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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What Your Character's Grandparents Say About Him or Her

A great question to ask your character to determine how much influence a character's ancestors had on him or her is this: "What kind of lives did your grandparents live?" There are four general reports given for this question, and the answer can sway the outcome of the character's internal script (either winner or loser, for the purposes of this post).

Which does your character (or you) have? 

1) Ancestral Pride: "My grandfather was a pioneer in the .com industry." "My grandmother was Irish nobility." In this answer, the grandparent becomes an "euhemerus" (heroic model) from the past who can be imitated but never surpassed.

Depending on how the character would voice these type of reports about their grandparents, the character could fall into one of two categories: spoken jovially, it would be from a character with a winning script who believes him or herself to have permission to follow in the footsteps of their grandparents and become outstanding personalities themselves. Spoken solemnly, then the character could be talking from a loser script, believing that their ancestor justifies their existence, even though they themselves do not have the permission to excel. 

2) Idealization: "My grandfather lived to be 98 and had no gray hair and all his teeth." "My grandmother was a wonderful housekeeper." These would be examples of romantic idealizations. The speaker clearly wants to follow in the footsteps of their grandparent and bases their script on that. 

"My grandmother was tough as nails and down to earth, but she became senile in her later years." "My grandfather was a good provider, but he embezzled money from his company and ended up in jail." This is an example of a paradoxical idealization. The speaker recognizes the bad trajectory their grandparent took (senility, embezzlement) but clearly doesn't claim that for their own script.

3) Rivalry: "My grandfather dominated my grandmother." "My grandfather was a weakling who let everyone push him around." Therapists often interpret these kinds of responses as the internal Child's desire to be more powerful then his or her parents. (It's seen as a little neurotic.) If a child knows that his grandfather is the only person who can talk back to his dad, then he might want to be like the grandfather for that very reason. Children might idolize their grandparents simply for the fact that their grandparents birthed the child's parents, and therefore must be more powerful than their parents. 

4) Personal Experiences: These concern actual interactions between the character and his/her grandparent(s), which are strong influences in molding a script. "My grandmother took us in when my mother was sent to jail." "My grandfather sexually abused me."

If you were in my office, I wouldn't give you this information up front. I'd have you talk about your grandparents in a stream of conscious manner, and then I'd look at your answers from this viewpoint (of transactional analysis, FYI).

Let's analyze: What type of grandparents do you have? Do you see where your answers might fit into one of these four categories?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Character Clinic: Leanna Jones

Today I've got Alice's 7-year-old on the couch. She's an only child who grew up with her single mother and widowed grandmother, the latter of whom died 6 months ago. She wants to know what it's like to have a father and a family.

Alice wants to know: What would be going on psychologically with this little girl to bring a recent stubborn interest in meeting her father? I feel it's a result of the grandmother's death but not quite sure exactly why that event would prompt this need. I'd love some help in clarifying what's going on in her mind.

Alice -

I think you can use the event of the grandmother's death as an impetus for Leanna's sudden interest in learning more about her father, but the death in and of itself might be harder to connect. I'd suggest having little Leanna witness something at the funeral, perhaps, that makes her identify strongly with the desire to have a father.

Maybe one of her mother's best friends is married and has a friend Leanna plays with, and these people come to the funeral. Leanna could witness her mother being comforted by the husband of the friend (nothing untoward here, just friendship), and her mother seems better able to deal with things afterward. In Leanna's mind, she absolutely believes that the only way for her mother to get through the death is to have a guy there to support her. What better guy than her own father, who has been rather mysterious for her up until this point?

The death of the grandmother could also prompt the mother to start looking through photo albums or something like that, and her nostalgia could be motivating force for the girl to look deeper into her father. But I think the previous scenario of her witnessing something at the funeral would work better as far as reader sympathy, poignancy, etc.

Good luck on this story, Alice! I personally love to include children in my manuscripts. There's just so much depth to mine with them.

Let's analyze: Anything else my readers can think of that would prompt Leanna's sudden intense interest in her father?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Subtext Revisisted

In my research for my characterization book, I've come across another theory of what we writers call subtext. In transactional analysis, transactions between people can be one of 3 things:

2) Crossed (the ego state of one character is thwarted by a different ego state of another character)
3) Covert (SUBTEXT)

A covert transaction is when a person says one thing and means another. The transaction has a social (overt) and a psychological (covert) level. Here's an example of each:


Boss: "Let's work late, Ms. Parker, and I'll buy you dinner."
Secretary: "That's a good idea. We have a lot of work to do."


