Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Testing Your Characters: With the Myers Briggs Test

Photo by Brett Jordan licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I have always loved personality tests. When I was younger, all I could find were those multiple choice quizzes in pop magazines, the ones that discovered deep secrets about you depending on if you selected all a's or all c's. I was always a “c” girl. But most of the topics of these quizzes weren't particularly interesting. I already knew I'm a bad kisser, and I was somewhat skeptical when I was told that my favorite date would be a romantic candlelit outing to an amusement park.

Luckily, when I was slightly older, I discovered the Myers Briggs test, which is like the mother load of personality tests, or possibly just a visit to one of my more clairvoyant Slovak relatives. This week, I started thinking about it again when I ran across some Myers Briggs posters that compare the personalities to characters in favorite shows/books like Firefly, Harry Potter and Dr. Who. I found these to be particularly accurate as I've always felt an affinity to River Tam and Professor Lupin anyways. So that got me thinking. Would Myers Briggs be useful for characters in stories?

I decided to try it out with the current WIP I'm working on. I didn't think it would be a good idea to take the test for every one of my main characters. Instead, I tried to look at each component and decide where my character would fall. Below are the steps I followed, in case anyone is interested in trying it out themselves. I can say I feel like it gave me a new perspective to view my characters.

  1. I looked at the wikipedia article on Myers Briggs, sliding down to the explanation of Introverted/Extraverted, Intuitive/Sensing, Feeling/ Thinking , Judging/Perceiving 
  2. For each character, I looked at the description and thought what my gut said about how they would react. (Can you tell I'm an Intuitive thinker?)
  3. For example, one of my characters, Anya, is a very quiet, logical thinker, highly observant and a good problem solver. Looking at each trait, I decided she must be an ISTJ, an Introverted, Sensory, Thinking Judger, or as this personality is traditionally given the name, “The Inspector.” I liked the names that come along with the results, it's almost like I'm setting up a game of Dungeons and Dragons and not a middle grade novel. Not that I would know about such things, other than what my parents told me and I learned from the Greenglass House by Kate Milford. One of my other characters, Isabel, is energetic, idealistic, and eager to help. For her, I ended up with ENFP, “The Champion” almost an opposite of Anya's personality, which is true from what I've written about them.
  1. You can find descriptions of each combination online. I like this site. Reading the descriptions, it made me think about my characters in new ways. I hadn't thought before about how Anya would probably want things in an organized manner, or Isabel might always try to reassure people rather then tell them the truth outright.

If you try this out, I'd love to hear about your results or anything new you learned about your character in the comments section!  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Struggling with Slowing it Down? Some Thoughts On Pacing

If you're like me, and you're the type of person that scans twitter while cutting out polar bears for storytime and scribbles notes for stories on the scraps, you too may have pacing problems when you write. And maybe, what I'm about to say will be useful to you.

Specifically, I have a hard time slowing it down enough for readers to insert themselves comfortably into the story. (Unless your idea of comfortable is a crash landing like Luke Skywalker's landing on Dagobah.) In trying to slow it down, or at least not land in a swamp of words, I've come up with some ideas. I thought I'd share them for anyone else who's having problems out there. If you need to slow down a scene, if it's too speedy, try these on for size.
  1. Handwrite the Scene. I've found this to be extremely useful. My mom made me take typing classes during the summer back in the 1990's, (my mom, she was clairvoyant, she knew that whole computer thing was going to catch on,) so sometimes I type faster than I think. If your scene feels to fast, it might be worth it to try handwriting the scene from scratch on paper. Since you write slower than you can type, this method causes you to think more and get your head further into the scene as you're writing it than straight typing.
  1. Description. In general, description is the bane of my existence in writing. I tend to hate it as much as I hate those little cotton balls that they put in your mouth at the dentist's. But if your scene feels to fast, maybe it needs more description. As you're writing the scene, trying looking around at the setting, hearing sounds and noticing smells. What do the characters look like? All of these description based elements will slow down the pace a bit. They also help the reader get inside a story. So even though I struggle for two hours to produce lines like: “The slushie machine hummed in the silence.” In the end, those sentences are probably worth the extra time.
  1. Internal Dialogue. Bonus: this helps your reader connect with your character. And since it stops the clock on the action in the scene, it gives the reader a chance to adjust to events that are happening, process them and slow down the pace.
  1. Pause for tea. I am a huge advocate for tea. It has all those anti-oxidants in it, which I secretly think help with the writing process. Or maybe I just really like tea. Beyond that, stepping away for just a minute sometimes makes it easier to see details that can be added.
I hope, if you're having sprinting writing problems like me, these options will help slow it down. Let me know in the comments if you have your own thoughts or suggestions on pacing. I'd love to hear them.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Great Reads: The Night Gardener

So I've just emerged from the fog surrounding graduate school for a two week period, just long enough to delve into some of the wonderful arcs I got at the ALA Midwinter Conference. I pulled THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier out of the pile first. Lately, this author has done a very thoughtful series of blog articles on what to do after the publishing contract comes. If you're a writer, check out the series here for thoughts like the difference between Book Festivals and Bookstore events, or how to build an online presence.

But back to the book. The Night Gardener has a great classy yet shivery vibe to it. Molly clings to stories to make her way in the world. Alone with her brother in a dickens-like landscape, she and her brother travel to a mysterious house deep in the woods to work as servants. Getting there is tough. All the townspeople avoid the house, whispering tales of a family that disappeared in the night.

But Molly has no choice. She must rely on the power of stories to pull her closer to the truth. But is she willing to face her own truth?

