a really big deal. You want to look like you've done your homework.

6) Things to do while in session:
  • Notice body language. Eye rolls, staring off into space, head down, arms crossed...these are great visuals that therapists definitely notice (well, good therapists) :)
  • Use silence. Nowhere is it written that every second of every session has to be filled with talking. Silence is actually very powerful, so don't be afraid of using it. You can have a great tension-filled moment with silence, describing the uncomfortable shuffling and hand fluttering that can happen.
  • Think of family therapy as group therapy. It's appropriate for the therapist to bounce from one to the other and ask, "What are your thoughts on what X just said?" A therapist will be interested in the individuals in the family have to say and think about the other individuals in the family.
  • Throw questions back at clients. You really don't realize how often clients ask therapists questions. They come seeking some sort of magic response to fix their problems. But instead of answering, therapists frequently throw the question back at the client. Little tool of the trade...I say, "What do you think?" quite frequently.
  • Never give advice. A therapist wants the client to arrive at their own solutions. Plus, if a therapist did give advice and the client took it and had negative side-effects from it, the client would blame the therapist and it could effect the rapport between them.
Hopefully this gives you a starting off place to write in authentic therapy sessions. Feel free to add in the comment section any other specific questions you might for your WIPs.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Q4U: Have you written in therapy sessions in your manuscripts? Did you include any of the above suggestions?

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Monday, January 18, 2010

CJ Darlington's Thicker Than Blood - Real Problems, Realistically Portrayed

I recently finished CJ Darlington's debut novel, Thicker Than Blood, just in time for her blog tour this week! CJ's novel won the 2008 Operation First Novel contest with the Christian Writers Guild, and after reading it, I can certainly see why.

Here's a short blurb:

Christy Williams finally has her life on track. She’s putting her past behind her and working hard to build a career as an antiquarian book buyer. But things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn’t commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged younger sister, May, whom she abandoned after their parents’ untimely deaths. Soon, Christy’s fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. Could May’s Triple Cross Ranch be the safe haven she’s searching for? Will the sisters realize that each possesses what the other desperately needs before it’s too late?

Before I don my therapist cap to do my psychological review, just a couple of general statements about CJ's story world and writing. She really has a knack for sharing pertinent detail. I say pertinent because it's certainly not boring detail that she weaves effortlessly into her prose, but detail that just transports the reader straight into the pages.

I also really appreciated the way CJ introduced me to a profession I knew absolutely nothing about. She digs into many facets of antiquarian book traders--of which CJ knew tons about because she was one!--from buying at trade shows and estate sales to internet sales and the managing of a book store. I love how CJ used a small, interesting fact of her trade to really spin the plot on it's side. (Of course, I won't tell which one...and you learn tons of them throughout the you'll just have to read it.) :)

Now, let's talk about characters with real problems, and how CJ portrayed them very realistically. By Chapter One, you know her heroine, Christy, has a little problem with drinking. Given the situation, though, you might be tempted to excuse her. But as the book progresses, you realize that her problem is much more serious. Alcoholism really is a way of life, and CJ does a great job of showing the reader how Christy's past, present, and future fall victim to the choices and decisions she made. Being under the influence of any kind of drug alters your perceptions of everything, from what constitutes a "good" relationship to what looks like a good business arrangement that you later regret.

The key to creating such a flawed character really is in CJ's consistency. Christy's first thoughts when faced with any kind of hardship or stressful situation is to turn to the bottle for courage. This is so true to life! Alcoholics reframe their addiction and think things like the bottle will give them courage they wouldn't have otherwise. Christy falls prey to this line of thinking more than once--she's consistent.

CJ also blows the lid on abusive relationships and co-dependency. Abuse can come in many forms, not just physical. Emotional abuse--mind games, threats, using manipulation--are extremely common in relationships today. Christy's relationship with Vince is a testament to many women out there who go through the exact same thing every day. It's hard. It's scary. But kudos to CJ for showing that a woman can break free. Yes, it requires falling down and dusting yourself off. It requires striking out into the unknown. But it can be done!

