I recently did ANOTHER major round of edits to ‘Fair is this Land’ but this time I can say with full confidence that I am happy with where the novel is and could now happily publish and put my name to it. During this round, I learned many things but the one that stands out the most, is the importance of getting the personality right. My novel is written in two parts; there is the parents’ story and the daughter’s story. I wrote the daughter’s story first and I struggled. I never connected with Emily and could not figure out why. By the time I got to the parents’ story, the words just flowed and the character’s leapt off the page. I recently did some personality testing with a friend, who suggested that it would be good for my character development … and was she ever right!
The study of personality or temperament dates back to Hippocrates and even earlier to ancient Egypt. Twentieth century studies by Jung, Keirsey and Myers-Briggs have identified 16 set personality types which can assist in leadership and career development, team building, even marriage counseling. Personalities tend to be fairly stable through life. For instance, a person who has a responsible, practical, rule driven personality is not the type of person who would jump out of an airplane to go sky diving without a direct order. And a person who is energetic and has difficulty focusing on one thing for an extended period of time, would not make a successful fly fisher. My friend pointed out that many successful movies and TV shows often have characters that, well, act out of character; given their personality type, they would be highly unlikely to exhibit certain actions and interests. Not surprisingly, harking back to my last blog of ‘Write what you Know’, Emily was my character type, but I had her acting at times in ways that were uncharacteristic for that type. The result was, as my first editor diplomatically put it, a character that was too flighty to be a protagonist and as my second editor commented, a character that she never connected with. The first I took exception to initially, because I thought, well I act like that; the second I empathized with. What I failed to realize, was that Emily was a bit schizo, for in trying to introduce emotion into a personality that can be described as insensitive and intolerant (think Sheldon and Amy of Big Bang Theory here as extremes), I had her crying frequently and explosively. I can’t remember the last time that I cried and it takes emotion on the level of the Way We Were to get the tears flowing, far less crying buckets of tears. So, with new understanding, I tackled Emily’s personality, toning down on the quantity of emotion and focusing instead on the quality. I also had to work on her interaction with her love interest, which was described as cool at best (remember Amy and Sheldon here) but while I had initially resisted attempts to fan the flames to the heat of her parents’ affair (which I had no trouble creating), with my new understanding of personality types, I was better able to match her reactions to the situations I had created for her. All in all, it made for a stronger more rational protagonist and is one of the major changes that has me finally satisfied with my achievement.
If you are interested, the following is a website for a free personality test, which based on my experience with myself, family members and friends, seems to be pretty dead on. Try it for fun and let me know if it provided you with any valuable insights. For the writers out there, think about using it as another tool for your character development.