Oct 28, 2010

The Golden Rule

By Susan G. Haws

While “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” works for prevention of terrorist bombings and children pulling hair; it falls short in purchasing gifts and creating characters. There are times when to truly follow the golden rule you have to think “not what I would want but what would that person want.” I think the creator of the golden rule wanted us to figure out that we must take personalities into account.

I know I have made the mistake of buying gifts that I would like to receive only to miss the mark for the person. I have also been the disappointed receiver trying to put on a happy smile. An example: I have a sister that is not big on reading, especially not fantasy (a favorite of mine). It would be a mistake to give her any of my favorite books.

You are wondering how this musing has anything to do with writing. Well in my own mind I wonder, how do each of you keep track of your more minor character’s traits so they all don’t merge into a homogeneous blob? With interruptions and their small parts, side characters might get lost in the shuffle. Do you make out cards or Word files or just keep them in your head? Just wondering.


  1. I approached writing my first novel as if I was an actor preparing for a one-man show. Not having outlined in advance, and with only a cursory character sketch in my head for a few of the main characters, I dove in and as each scene developed, the characters took on new layers.

    Through each scene, it was almost as if I had multiple personality disorder--switching from Theresa to Tariq to Colonel Badr, etc. I'm not saying I was switching POV. I tried to be very careful about that. In dialogue, however, I particularly made certain to consider what the motives were for every person in the scene. That way, the words from their mouths flowed so naturally. It very much felt like an improv exercise in acting.

    Since that first novel, I've learned about the importance of a character bible, for example. And I'm giving that a try on my third novel (too late for my second, which was also done in the manner of the first, but is much more character driven...I began writing with more definite mental character sketches).

    I'll have to see if it works for me. If not, I'll go back to my acting approach.

  2. We can learn so much from other writers and how they do it, can't we. I'm going to try Tanya's actor method.

  3. Tanya, I appreciate you sharing. I get stuck and intimidated and worried I can't write the story I want. I appprecite hearing the methods you and Valerie are using.

  4. I did detailed charts for each character during my first book, which included how I wanted each character's personality to be. To my surprise, while I was writing, their personalities evolved to be quite different than I'd imagined. One character who was supposed to be a strong mentor type ended up being a bit of a chicken (and still is in the sequel); one who was sweet and funny turned out cynical and sarcastic when her mate died (and I still regret doing that to her); another who was always sarcastic with a cruel streak had a hidden funny side that got magnified during the sequel after he turned out not so bad after all.

    I didn't even bother writing character charts for the sequel, deciding instead to see how each character turned out. So far, my recurring characters have kept the same personality traits they had in the first book, and a new one I've just introduced is turning out a bit more serious and cautious than I'd imagined her to be.

    Once I discover my characters' personalities as I write, I just take notes on their mannerisms and ways of speech, and try to keep them consistent. It seems to work better for me this way. Forcing them into a certain personality type before I even wrote them in didn't work at all! They let me know on their own what kind of people they were. :)

  5. I find this hard. My character as a female changes when my emotions change now how the heck do I fix that one?


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