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Showing posts from October, 2013

Scaredy Cat

I have a TV service with over 500 options which includes dozens of movie channels that run nothing but for twenty-four hours a day. You think with the money I pay for this service and the abundance of offerings there would be more of a selection every evening that would keep me happy, especially during the month of October.  For some reason whoever schedules these stations thinks they are the only ones who came up with the ingenious idea of running nothing but horror movies for the whole month of October. Vampires, zombies, and angry boogie men vie with alien creatures and serial killers over tasty human beings. The “family” channels feature psycho-thrillers with demented men, women, and children who consider family and the unsuspecting traveler as easy prey and plan their gory deaths.   Even the kid-friendly channels bury us with cartoon versions of the same. Call me a scaredy cat, but I just cannot watch scary movies. I cannot stomach anything that literally eats away at my imaginat…

Using the Johari Window to Create Fictional Characters

Though I love a good story, I am drawn to fiction with strong, likeable characters. How does a writer accomplish this? There are hundreds of books on characterization, and I have studied quite a few excellent ones, but I have discovered an answer in the most unlikely place – the science of cognitive psychology.  I use a simple heuristic that was developed in 1955 to explain how a person presents himself and interacts with others. It is called the Johari window. It looks like this -


Each quadrant is called a window and it studies the human being from four different perspectives. How persons represent themselves to others is called the Open Window. It is how they dress, act, and react. This is how they want to be perceived. 

It sometimes differs from how others see them. In the Blind Window, the person is unaware that others might judge them differently than how they presented themselves. In the Hidden Window, they keep things to themselves they do not want others to know or that only ver…

Trading One Dream for Another

When I graduated from college in 1971, my dream was to teach for a year, maybe a year and half, in a local high school and save my money, then I would go get my doctorate in Spanish and teach in a college. I would travel during the summers to all the Spanish-speaking countries of the world and become world famous for my studies. I had a teaching assistant job offer good for two years at UT Austin and the promise of a Ford Fellowship. Everything was set in place. I just had to get through the next eighteen months. My mid-year teaching assignment was in a high school in the deep south side of the city.  I was to teach junior and senior Spanish and English.  Since the neighborhood was mostly Latino, so were the students. No problem, I thought.  I was from that neighborhood.  I was Latina.  It would be a piece of cake. These were kids about to graduate, so they didn’t give me much trouble.  My biggest problem was my age.  I was twenty-one and my students were ages 16-21, so I looked too y…

Creating Strong Fictional Characters

Character questionnaires ask inane questions - a character’s favorite color or what they have in their refrigerator. These questionnaires are superficial and cosmetic and do not create characters that walk off the page and into reader’s hearts.
Readers want to connect with the character’s inner workings. They want to empathize with the protagonist’s feelings.  What is their inner conflict? What are their fears?  What secrets does the main character keep so hidden that even they do not acknowledge their shameful existence?
In order to face whatever conflict the author throws at them in the story, they must be armed with more than their favorite color or the contents of their refrigerator.  
It is only when the author builds characters from the inside out that he can costume them with the kind of frippery found in questionnaires.  It is only then that the inanity of the questionnaire becomes integral to the story.
For example, a female protagonist neglected as a child by her alcoholic pa…