I was pleasantly surprised at the character arc for Christy. I thought it was going to be one of these ultra-convenient spiritual transformations during a church scene. HA! The only time I was actually frowning while reading this book was during the preacher's oh-so-timely testimony. I'm not going to tell you how Christy "sees the light," but it sure wasn't during the church scene. :) So refreshing! Christy has come a long way, through so many hard knocks, to just lay down and pick up something as simple as a relationship with a Lord she has had no firsthand experience with. So again, kudos to the writer, who made her conversion believable.

Last but not least, CJ digs into family member estrangement. Any number of events could cause members of the same family to close off from one another. While misunderstandings are probably the most common, CJ's scenario works just fine. A very believable watershed moment sets the stage for these two sisters to walk down the paths they do. There is a certain amount of palpable awkwardness when the two sisters meet up for the first time in 15 years. It's not all hunky-dory and tears and hugs. Piecing back a family takes longer than that. It's really a very poignant reunion...eventually. CJ doesn't spoil it by making the connection too soon, in my opinion.

If you don't want to read the book after all that, something's wrong with you! While it's not a romance, there is a little romantic thread (although from a romantic side--I sure wish there had been more. I also wish there had been a little string-tying in that general direction...but perhaps there will be a book two?) amidst quite a big suspense thread. Ultimately it's a story of redemption and hope you won't want to miss out on.

You can buy the book from Amazon, CBD, Barnes and Noble, or Borders. You can also reach CJ at her website, or her blog,

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

T3 - Golden Retriever/Phlegmatic Personality Type

Before we get started, I want to reiterate that most people have one dominate personality type and one (possibly two) secondary type(s). Even if you are an off-the-chart Lion or Otter, Golden Retriever might be one of your secondary types, so read on to see what you might can learn about that part of yourself. Please remember, these are generalities, not set in stone. :)


Golden Retrievers, also called Phlegmatic, are the "sweethearts" of the personality types. Calm, dependable, loyal, good-natured, easy to get along with...just like the dog breed. These individuals are patient, well-balanced, consistent, quiet but witty, sympathetic, and kind. When it comes to emotions, they typically keep everything hidden. They are very low-key, and love to putter around their house.

One who is phlegmatic is typically a very competent and steady worker. They get along well with coworkers, are good administrators, mediators, and conflict-avoiders (which can also be a problem, though!). They are good with routines, work well under pressure and deadlines, and usually find the "easy" way to do something. If working within a team, these are the people who will ensure follow-through and offer tons of support. As a leader, they will delegate daily decisions to others, support by listening and will always strive for harmony. They aren't going to consciously try to hurt anyone or ever stir up a controversy at work (or anywhere). To recover from stress, they typically just want to sleep, but they also will go for mindless "down time" to recover.

Their friends typically will call them pleasant, enjoyable to be around, inoffensive, good listeners, compassionate and concerned. A Golden Retriever usually likes to watch people and utilize their dry sense of humor. Typically, they have many friends because their are so reliable and committed to keeping the peace.

Spiritually, these people are the deep wells. They know how to be still and listen to God, so their relationship reflects a deeper understanding of matters of faith. They have depth and insight because of their great inner discipline to apply themselves to what they do. When a Golden Retriever surrenders to Christ, they do so only drawing a minimum of attention to themselves. Their commitment is solid and sincere and they give tremendously loyal and faithful years of service to God. These are the ones who love to serve the body of believers because they love the body of believers.


For all our personality types, when you have too much of a good thing, it can be a bad thing. When you take just about any characteristic to the Nth degree, you can have some pitfalls, so lets examine some of them.

Emotionally, the Golden Retriever/Phlegmatic is a bit selfish and unenthusiastic. They may be overly fearful or worried and usually are indecisive. They might fall more to the shy and reticent group, and usually are far too passive and compromising. The reason for this? They are so worried about keeping the peace. They will avoid conflict at whatever the cost--personal or professional. They find it difficult to express their emotions and can be too soft on other people.