In the words of Tim O'Brien in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, “sometimes story truth is truer than happening truth.” I've always liked the depth of that quote, and I think that Auxier fully explored story truth in The Night Gardener. I'd recommend this book to kids who've loved the gothic backdrop of Joan Aiken's THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE or Cathrynne M. Valente's lyrical narration in THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED THE WORLD (and following sequels.)

One warning: If you are like me, and have to leave the room during certain parts of the Corpse Bride, do not read this book after dark. I read into the night because I couldn't put this book down. By the time I finished, it was late and I was in a dark apartment with the odd sensation that there was some kind of sentient zombie Abraham Lincoln looking over my shoulder. I'm just saying... leave a light on. Either way, THE NIGHT GARDENER is not to be missed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Snowflakes Hate Diets

In honor of the snowfall in March, I thought I'd write a little ode to the flakes today. Enjoy.
Snowflakes Hate Diets

Those plump, white flakes
you have to admire their
for the mirror.

They have no time
for fad diets
or counting carbs.
What are
or South Beach
to Condensation?

They just keep on
content in their gravitational pull
letting the weight of things
take over
Instead, they 
 admire themselves
from every angle
as they twirl
in the wind

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Writing Exercise With Description

There are several things in this world that I have trouble with: tax forms, club dancing and those little packets of soy sauce that I can never seem to get open without squirting them all over myself. But perhaps none rival the amount of frustration that I often have with description. The entire scene is right in my head, right? So it should be easy to put on paper. Someday, I'm going to invent a steampunk contraption that allows me to extract the setting from my head, and put it down into the pages, so I can then move on with the story.

Until I get around to inventing that, (and it will be sweet when I'm done with it, copper, steam-powered with lots of gears that make sizzling sounds and stuff,) I would like to suggest a writing exercise I did with my Young Writer's Group at the library, if you too suffer from a lack of flowery adjectives.

First you need a Word Cloud Creator. Some good ones are:


Word It Out

ABCya! Word Clouds for Kids!  (Note: You can still play with kid things if you are an adult.)

Then choose a character, or setting, or even a scene. Write the character/setting name in first, then brainstorm descriptive words, and don't be stingy with the verbs. I've found this is a fun way to feel my way around a topic or characters I'm having trouble with. If you're a visual person as well, you may want to try it. The young writers in my group had fun with choosing colors and fonts that related to their characters, i.e. cheery yellow to denote an energetic character, or darker colors for more reserved ones. If you try it out, I'd be interested to see what you come up with. Let me know in the comments how it goes.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Great Novel-in-Verse Reading Pick

So every once in awhile, you come across one of those books, that you really wish you had written first. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle was like that for me.

I know there's some trepidation about the novel-in-verse format. Concern that perhaps it's just a story told with line breaks. But novels-in-verse have many more opportunities for expressing internal dialogue, drawing focus to a certain description as a turning point, delving deeper into the relationships between characters. In short, novels-in-verse are unique.  I personally, find it to be a great pick for reluctant readers at the library. My patrons who get panic attacks when they see pages full of words, often find novels-in-verse to be more manageable.

Silver People delves into the racial and class divides among workers in the digging of the Panama Canal. It shows the effect that this man made wonder had on the landscape, and the people of Panama as well. And in the way that Hogwort Castle is character in Harry Potter, I even felt that the forest itself was the main character of this endeavor with its own arc. It changed as it watched the divide between workers divided by the color of their skin and by silver and gold.

I've read other novels-in-verse by Engle. She's a master at the format, but I'd venture to say this is her best book yet, based on her own experiences in Panama and extensive historical resource. If you're looking to get lost in history, a lush forest or an intertwining network of characters, then this book is for you. It hits the shelves March 25, 2014.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why I am still Writing While in Grad School.

I've heard there's a meter of perfect stillness in the center of those crazy tropical storms.  And I always wondered how the heck that was possible. But now I get it. Yes. I'm about to get ZEN on you. I've resisted blogging and/or talking about the whole "writing while in grad school and working fulltime thing", just because part of me was worried that people would judge me about how much I'm able to accomplish right now. Like for example, my grad school advisor, who seems to think my dreams of being a professional novelist are a quaint Generation Y version of a hobby. NOT TRUE. 

Yes, my days are turning into this weird ping pong schedule that somewhat resembles a flamboyance of flamingos trying to order a hamburger. I write in the morning, go to work and do story times, run graphic novel book clubs, read academic papers on the history of cataloging at my lunch break and after work, do more class things like ponder what is the point of metadata? (Seriously, if you know the answer, please tell me, because I don't know.)  And it has been suggested to me that maybe I should just pull the writing out, and I'd have a bit more sanity. Not true. First of all, I had no sanity to begin with. 

And secondly, the thing I'm finding out, is that the writing helps me stay me. School is draining, frustrating, and slowly pulling all the joy out of working at a library. Counterproductive, I know, but I love my job and would really like to be an official librarian. But far from being draining, the hour or two I spend writing in the morning energizes me. I go into work knowing I put words down on the page, and even if they weren't good words, (and let's face it, they're probably not,) I was able to kick out from all the other deadlines that circle my head all day, long enough to follow my characters around while they lived their lives. I had an hour to be me. 

So, I just wanted to throw it out there, that if there's anyone else who's being told, "you might be too busy to write." I get you. Don't feel like you're being selfish if you just want to sit down and write. Leave the dishes, forget the laundry, and start buying those little cans of tuna that come with spoons. Seriously. They are very useful. Lots of protein. 

Drop it all and write. Just write. Let the tropical storm go and knock over a hay field or something. For an hour, your only allegiance is to the words on the page.