Why do they do what they do?

why

Whenever Taylor Swift has a bad break up, she puts the poor guy in a song.

I taunt my friends and tell them to watch out. I won’t put them in a song; I’ll write a whole book about them.

Uh, wrong. I could never do that. I’m a keeper of secrets. I’d make a terrible member of the paparazzi. I don’t like intruding. I don’t like airing people’s dirty laundry. I live by the journalistic principal “Do no harm.”

But, yeah, if your path crosses mine, you might end up as a character (or part of a character) in one of my manuscripts, but I would never reveal the secret of your identity, not unless you wanted me to–or unless you are already famous. Then you’re fair game.

Right now I have two manuscripts under my belt, and, yes, I deliberately modeled the characters after people who have stepped into my life. Of course, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. And I doubt these people will ever know the influence they made.

I named one minor character after a server at Red Robin, and I don’t remember why. Maybe I liked his name. Maybe not. Maybe it was just because I was really hungry at the time, and Red Robin has the most amazing onion rings. I am a magnet, I draw stories from people, people I don’t know. Maybe he told a cool story.

One of my characters in one of my manuscripts is based on Little Richard, yes, THAT Little Richard. The famous one–thus, the revelation of his identity.

I don’t know why. I guess his humbleness and gentleness touched my life second hand. He met my parents and was so kind to them that I’ll never forget how pleased they were to tell the story.

And, yes, Little Richard, is one of those celebrities I have chosen to pursue. Notice I didn’t say stalk. He lives close to me, but he’s so far away. Other people run into him all the time. But I don’t. Why not me? Why not me?

Maybe I would scare him. I don’t know. I do believe people’s paths cross for a reason. Maybe they don’t cross for a reason. God wrote the story. He knows.

I love analyzing people. Every person has a story, and an enticing motive makes a great story.

I’m also into pop psychology. I stumbled upon a theory of  the German-American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. It’s referred to as “character orientation.” Influenced by Freudian ideologies, Fromm asserted people have specific character traits which serve as powerful forces that guide their behavior and motive.

And people aren’t even consciously aware of them.

As a writer and a reader, I spend a great deal of time getting to know characters. I have to believe them in order to trust them. I have to trust them in order to like them. If I don’t like them, I won’t read the book. And, of course, if I don’t like my own characters, there’s no point in writing the story unless my protagonists win and the ones I don’t like get what’s coming to them. Is it okay to seek to revel in revenge if the plot is made up? I think so. I’m not vengeful in person.

But back to the personality analyses, psychologists have determined there are twenty-four character traits that fall under six categories, which are referred to as virtues. Four of these are nonproductive, the other two productive.

Remember if you are writing a book, you want to write it true, so you should make sure that your characters act true to their natures. If we go with Fromm’s research, our characters’ should fall within these parameters. If they do something uncharacteristic, then we should analyze their motives.

HEROS

The following are considering nonproductive orientation characteristics. Think character flaws or antagonist traits:

  • Receptive Orientation Characters
    Wait passively for others to provide them with things they need
    Want others to provide them with love and attention and are reluctant to give these things away
    Lose loved ones because they have a hard time talking about their feelings or troubles
    Have a hard time letting go of past issues
    See minor or trivial conflicts as a conflict to their security with a loved one
    Lack creativity–REALLY lack creativity
    Are quiet
    Have a difficult time making decisions
    Lack confidence in their own abilities
  • Exploitative Orientation Characters
    Take whatever they want when they want it
    Do whatever they can to get whatever they want
    Have no qualms about stealing or taking something from someone else, even if they have no real desire for it
    Manipulate others
    Hate those they manipulate but rely on them but also hate themselves
    Love to lead and live in the ruling class
  • Hoarding Orientation Characters
    Save whatever they have
    Hold back their opinions
    Hold back their feelings
    Hold back their possessions
    Grasp and refuse to let go of love, power, or other people’s time
    Desire order
  • Marketing Orientation Characters
    View themselves as commodities
    Think they can sell their themselves based on their good qualities
    Possess very few positive qualities
    Are typically empty souls
    Choose mates on a commodity basis
  • Necrophilia Orientation Characters
    Love death
    Possesses passion to tear apart living things
    Destroy for the sake of destruction
    See no hope

The following are considered productive orientation characteristics. Think protagonist traits or redeeming qualities of conflicting characters:

  • “The Person Without a Mask” Orientation Characters — (Fromm came up with this title.)
    Accept freedom
    Accept responsibility
    Come from a family that loves
    Prefer reason to rules
    Prefer freedom to conformity
    Have learned to become one with the world
    Love all

So how long did it take you to shift from your character to yourself? Stop. Don’t do it. The story is NOT ABOUT YOU! Likewise, as you are writing, remember that your character is not YOU, and your character’s motives aren’t necessarily the same as your own.

Let’s be honest. Did you ditch your character and start analyzing yourself? Yeah, me too.

I thought I had myself all figured out. But then I took an online test based on character orientation. The first test I took said I possessed “hoarding orientation.” Ouch. I do desire order. I don’t like letting go of people I love. I took another test, and it said I possessed “receptive orientation.” Worse–I’m quiet, passive, insecure, and non-creative. Non-creative? BIG TIME OUCH!

Who believes these test anyway?

My suggestion? Stick to using these tests–for now–to analyze your characters, not yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be drawn away from what matters right now–your writing. We writers are neurotic already. We don’t need anything else negative to self analyze.

