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Theories That Build Your Characters’ Personalities

Art by D. Christopher

                                 Art by D. Christopher

I vividly remember sitting in my high school science class and listening to the teacher talk about nature vs. nurture. The topic fascinated me because it suggested that even if you were stuck with some pretty rotten genes, you could still have a shot at bettering your predisposed make-up. As we already know, our DNA dictates many of our inherit characteristics. I look at my children and although different, they each carry a familiar quality that points back to us parents. One of them has my husband’s attention to detail; the other procrastination tendencies—compliments of me.

But while swimming in the inescapable gene pool, we’re bound to assimilate with the type of waters we bathe in. A few tidal waves can turn us leery of leaving the shore, or the plunge into a pristine river overlooked by a majestic waterfall can enlighten us into more tranquil beings.

I strongly believe that nurture, the way we are fostered by our environment, circumstances and people we meet, has a vital influence on the kind of individuals we turn out to be.   It is the abstract attributes that mostly affect the way we think and behave. Heredity is an attributing factor, but there are many variables which mold us into the people we become. This theory affects my writing in several ways. When crafting my characters I first determine the type of environment they’ve been exposed to. I use that as a starting point to lead me into their psyche. To do so, I ask these questions:

  • Who was the biggest influence in the character’s life? Is this person still around? If so, what do their encounters look like?
  • How does the character relate to his surroundings? Does he love his job? Why does he hate living with his mother? Does he really want to be with his girlfriend or is the relationship one of convenience?
  • What pivotal moment(s) shaped his inner beliefs, theories or opinions?

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Once I’ve answered these basic questions, I start to get an idea of what my character feels like and what he hopes for, which in turn mold his entire personality. In order to weave this personality it’s important to envision my character as a multidimensional being. That means I need to look into his soul, read his heart, and understand the look in his eyes. I need to become the character and draw from my own life experience to recollect encounters that shaped me into the person I am today.

In my novel in progress, Blood Ties’, Beatrice suffered the loss of her twin sister in a tragic accident. She now lives with a mother who’s completely checked out and her mother’s abusive boyfriend. No matter how much she tries, life keeps on closing doors in her face. But this wasn’t always the case. What once was a bubbly, hopeful teen has now turned into an emotionally detached girl who doesn’t trust anyone. I might’ve not experienced the tragic events I inflicted on Beatrice, but I know too well the feeling of being alone, or the feeling of mistrust. I’ve had several doors slammed in my face and I’ve known the distress of having hurtful people in my life (although, I assure you, I’ve also had my fair share of blessings and happiness). By recalling personal dilemmas and critical points in my life, I can truly understand what makes my character tick, or why she’d act a certain way.

I use this concept to craft my characters’ personalities into what will eventually build an entire story. Creating a cultivating environment builds social connection, which in turn determine whether our characters will thrive or wither.

 

 

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