David: "I love your smile, Denise. Let's have dinner and drinks, and really get to know each other."
Denise: "I thought you'd never ask, David. I've wanted to go out with you for a long time." 

Basically, the social level is useless in determining what people are really going to do. David's mom would expect to reach him at the office in the evenings based on the social level of their conversation. But if she knew the psychological level of the relationship, she would know to call the local hotel if she wanted to reach her son. 

The reason we say one thing and mean another is because we are generally ashamed of our Child's wishes and desires. These are our immature impulses (in Freud's language, our Id). Nevertheless, we act on these desires while we pretend to be doing otherwise. David's transaction with Denise on the social level was very appropriate-sounding to others who might be listening in. But he was using his social conversation to mask his true Child's desire of wanting to date his secretary, who should be off-limits.

Other ways of socially trying to throw people off our true psychological desires are to use smiling sarcasm instead of directly expressing anger. Or to attack others instead of admitting our fears. These are all examples of covert transactions. 

In therapy, transactional analysts encourage people to be "straight" with one another and themselves about their wants and feelings, rather than covert. But then, if this happened in fiction, it would be most boring. :)

Let's analyze: Any other common examples of covert transactions you want to throw out there?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Weekend Funnies: Turkey on the Couch


Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

And remember...any entries received before the tryptophan in my system wears off on Friday morning will be discarded. Crazy Black Friday shoppers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What Your Character's Grandparents Say About Him or Her

A great question to ask your character to determine how much influence a character's ancestors had on him or her is this: "What kind of lives did your grandparents live?" There are four general answers (according to my transactional analysis research)

Clearly, I goofed! I will be posting about this next week, so please come back then!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Free Ebooks - Happy Thanksgiving!

When I started my new website in June, I was told that I needed to offer something free to get people to sign up for my newsletter. (I haven't actually sent out my supposed quarterly newsletters yet, but I WILL! I'm thinking starting off with holiday-themed one...)

So I did! If you didn't already know (and already possess one) I wrote the Writer's Guide to Character Motivation, which you can receive just for signing up for my newsletter in the little box to the left. Happy Thanksgiving from me!

But I recently stocked up on two other FREE EBOOKS from different places, and I wanted to let you writers out there know about them.

The first is The (nearly) Ultimate Guide to Better Writing, put out by the lovely folk at Write to Done. Click on that link and you'll see the little boxes to the right that will call to you, promising a few hours of procrastination from your work in progress over the holidays.

The second was told to me by Dr. Stan Williams, of The Moral Premise fame. His publisher, Michael Wiese, put together The Top 10 Reasons Why It's Great to be a Film Maker, Volume 1. You might not be a filmmaker, but the articles in this ebook are written by industry greats, including Dr. Williams, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

With a four-day weekend, a little reading and writing sounds divine to me! See you back on the blog for Free Association Friday! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Character Clinic: Charlotte Vale

Today, Brianna's character is on the couch. Charlotte is a 29-year-old in a fictional memoir. She's about the move to New York City to be a travel writer for a magazine, her first job after being unemployed for nearly 3 years. (She had moved back home after college and wishes she hadn't, because she had more job opportunities in her college town.) She's looking forward to the fresh start and traveling.

Since Brianna didn't give me any questions to really focus my attention on, I'll draw from something Charlotte herself said. Charlotte said Brianna is hoping to get some helping "fleshing out Charlotte's character traits and flaws."

If Charlotte were sitting in my office, I'd want to talk to her about motivation, plain and simple. What motivated her to leave her college town with her good job and head back home to a life of unemployment and few opportunities? That would have to be some serious motivation behind her not to head back to her college town after, say, 6 months. But three years?

This might be a good place to start for a "flaw," or possibly calling it her Achilles' heel might sit better with you. In the intake, Charlotte wrote that she missed the closeness of her family and the multiple vacations they took a year. Sometimes it's difficult reading between the lines, of course, but could this be the germinating influence of possible family enmeshment? Is that why Charlotte returned home? And then stayed for so long, even though jobless? An unhealthy dependence on a family member might be powerful enough to drive that kind of action. Or it could be her need to be needed, coupled with her inability to say no. (The truth is, people say "yes" because to say "no" would be a worse feeling for them. It's still about Charlotte...why can't she say no?)

