Category Archives: character

Know Your Strengths

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As a college writing instructor, I’d be asked the same question at every interview: What is your greatest weakness? (Clue: The answer, for me, is always perfectionism.) Although I don’t understand the interviewers’ fixation on flaws, I fully acknowledge the importance of being acquainted with your inner demons. Whereas employers are obviously seeking ways to weed out all candidates who either cannot or will not reflect upon their own shortcomings, as a writer (and arguably as a human being) it seems more important to build upon your unique set of strengths, rather than constantly battling your inherent imperfections.

On the first day of class, my students complete a few activities that help illuminate their individual strengths for them. Many of them had never heard of Howard Gardner or Multiple Intelligences. This is a shame because, when you know how you learn, you will learn better.

As a teacher, I read Teach With Your Strengths by Rosanne Liesveld and Jo Ann Miller, which is a great option for non-teachers, as well. Stengths Finder 2.0 is from the same publishers and, though I haven’t read it personally, I’m sure it would be equally beneficial.

There is also obvious value in learning about your unique personality type. Over at 16personalities.com, you can take the Myers-Briggs Personality Type (based on Jung’s theory) that will tell you the 4-letter combination that defines your identity. To be honest, it’s downright uncanny how accurate the results are!

A bonus: learning about ALL of the different kinds of personalities can help you write depth into your characters. K.M. Weiland discusses this in her article, “Myers-Briggs and Writing: My Characters’ Personalities.” Over here, she points out that INTJ’s are archetypal evil geniuses, but Batman is also an INTJ. So, it’s important to know your characters on more than just a superficial level.

It’s also important to know your own personality–to not only know but also to trust thyself, as Emerson said. Don’t focus on your weaknesses. Know your strengths, and exploit the hell out of them!

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Writing with Purpose

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Over at Lunch Ticket, Bettina Gilois writes a blog called “Writing: The Toolbox.” In her 8th installment, she discusses character, and the necessity for a reader’s emotional investment:

As writers we are the pusher man for the reader, we control supply and demand. We get the reader hooked, and once hooked we tease with a controlled giving and taking, dealing in identification and fantasy, creating want and tension, and doling out relief and reward.

Gilois advises writers to incorporate philosophical statements as part of character building:

Philosophical statements by your characters elevate the material from a pragmatic and dramatic narrative to something that holds greater value and endures through time. While it also serves as characterization, it satisfies the reader with recognition of self in the greater context of what it means to be human.

To me, this is what mediocre writing lacks. As a young adult author, it’s important to provide sustenance in a variety of ways–be it philosophical statements or scenes that place characters in difficult situations in order to prove their mettle (or not, because that can be fun, too). In these ways, a young reader receives more than just entertainment. She is nourished by the story; he learns without an obvious moral.

So, how do you accomplish this task of writing with purpose? How do you use your characters to say something important?