At work, this individual is likely not too goal-oriented. They probably did okay in school, but just never did more than was required. Typically, they lack self-motivation and resent being pushed in any direction, even in one they know is good for them and were thinking about taking anyway. They can sometimes be lazy, careless, hard to get moving, and sideline watchers instead of doers. They don't like change and can be very stubborn. According to Smalley and Trent, to Christian counselors, the motto of the Golden Retriever is, "Let's keep things the way they are."

Couldn't resist the adorable pic of the kitty cat looking all lazy and unmotivated! I know it's not a Golden Retriever, but it just fit so well!

With their friends, the Phlegmatic can sometimes dampen the enthusiasm of others because they are so hard to get excited about anything. They are indifferent to plans and resist change. They also can be judgmental, sarcastic, and teasing.

Spiritually, these servant-oriented people will sometimes make martyrs of themselves due to all their service. "Woe-is-me-look-at-all-I've-done" type of attitude isn't uncommon. They can be a tad on the self-righteous side, as well. Their spirituality can be so deep that from their view, the spirituality of everyone else pales in comparison.


Golden Retrievers work well in limited situations with a steady work pattern. As long as they receive steady affirmation and don't have a lot of changes, they'll thrive. If it fits your story better, though, throw a kink in their well-ordered day as the inciting incident for your book.

A Phlegmatic really needs time to prepare for changes--emotional, physical, geographical--so writers should give it to them if they want a well-adjusted character and don't give it to them if you really want to throw them for a loop.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Making Bipolar REAL, not a Prop

This week's assessment came courtesy of Denise. She wrote in and indicated that she wanted to give one of her secondary characters a vice or some sort of problem. She said she was twiddling around with giving her bipolar and asked for some pointers.

I responded with the following:

DO YOUR RESEARCH. (To which anyone might argue that Denise is indeed already doing just by emailing me.) :) It's too easy to explain away someone's erratic behavior by using bipolar disorder. I've seen it done in many books, both CBA and ABA ,which makes me wonder why this disorder gets "picked on" and abused. Maybe because its so unusual? It is a fascinating disorder for sure, and it's very nature makes for an interesting character...when done realistically. So let's dig in. I'm going to simplify things a bit, but the essence remains the same.

There are two types of Bipolar disorder, Bipolar I and Bipolar II. The main difference in the two is that a person with Bipolar II doesn't experience full-blown mania (which impairs functioning and lasts at least 7 days), but hypomania, which generally lasts only 4-7 days and just means the person has an elevated mood. Both types experience depression, but only Bipolar I sufferers experience psychotic symptoms like hallucinations or paranoia. Bipolar II is more common, but no less severe. The depressions experienced by both type individuals is usually debilitating.

It's important to know that it's far more common for depression to dominate the person's life than mania or hypomania. When the person is experiencing the mania, they don't admit that anything is wrong. They might actually look forward to it, as generally people will have endless energy, need little sleep, and be very creative and productive. But sadly, they also usually max out credit cards, dwindle away their savings by gambling, or get into car wrecks for recklessly driving too fast. That's because manic people don't use the cognitive part of their brain to make good decisions, and overindulge or "binge" on whatever their vice might be.

The prevailing opinion about bipolar is that the person suffering from it will swing from extreme mania to extreme depression quickly, and this just isn't always the case. When a person makes this swing, it's called cycling. Usually, there are periods of normalcy in between the two extremes, which often gets left out of literary depictions of this disorder. Characters with this disorder don't always have to act erratic or unpredictable. They can be "themselves," and rather than work against their character, this can strengthen them.

No two people are going to have the same course (or process) for this illness. While 2.5% of the population might suffer from bipolar, only 10-20% of those people have what is called rapid cycling. Rapid cycling means that the person experienced at least 4 episodes of depression, mania, or hypomania (less severe form of mania) a year. A YEAR, folks. Not every couple of pages in your manuscript. It's far more likely that the person lingers through each stage a bit longer. And let's not forget the periods of normalcy in between.