The picture I got of her is of a 29-year-old who's more like a 22-year-old, fresh out of college and ready to start a new life. So developmentally (and probably emotionally) she's a bit stunted. Probably would qualify for a diagnosis of "Identity Problem" or "Phase of Life Problem." (These aren't even diagnoses in the true sense of the word, btw.) Her greatest fear of not being a wife and mother might could be tweaked for more originality. Maybe she wants to be a mother before her own mother dies because she wants to feel needed or important in the life of someone.

When all else fails, go back to the family of origin. *sigh* I spend most of my professional time there with clients for a reason. Best of luck to you! Hopefully you got some food for thought anyway. :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Found A Fantabulous New Author!!

My latest purchase on iBooks was to get Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park. It's only $1.99 right now on Kindle, but available on Kobo, Nook, Diesel, Smashwords, Apple, and Sony.

The premise behind this YA book fascinated me! Here's the product description:

Flat-Out Love is a warm and witty novel of family love and dysfunction, deep heartache and raw vulnerability, with a bit of mystery and one whopping, knock-you-to-your-knees romance.

It's not what you know--or when you see--that matters. It's about a journey.

Something is seriously off in the Watkins home. And Julie Seagle, college freshman, small-town Ohio transplant, and the newest resident of this Boston house, is determined to get to the bottom of it. When Julie's off-campus housing falls through, her mother's old college roommate, Erin Watkins, invites her to move in. The parents, Erin and Roger, are welcoming, but emotionally distant and academically driven to eccentric extremes. The middle child, Matt, is an MIT tech geek with a sweet side ... and the social skills of a spool of USB cable. The youngest, Celeste, is a frighteningly bright but freakishly fastidious 13-year-old who hauls around a life-sized cardboard cutout of her oldest brother almost everywhere she goes.

And there's that oldest brother, Finn: funny, gorgeous, smart, sensitive, almost emotionally available. Geographically? Definitely unavailable. That's because Finn is traveling the world and surfacing only for random Facebook chats, e-mails, and status updates. Before long, through late-night exchanges of disembodied text, he begins to stir something tender and silly and maybe even a little bit sexy in Julie's suddenly lonesome soul.

To Julie, the emotionally scrambled members of the Watkins family add up to something that ... well ... doesn't quite add up. Not until she forces a buried secret to the surface, eliciting a dramatic confrontation that threatens to tear the fragile Watkins family apart, does she get her answer.

Flat-Out Love comes complete with emails, Facebook status updates, and instant messages.

Tell me you don't want to read that? Of course, as a therapist, I was immediately curious about this young 13-year-old carrying around the cardboard cut-out of her brother. Really? Who even thinks of this as an idea for a story? (Read the answer to that here.)

Both Julie, Finn, and Matt all have amazing, quirky dialogue that made me laugh out loud. After reading the author's website, though, I can see her own voice so clearly in their discussions. I'm a sucker for online love, too. I really enjoy reading chats and facebook statuses in a book. Lends such an authentic, real-time flavor to the romance. The hours literally flew by as I inhaled this book.

I appreciated being reminded of how it felt to be in a freshman psych class and thinking I had all the answers, and that went without saying that I had answers not only for myself and MY family, but for others, too. I loved the psych professor and his insight, so much so that I asked Jessica if she had a professional therapist read the book. (Turns out, she was a psych major and went to a graduate program in social work! She also consulted with her dad, who is a therapist. That's why it rang so true!) I also remember coming home from college and thinking the life I had loved so much through high school suddenly was lackluster and smaller somehow. And it was a great reminder of how our own motivations as healers can sometimes be a large factor in our actions. (In fact, I think I might have my clinical interns read this book and discuss it during supervision. I'm sure they'll hate thank me for that.)

I was diagnosing Celeste as I read (occupational hazard, of course), but the gigantor secret that emerges even had me taken by surprised until it was right upon me. The way Julie flounders trying to help this family not only hit home (a bit too closely), but it made the reader tension almost unbearably high to finally find out what on earth happened to make this family so kooky!

Emotions were at an all-time high for me reading this book. I laughed at the banter, cried at the heartache, fanned myself through the romance. It was an utter delight to much so that as soon as I finished the book, I immediately went and bought her other YA book, Relatively Famous. It, too, seems to deal with very big emotions and life-changing events, so I'm eager to get started on it.

