I attended a program offered by the CatholicWriters of St. Louis called “Enliven Your Writing with an Understanding of Clinical & Spiritual Psychology.” The purpose of the program was to show how a character’s personality makes him act the way he does. The speaker was psychologist, Dr. Richard Johnson. This is my ‘take-away’ from the program on creating characters:
Dr. Johnson began by talking about the structure of personality – what is at the core of the individual character, or what makes him unique. He listed six things that make up that structure.
Believing: What we believe makes us act the way we do. This includes our values, attitudes and prejudices.
Perceiving: What we perceive is intuitive, and includes receptive sites, which are physical, mental, and emotional.
Thinking: What we think is always either an evaluation or an assessment. You connect data with your belief.
Feeling: Thoughts create feelings. The purpose of feelings is to make you move to the next thing—it pushes us, or moves us, to act.
Deciding: What we feel makes us decide, or make choices, about what to do. We make plans.
Acting: And last, we act, or carry out what we’ve decided to do.
In a handout, we received a list of five spiritual strengths, disturbing compulsions, and instructive shadows for each part of the personality structure. ‘Spiritual strengths’ give us power. ‘Disturbing compulsions’ describe when our strength becomes compulsive. And ‘instructive shadows’ describe a lack of that strength. For example, hope is a spiritual strength, or virtue. Lack of hope leads to despair, and when it becomes a compulsion it leads to presumption.
There are different levels that lead us from one direction to another, and most of the time we are someplace in between those levels. Our strength, or virtue, motivates our behavior. Character development is describing personality. The way a character acts, or reacts and responds to a situation, comes from his personality. We should use vivid, accurate words when creating characters. And keep in mind what our characters’ spiritual strengths are to help us develop his personality along the lines of those strengths.
About Peggy Archer:
Peggy's most recent picture book, Name That Dog! (Dial), is on the accelerated Reader list, and is listed with Scholastic Book Club. Her picture book, Turkey Surprise, was a NY Times bestseller. Originally from northwest Indiana, Peggy and her husband now live in O'Fallon, MO.