I found a great explanation of rapid cycling here. Put in layman's terms, it's very easy to understand how even rapid cycling can look very different. While one person might cycle every 3 months, another person might switch from mania to depression in one month, be fine for ten months, and then switch again from mania to depression in the next month. This still gives them four episodes a year, but that's a very different course of rapid cycling.

Rapid cycling is a controversial topic in the field. There are those who make a direct "switch" (as its called) from one extreme to the other, but this isn't real common. Then there are those who make a direct switch from mania to depression back to mania with no normal in between. This is "multiphasic." Even less common. But someone who goes back and forth between the two extreme multiple times during a day, something some call "ultradian cycling," is really, really rare. It's not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the psychology world's Bible) as a valid qualifier for the disorder.

So if I had to give anyone my recommendations for how to write realistic bipolar into a manuscript, I'd say this:

1) Don't overdo it. A little bipolar goes a long way.

2) Learn to pass time by utilizing the cycles. It's just not probable for a character to be terribly depressed in one page, bouncing around like a ping pong ball the next page, and then crying again by the very next page. I've read this actual scenario, and it just made me roll my eyes.

3) Become familiar with what can trigger a switch into the opposite extreme. If you're bound and determined to have ultradian cyclers in your books, then you should know what can realistically cause someone to cycle into mania or depression. Just to name a few, use of drugs--antidepressants as well as "street" drugs--alcohol, and life stressors like death, loss of job, etc.

Finally, here's a little .pdf file you can download that's all about bipolar and goes into a little more detail than I wanted to go in here. You can access it, courtesy of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, here.

Hopefully this helps you make your decision, Denise, as well as helps other writers contemplating using this disorder. Thanks for writing in!

Q4U: What was your perception of Bipolar Disorder before reading this post? Afterward?

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

T3 - Personality "Types" Overview

Since we're done with personality disorders, I thought it would be nice to do a series on personality "types," something everyone can relate to. So consider this week the overview, complete with two versions of tests...fully approved by The Character Therapist as being start us off.

When I was in college, I took this personality quiz to see if I was a lion, otter, beaver or golder retriever. (Gary Smalley and John Trent, two Christian counselors I hold an amazing amount of respect for, developed this system to pair personalities with images of an animal instead of some clinical term.) It was my first real exposure to a "pop" psychology personality test.

Now, there are many versions of this test out there. I've personally taken the DISC (stands for Dominant, Influential, Steady and Conscientious, which is just another way of describing the animal test). There's also the 4 temperaments or humours (like sanguine and choleric) and Types "A/B/C/D."

More validated tests include the Myers-Briggs and Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (or MMPI, as some of you might recognize). Therapeutically, it's helpful to know where a person falls in these types of tests because it can affect how a therapist approaches them or how their outcome will be.

How is this helpful for writers? Personally, I think everyone should take the following tests below to see where you fall on the personality spectrum. Since we have a tendency to write what we know, most likely our heroes and heroines are the same type as we are, or at least our secondary type.

But what about the villain who's the exact opposite? Or the side-kick friend? Or--*gasp!*--a hero/heroine who doesn't think or act like we do who we don't quite know what to do with? It's important to know what type they are so that you make their reactions believable and realistic. You can't have a Lion respond like Beaver on a regular basis. All personalities can do things out of character for them (and this makes for multi-dimensional characters, according to Donald Maass), but by and large, our personality type dictates how we respond to certain situations.

So are you ready to take this easy little test for yourself...and then for your characters? If so, click here. You give yourself one point for every word or phrase that applies to you and then you double it to receive your score for each animal personality type. Highest score indicates your type. There is additional information there about strengths, weaknesses and Biblical counterparts, which is cool.

Another version of this test can be found here on Quibblo. This particular version is essentially the Personality Plus test developed by Florence Littauer (which is copyrighted, so I'm not exactly sure how the test creator got away with it...but there you have it: the evils of the Internet for your advantage). Go with your GUT reaction. When in doubt, select the word that most often applied to you when you were a child. (The first 20 questions are strengths, the last 20 are beware that about halfway through, you're not going to want to select any answer...but be fair to yourself. And don't be put off by the picture paired with your personality type. The pictures were selected by the test creator and in no way reflect the content of the test.)

The next 4 Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts (T3) will focus on one of the personality types below:

Plegmatic/Golden Retriever

Once you take the test and figure out where you fall, sit back and wait for me to touch on your personality type. We'll go over strengths and weaknesses regarding emotions, work, friends, spirituality, and more. We're talking a potential WEALTH of info about your characters, so hopefully you'll join me over the next month on Thursdays.

Q4U: Leave a comment with what type you are, from one or both of the tests. It could be fun to see where everyone lines up. :)

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - A "Dethroned" Firstborn

This week, Jenna wrote in about her character, Haley*, a 14-year-old girl in her fantasy novel who grows up the only child of a king and queen. She knows that before she was born, her mother had two other children who were kidnapped and likely murdered, but their status is unknown. Haley's mom spends an inordinate amount of time brooding over and searching for them, to the point Haley feels almost abandoned. But she does spend lots of time with her father who is prone to fits of rage.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

Jenna wants to know: How will these family dynamics affect Haley's relationship with her brother and sister when they are found later?

You've got some built-in tension here, Jenna, which is great. Whatever reaction you plan Haley to have will no doubt be, at the impressionable age of 14, overblown. Teenagers can be sullen, giggly, moody, energetic, rebellious, oversocial, disrespectful or any combination of the above one day and another combination the next. The daughter of a king and queen is no exception. :)

For all practical purposes, Haley is a firstborn only child. (Experts say that any time there is a ten-year of greater gap between siblings, it's like starting over again in birth order.) Haley will have all the tendencies of a firstborn because she will think of herself as an only child.

Alfred Adler was a psychologist who did a lot of work with birth order. He believed that the position of a person's birth order in the family had a profound development on a child's personality. His theory isn't based on empirical research, but he believed that firstborn children are dethroned by the birth of other siblings, causing the firstborn to now share parental attention with a "rival." In order to cope with this traumatic betrayal, firstborns either become problem children or they strongly emulate their parents. Because of their identification with their parents and their perceived loss of status, power and authority become extremely important to firstborn children.

So this is something to think about with Haley, bearing in mind it's not validated research. But we probably all know someone who might fit this bill. (Stereotypes are based on reality, after all.) When her brother and sister are found, she'll feel like her position was "usurped," even though she is actually younger than they are. To add to her problems, she already felt betrayed by her mother's constant vigilance in looking for her lost children. So Haley probably would already have a heart dose of jealousy for these siblings she's never met.

This seems like a very likely course of action for her to take. She's a teen, and she's got highly volatile emotions at this age. Children feel things so strongly, but they don't yet possess the intellectual insight or personal control to process these feelings with words. Instead, they use behaviors (quite similar to toddlers and small children). Teens at least can verbalize things, but often they are too overwhelmed by their emotions to sit down and actually express it.

For my Christian readership, they will identify the scenario you have in your book as being similar to Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. When the younger son asked for his inheritance and took off to live the fast life, the oldest son stayed there at home with his father. The father kept vigil and prayed for the return of his youngest...all while the eldest son stayed and worked hard. When the youngest returned, the father was overjoyed and ran out to meet him, bestowing on him a ring and robe and sandals and killed the fatted calf to have a big party for him. It's usually a feel-good parable that ends there...but there are a few verses that follow describing the eldest son's reaction...and the guy is angry. (Luke 15:11-32)

But I'd say you're free to have her react in many ways. She might be relieved that her brother and sister are finally found, because maybe for her, she'll feel that she actually got her mother back. There's something unsettling about what a person doesn't know. It can consume us, wondering about what might have been. Now that they are found, her mother won't be absorbed with looking for them. So you could spin it more positively.

Let me know what you think and if you have any additional questions by leaving them in the comment section. All comments are welcome!

Once again....the queue is low right it's a good timeto get your questions in!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

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