Jessica's book is ranked (at the time of the post) #7 in the top 100 Paid books for Kindle for a reason. If you haven't checked it out, don't miss it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Funnies: Minding Your Own Business!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

Don't forget! The latest Jenny B Jones book, There You'll Find Me, is up for grabs on my blog! Giveaway ends Sunday, so click here!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Good Kind of Reader Manipulation

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about a lesser-known reason why you shouldn't dump backstory up front in a novel. (Click here for the post.) In so doing, I gave a story about how I overheard information pertaining to one of my clients that impeded how I approached/perceived the client.

But I want to direct you to the comment section of that same post. Many of the readers offered really insightful reflections on why or why not to convey certain information about a character up front, and I wanted to capitalize on one in particular.

As authors, we write for a lot of reasons. But we all have stories that we want to persuade readers to read. Every word counts in that persuasion. Sometimes we have to manipulate the information we give to readers for a variety of reasons, some of which would be to entertain, educate, inspire, and convict.

But some stories require a little misleading up front in order to accomplish those ends. (I guess it's true that sometimes the end does justify the means.) I was actually accidentally mislead by the overheard comment about my client. But one of my commenters (thanks Kerry!) made such an excellent point that we might deliberately need to mislead the reader up front.

According to the Information Manipulation theory, we have to mislead a reader by breaking one of four conversational (or literary) maxims/truths:
  • Quantity: Information given will be full (as per expected by the listener/reader) and without omission.
  • Quality: information given will be truthful and correct.
  • Relation: information will be relevant to the subject matter of the conversation in hand.
  • Manner: things will be presented in a way that enables others to understand and with aligned non-verbal language.
Think about all the ways you can use this in your stories! You give a little too much info, or not enough. Or you give absolutely irrelevant info that they think is relevant or you sneak in information in such a way that the reader thinks it has to be relevant only to discover it wasn't and they were duped!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fundraiser for Sandi Rog!

Imagine you're a mom of four, living with MS, still readjusting to life in the states after years spent abroad, and finally seeing a dream come true. The book you've researched for years and poured your soul into is finally, today, being released into the world. After all the struggles of moving, of helping children acclimate, of learning a new city, of juggling motherhood and family and writing, you get to celebrate the realization of a dream.

And on that same day, your doctor tells you to come in right away--you have stage 4 T-cell lymphoma, possibly caused by the medication you've been taking for MS.

This is what happened to Sandi Rog on November 1, 2010. For the last year, Sandi has endured chemo, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant, with the hope of destroying this aggressive cancer. And then, just a few weeks before the release of her second book, new tumors were discovered near her spine that show the cancer has not succumbed the way we had all hoped.

So now, in the face of the holiday season, the Rog family finds themselves settling in for another year of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual battle as Sandi faces more treatments--one of which holds much promise but is not covered by insurance. As you can imagine, the financial cost of fighting cancer can be overwhelming, and that's the reason for this fundraiser.

I'll be giving away one character assessment and all FOUR of my Writer's Guides to one raffle prize winner, but there are tons of others prizes up for grabs. Click here for a taste of all the available raffle prizes! There are some GREAT prizes, including editing packages worth a whole lot!

To purchase a raffle ticket, go to and make a donation. Every $5 you donate will purchase you one raffle ticket. Starting November 25th, one awesome gift basket will be posted per day. To enter the drawing for the basket, leave a comment on the post. Want to enter more than once on the basket you really want? In your comment, note how many "tickets" you're spending. (Raffle draers will be able to track through how many tickets you purchased.) Note that, once your ticket has been "spent," you won't get it back if you don't win. (Just like a raffle with physical tickets--once you enter it in a drawing, your ticket is gone.) The comments will close at midnight; comments left after that time will not be counted. will be used to choose the winner and their name will be posted the next day.

So please show some love to the Rog family as they face this hurdle called cancer. You'll be blessed because you gave.

The latest Jenny B Jones book, There You'll Find Me, is up for grabs on my blog! Giveaway ends Sunday, so click here!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Character Clinic: Salvador Geel and Demon "Possession"

I've got Zoe's character on the couch today. Salvador resides in a horror/family drama, and currently is the antagonist. He claims that a demon ate him alive and took over his body right after his dad tried killing him with a glass bottle thrown at his head. He's more than a tad narcissist, his eyesight is progressively getting worse, and he's got fangs. He ends up taking care of his nephew, whom he dresses like a girl and puts in pageants as a way to live. But his nephew refuses a sex change operation and leaves him, and the landlord puts him out on the street.