Oh the crazy things we do.

TODAY’S CHALLENGE
Choose either your own character or a character from your favorite book. Take one of the tests below and answer each question as your character would answer it–not yourself. This exercise is great practice to help you see through the eyes of a character.

WORDS OF WISDOM
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”  ~  John Locke

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”  ~ James 3:13

“If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.”  ~  Mother Teresa

MUSIC NOTES
“A long, long time ago / I can still remember how that music used to make me smile / And I knew if I had my chance / That I could make those people dance / And maybe they’d be happy for a while”

LOOK AND SEE SERENDIPITEE
Which of Erich Fromm’s Personality Orientations are you?
http://quizfarm.com/quizzes/new/DeanFS/which-of-erich-fromms-personality-orientations-are-you/

Fromm’s Orientation Test
http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/frommtest.html

FINAL THOUGHTS

ChickensMotives

Psycho analysis of a psycho writer chick

If you could step into a TV show for a day, which one would you choose?

The answer’s easy for me. Psych.I’m addicted to the show. My favorite Christmas present? A pair of Shawn and Gus talking bobble heads. Whaaaaaat?

If only real life could be as hilarious as the adventures of Shawn and Gus. Shawn is a psychic, a fake one. He reads people and hones in on their little clues. He drags Gus, his trusty sidekick, into all sorts of adventures.

Sounds like my kind of life. Really.

People readers notice the most subtle of clues and analyze, analyze, analyze. It’s fun until we people readers drive ourselves paranoid. But let’s have a little fun and re-create a scene from Criminal Minds, The Closer, or even Psych. All we need is an unsub.

What if an investigative crew found a picture of your personal belongings? What do your things say about you? Just to keep it easy and short, let’s stick to our desks or work tables. I’ll go first. Take a look at the photos.

On the left I have a variety of cat paraphernalia. Two plastic jars of Pounce Caribbean Catch Tuna Flavor cat treats. A fuzzy mouse that can be filled with catnip. And a plastic baggie of catnip.

At first glance an investigative crew might assume that I am a diehard cat lover.

Wrong. I like cats, but I like dogs better. I love one cat—Stevie Ray, my blues cat, who showed up about a year ago. I probably shouldn’t call him my cat. He comes and goes as he pleases. If I wanted to, I could trap him inside and buy him a litter box, but he’s too dignified for that.

I can’t help but remember that stupid quote from my junior high years:  If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If not, it was never meant to be.

Stupid, sappy love quote. All the other girls wrote on their composition books. Not me. Anyway, I haven’t seen Stevie Ray all day. Stupid quote.

At second glance, the investigative crew might inspect the plastic baggie of catnip with the pipe lying beside it. Officers, I can explain.

See, it went down like this. Number Two Son saw the baggie of catnip and busted a gut as only a twelve year old can do. He peeled the label off the catnip baggie and laid the pipe next to it. I know it does not look like catnip, but it IS catnip.

I was framed.

And that brings us back to the pipe, courtesy of Number One Son.

Number One Son received the pipe from his girlfriend as a gift. It is not a real pipe. It blows bubbles. Number One’s girlfriend thought it was funny. Said girlfriend also gave Number Two Son a week’s worth of fake mustaches for Christmas. This girl is as warped as the rest of us. I like her.

And what about the other items? Let’s start with the Aerosmith CD. Whaaaaaat? The unsub profile suggests a Steven Tyler fan lives here. Well, duh.

An iPod. A new metronome. Speakers. Check. Check. Check. Music lover. Got it.

Ducks. There is no explanation for the ducks. Sorry. Your guess will have to suffice.

Bottled water. Unsub does not like soda. (And I HATE calling soda, soda. It’s Coke. I don’t care if it’s Pepsi, Sprite, or Dr. Pepper. But a Sundrop is always a Sundrop…if you’re a true blue Southerner, which I am.) A pen. The unsub likes to write. A red folder with only one sheet of writing. The unsub almost always types everything and only writes in notebooks and journals when she is on a special writing adventure.

And the laptop. That’s a blog unto itself. Investigators would surely snatch up that bad boy and take it to the lab for further analysis. (The unsub wishes that while they are at it, they’d tidy up the first manuscript inside and send it to the editors and agents who requested it. Yeah, it’s time to get back to work.)

A really good investigative team, however, would not stop there. The team would also analyze what is not there, i.e.—who took the picture.

Judging from the angles in the picture, whoever took the picture had to be standing on something looking down on the items. If the unsub took the picture, the unsub must be short. The laptop does not sit on a desk. It sits on a bistro table with a regular office chair in front of it.

Wow. The unsub must be a little off, for if the unsub is short, the unsub’s chin would break even with the edge of the table, making for a very uncomfortable, goofy-looking typing situation. (Fortunately, a brown box that holds a new desk waits in the corner.)

The unsub must be more than a little off. Again, the picture angles suggest the unsub stood in a rolling chair to take a picture of a baggie of catnip and a bubble pipe lying next to a computer.

Stupid! Why would anyone do that?

Honestly, I hope no one tries to profile me based on my belongings. Sheesh. Psychoanalyzing me could drive a person insane. Just ask. I’ll tell you. Better yet, I’ll write it.

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me what’s on your desk, table, or work area. I’ll psycho analyze you for free. Let’s see how close—or far away—I can get.

“You know that’s right.”