Me, Myself & I

What is your protagonist’s self-opinion?

Does she believe she can never do anything right?  Is she always late?  Does she hate her own body image?  Does she feel eclipsed by her younger, beautiful sister?

Or perhaps she thinks very highly of herself, values her opinions above others, believes in speaking frankly even if it hurts someone’s feelings, and feels complacent, sure of herself, and entitled.

We have two very different women here, don’t we?

Example A (let’s call her Amelia) is going to behave in certain ways that reinforce her self-concept.  She may make remarks such as, “Don’t depend on me to be there on time.  You know I’m always late.”  Or she may grow flustered whenever given a responsibility.  She will reflect her dislike of her body image by the clothing or colors she wears.  And even if friends invite her along, she may refuse to join in the fun if her sister is part of the group.

Example B (let’s call her Beatrice) will always be dispensing advice, whether the recipient has asked for it or not.  She will speak loudly and in a forthright, blunt manner.  She will probably trample over the feelings of people like Amelia, and then become impatient or embarrassed by the reaction she gets.  She will be calm and self-assured in her demeanor.  She will always take the best chair or help herself first to the plate of cookies.  Even if she is overweight, she will not be embarrassed by it, but may instead drop comments such as, “You should know, dear, that men always prefer full-figured women to beanpoles.”

In character design, choose that individual’s self-opinion and then devise personality traits and behaviors to correspond.  You’ll end up with a believable, plausible character.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Me, Myself & I

  1. I have loved this technique ever since I read about it in one of Jack Bickham’s books. But I have a heck of a time *using* it. Which comes first? The character or their self-concept? The way Bickham describes it, the self-concept is key to the story’s plot. When that person’s self-concept is threatened, the story essentially has begun.

    Also, how does self-concept tie in with character arc? Does a character’s self-concept have to change in order for the story to succeed?

    • Deb

      Sometimes I have to invent a sketchy character and initiate story action in order to understand the character’s self-concept. Then I go back in another draft and build the character with better understanding. That can be a laborious process. It goes much more smoothly when I can begin with character and self-concept already thought through.

      And absolutely the self-concept needs to change, at least in part, to tie in with the character arc!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Thanks for posting this. I believe strong character-building to be a cornor-stone of good story telling.

    In response to Rob Cornell, if we add the very important “what does this character want” (something that should be known for every character in a story if you wish to build believability), then yes, the character must change as the story-arc plays out.

    The only type of character who cannot have major changes in the unfolding of a story is a Series Hero, who must be the same person episode after episode in order to bring the reader back. E.g., James Bond, Superman, Odd Thomas. And in some cases even those characters can change in little ways.

    • Deb

      So true! The series character is a bigger challenge, I find, because you want the individual to remain interesting and capable of developing, yet you have to allow it to happen book-by-book.

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