Zoe wants to know: Is there any chance for him to be redeemed? Or is it better for him to just be unsaveable? Also, I'd like to know if there could be a non-supernatural explanation of what he calls a possession. 

Zoe -

I like to think about my own reaction to clients when they come in and sit on my couch. Sometimes I'm drawn to certain clients and sometimes I'm repulsed. This is the way it is. I found myself wrinkling my nose up as I read through your character's intake form, and that's a reaction I want to delve a bit deeper into why happened.

It wasn't the act of putting a young boy in beauty pageants and then getting upset because the little ingrate didn't want a sex change operation. It wasn't the fangs, demon possession, or progressive blindness. It was his attitude, his demeanor that came through while talking. His narcissism is rampant, of course, and veiled threats are never indicative of good mental health.

This is important information for you as the author because readers will likely have the same, distasteful reaction to him, which is what I think you were trying to achieve with him being the antagonist. Some readers like being surprised when a bad guy-turned-good guy scenario, but from what I read, there wasn't a lot in his background to redeem him. Yes, he had a rough childhood, wasn't loved or treated well. But that's not enough to counter all his sins leading up to the present day, in my opinion, at least.

As to a non-supernatural explanation of his possession, I can think of one. If Salvador ever felt that he was also residing in his body along with the demon, then theoretically, his mind could have split during that traumatic event with the glass bottle and he became both Salvador and the "demon." You didn't mention whether he felt he was "sharing his mind space" with someone else, but that's typical of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

There is this caveat in the Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified section:

Dissociative trance disorder: single or episodic disturbance in the state of consciousness, identity, or memory that are indigenous to particular location and cultures. Dissociative trance involves narrowing of awareness of immediate surroundings or stereotyped behaviors or movements that are experienced as being beyond one’s control. Possession trance involves replacement of the customary sense of personal identity by a new identity, attributed to the influence of a spirit, power, deity, or another person, and associated with stereotyped “involuntary” movements or amnesia and is perhaps the most common Dissociative Disorder in Asia. Examples include amok (Indonesia), bebainan (Indonesia), latah (Malaysia), pibloktoq (Arctic), ataque de nervos (Latin America), and possession (India). The dissociative or trance disorder is not a normal part of a broadly accepted collective cultural or religious practice.”

So if he were in my office, I wouldn't diagnose him with possession, but DID, Not Otherwise Specified. Basically, yes, there could be a mental reason why he believes he's possessed by a demon. You can email me and we can do a full assessment if you want more info. Best of luck with this fascinating antagonist!

Let's analyze: What do you think? Is demon possession is a symptom of mental illness, a symptom of spiritual warfare, both, either, something else?

Don't forget! The latest Jenny B Jones book, There You'll Find Me, is up for grabs on my blog! Giveaway ends Sunday, so click here!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Therapeutic Review and Giveaway of Jenny B Jones' There You'll Find Me

I recently finished Jenny B Jones' latest young adult release, There You'll Find Me. I was super-impressed with several things, but we'll get there in a second.

Here's a blurb from Jenny's website:

Finley Sinclair is not your typical eighteen year old. She’s witty, tough, and driven. With an upcoming audition at the Manhattan music conservatory, Finley needs to compose her audition piece. But her creativity disappeared with the death of her older brother.

She decides to travel to Ireland following his travel journal. It’s the place he felt most alive – and she desperately needs to feel alive again. So she agrees to an exchange program and boards the plane. Beckett Rush, teen heartthrob and Hollywood bad boy, is flying to Ireland to finish filming his latest vampire movie. On the flight, he meets Finley. She’s the one girl who seems immune to his charm. Undeterred, Beckett convinces her to be his assistant in exchange for his help as a tour guide.

Once in Ireland, Finley starts to break down – the loss of her brother and the pressure of school, her audition, and whatever it is that is happening between her and Beckett, leads her to new – and dangerous – vices.

Then she comes across something that changes her perspective irrevocably. Is it enough to convince her that everything she’s been looking for has been with her all along?

Jenny's writing is always such a joy to read. I feel like she has one of the most recognizable voices in Christian fiction. If you've ever heard her speak in person, you'd see why. Her personality sparkles across each page, regardless of genre or POV. That's such a unique thing that's all hers. With that said, you'll laugh at loud at some of the quips that Jenny peppers in her dialogue and internal thoughts. So much fun to read!

