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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Using Character Types to Create Conflict

This blog may seem like a talk about developing characters rather than conflict, but I believe conflict comes from who the characters are. What makes our characters who they are? What types of people are our characters? Putting different character types together can create all kinds of conflict. More often than not, my stories start with two characters who are thrust into a situation that creates conflict. That's where I start. But I have to get to know these characters, and find out where the deep conflict lies. That often bring me to characters types. Using character types can help us find a starting place for conflict.

I have two books I use to look at characters types. One is Please Understand Me by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates. The other is The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Widers. I use the first book by pretending to be my character as I answer the questions that determine the character type. What fun! I can become an introvert or an extrovert. I can be flighty or serious. I can be an adventurer or a homebody. After I've determined what the character types are, I can throw them together and see what conflicts may arise.

The second book gives me insight by showing the conflicts that may develop between different types. I merely use these as a starting point. Often my characters, as with real people, can't be stuffed into just one character type. I think we can find conflict within the characters themselves, because sometimes the way the characters perceives themselves isn't the way others perceive them. Is the character thinking "everyone believes I'm this type, but I'm really not?" Are they showing one thing to the world, yet feeling something else inside? I use this to build inner conflict.

I like to use bits and pieces of character types to create conflict for my characters. In the book I'm getting ready to turn into my editor, my hero is a businessman with bottom lines, spreadsheets and schedules as his bible. The heroine is a missionary with the heart to help people, and being tied to all this business stuff makes her head spin. My hero is a "chief" archetype, but he's also a "professor" archetype. The heroine is a "nurturer," "free spirit" and "crusader" all rolled into one. Of course, she doesn't fit the entire description of any of those archetypes, but I can use those archetypes to develop the conflict by looking at how they may react to certain situations.

I used to have some software called Personality Profiler. I loved it. There were a series of nearly two hundred questions that helped determine personality types. Unfortunately, when I changed computer several years ago, I wasn't able to reload the program because the disc had developed a virus. I mourned the loss of that program, and I've never been able to find another one like it. However, by typing "personality profiler" into a search engine, I've come up with some online resources that work nearly as well.

I also like to use birth order types to find conflict. Oldest, youngest, middle and only child--what types of conflicts are the result of our characters' birth order? How will an only child relate to someone who's the middle child in a very large family? Will there be conflict between the oldest serious child and the carefree youngest child?

I love to answer the question "what if" when I'm getting ready to write. So when I'm looking for conflict, character types can be used in that "what if" equation. I hope my rambling thoughts on character types will help you go out and discover some conflict.

Do you have any good resources for finding conflict through character types?

9 Comments:

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Merrilee,
I use The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroine's, too. It's especially helpful when it describes how different types will clash, mesh, and change.

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

I think these books are great, Merrillee. I have the Heroes and Heroine's book, too.

I just use my imagination in developing the characters, but I think my years in the mental health field have ingrained personality types into my brain. Either that or I'm channeling people from the past!!

Again, even if you are not the type to use these tools to think up characters and their conflicts, they are great for when you get stuck.

 
At 2:46 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Mo,
I like the descriptions of how different types clash as well.

 
At 2:48 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Diane,
My characters and some of their conflict are instinctive also, but I like these tools to help me rev up the conflict. Yes, and they are definitely good if you get stuck.

 
At 4:05 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I tend to use the family dynamic to build character conflict. Marcus thought he would be free to lead his own life, but he knew from a young age that was not so. He knew what his father did not - that his older brother, the heir, was gay. In the unfolding of the story we discover he resented his brother and therefore feels guilty that his brother died after a bitter argument between them. So his dynamic and his reaction to his brother's death is a big part of the conflict.

Addy, on the other hand, is the youngest of six children and she is the plain sister. She deals with her familiy's low expectations of the mark she will make in the world - they love her, they just don't expect much of her. AND she and her sister have never gotten along and she has ended up married to the duke her sister had jilted.

Our family and how we drag all that baggage into a marriage and how we cannot shake our family's view of us is a good source of conflict.

 
At 4:40 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Doglady,
Family dynamics works well with the birth order character types. I love writing stories that deal with family. Family dynamics can definitely create conflict.

 
At 6:43 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Merrillee, great post. My story isn't based on that much external conflict, so the characters and their internal conflict must keep it going. I haven't seen the references you mention, but I'll keep them in mind.

Doglady, family conflict is a good idea!

As an aside, just wanted to say I got my GH scores yesterday and shared them with my awesome CP's, but wanted to tell you all as well. This was my first completed manuscript and your advice helped so much. I also wanted to give a special thank you to Lee, who critiqued the first five pages. :)

So I got a 9, 8, 7.5, 7.5, and 3.7. I must admit, the .7 after the 3 made me grin. Just a 3 and I would have believe the judge really disliked it, but 3.7? I'd have loved to been privy to their rating scale ;)

 
At 8:11 PM, Blogger Merrillee said...

Gillian,
Those are great GH scores. I'm with you on the 3.7.

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger Eden Sharpe said...

congrats Gillian :)

 

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