Therapist cap on here, Jenny realistically depicts two major themes running through young adult life:

1) What it's like for young girls struggling with body image when they are plagued by media images of pencil-thin model-types as the ideal woman. Finley's journey to Ireland is costly for her emotionally, and while she has trouble handling the feelings associated with her brother's death, her stress over her impending audition, and a new romance on the horizon with a world-renown heartthrob, she realizes that that there are other things she can control.

Eating disorders usually start with an honest intention of losing weight, just a few sizes, and then the feeling of control that brings gets out of hand. If ever a book clearly portrayed how these types of mental disorders look like at the beginning, it's Jenny's book. As the book neared the end, I grew wary of how "healed" Finley would be by the last page. I wasn't disappointed. Jenny handled it very satisfactorily, and completely realistically.

2) What it's like for young people seeking to find their own way, outside of parental and peer influences. Beckett and many of the other young people in the book are at a crucial juncture of their lives where they have to decide whether to live for what they know to be right for them or whether they live for other people, to make others happy. I appreciated the struggle these teens went through and the end result. Teens (and adults) everywhere will relate.

To be entered to win this great book, please leave a comment below. Offer good only for residents of the continental US and followers of this blog, as I like for my giveaways to be a reward for my readership. Giveaway will end Sunday!

Let's analyze: What are some signs that you might know of of eating disorders, early or late stages?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Weekend Funnies: Are You the One Out of Four?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Free Association Chain

The word is........


First commenter free associates with the above word. Second commenter takes the first commenter's word and free associates, and so on.

Remember -- FIRST thing that comes to mind. GO!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Character Clinic: Eduard Hunter

Today, I've got Hafizah's character Eduard on the couch. He's a 17-year-old who can control fire. He lived with his mother and brother in an apartment, but they were killed from a fire that Eduard thinks might be his fault. He's not real savvy yet with his powers, and they sometimes make him want to do things he knows aren't moral or right, but feel good. Eduard finds out that he's not biologically related to the people who died, and yet he can't find out anything about them. His only relative alive is a half-sister who wants him dead. His best friend is kidnapped to another world, and he wants to save her.

Hafizah wants to know: I just want to know if Eduard is one of those stereotypical protagonist cliches. Also, I'm not sure if I've done a good job in "fleshing" him out. Lastly, do you have any suggestions on how to make him into a more believable and real character?

Halfizah -

Eduard sounds pretty multi-dimensional to me. You'd given him a great inward tension by disrupting his known identity and allowing him to learn that his parents aren't really his parents. Even more, you've given him this great motivator of guilt, thinking that the fire that killed them was at his novice fire-bending hands. That's got angst written all over it, which translates well to readers turning a page.

In addition, with the moral complexity you've included with his use of the powers, I don't think much of him rings like a stereotype. I think this is fantastic fleshing out, honestly.

As to what you can do to flesh him out, I'm going to direct you to a post that I wrote a few months ago. Why reinvent the wheel? I attended a Donald Maass workshop a three years ago that was phenomenal. It is basically exercises of his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and book.  Check it out and let me know how that helps.

Best of luck with this novel!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Determine Your Character's Core Belief

Today I'd like to teach a technique that you can use with your characters to determine their underlying beliefs. It's called the Downward Arrow Technique, which I got from Mind over Mood: Changing How You Feel By Changing How You Act. This is a cognitive therapy workbook that I really find useful with some clients.

In essence, you take a character's--or person's--automatic thought about a certain situation or person or event and keep asking "What does this say about me?" until you arrive at the core belief underlying the thought and the associated assumptions.

I'll give an example below. A woman is eating with a coworker in the cafeteria at work. She's had a date or two with a guy from the Human Resource Department two floors up, but he hasn't called since she told him about her sister in rehab. She sees him across the room, and he waves, but doesn't come over.

Here, she has the following automatic thought:

It might seem like quite a jump from one to the other. But it's really not. People often try to soften the blow themselves by covering it up with something a little more palatable. In this woman's case, saying that she doesn't think Jake likes her is way more digestible than saying she's unlovable.

But therapists know that you have to get to the root of the thought, the core belief, before healing can really begin. Usually, that core belief is faulty, a lie. Identifying it is the start of an uphill battle to change it.

You can also use this method to determine a character's view about others and the world. You gather the automatic thought the person has about the world and you begin the downward arrow technique until you reach their underlying core belief.

Let's analyze: Do you think it's too far a jump to go from the automatic thought to the core belief as I've outlined above? Why or why not?

Click here for a chance to win Erica Vetsch's A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas!