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Lifecycle of a
by Sandy Tritt
is when our character begins to show his psychological profile. And we
want him to be multi-dimensional. He will have certain personality
components that he will show most of the time, and others that he will
show only in the presence of certain people or in specific situations.
In other words, the personality his brother sees may not be the same
personality his boss sees—or the one his girlfriend sees. For characters
to feel real, they must be inconsistent—in a consistent way.
First, make sure you understand fully your character’s main
personality—the personality he has when he is alone or when he is with
the people he is most comfortable with. Use the Personality Component
Worksheet in Section 8 to highlight in yellow the three to six
adjectives that most strongly describe your character on a normal basis.
Then highlight in blue those adjectives that also describe him on a
normal basis, but that are not as predominant. Then try your character
out in different situations and in the presence of different people.
When does he behave differently? When he is tired? When his mother is
present? When he wants to impress a girl? After a few belts of whiskey?
When he is angry? Assign a highlighter color to these situations and
highlight the adjectives that best describe your character in these
Sometimes it is hard to “flesh” out a character in this manner. If you
are having difficulty, it is time to cheat. I use a good book of the
Zodiac that includes both sun and moon signs as a “cheap” way to add
dimension to a character. Following are the supposed characteristics of
people born between certain dates. Notice that I only chose the three or
four adjectives that were the strongest for the sign. Within a book of
the Zodiac, you will find many more characteristics, including a
breakdown of how he behaves in romance, in the office, and at play.
ARIES (March 21-April 20) – Straightforward, energetic, impulsive,
TAURUS (April 21-May 21) – Tenacious, stubborn, moody, patient
GEMINI (May 22-June 21) – Inquisitive, kind, adventurous, considerate
CANCER (June 22-July 22) – Sensitive, emotional, warm, empathetic
LEO (July 23-August 23) – Proud, generous, sweet, positive
VIRGO (August 24-September 23) – Insightful, sensible, sociable, patient
LIBRA (September 24-October 23) – Indecisive, charming, just, logical
SCORPIO (October 24-November 22) – Honest, sensual, revengeful, jealous
SAGITTARIUS (November 23-December 21) – Spiritual, sensitive, happy,
CAPRICORN (December 22-January 20) – Responsible, composed, strong,
AQUARIUS (January 21-February 19) – Pompous, generous, knowledgeable,
PISCES (February 20-March 20) – Sympathetic, imaginative, creative,
Another element of personality that seems to have scientific merit is
birth order. Many psychologists believe that a person’s position in his
birth family affects his personality. The oldest child typically
receives the most parental attention, the youngest is usually coddled
more, and the middle child can get lost in the shuffle. Here are the
traits that psychologists assign to birth order:
FIRST BORN – Responsible, high achiever, disciplined, likes to be in
MIDDLE CHILD – Social, popular, meditative, avoids conflict, generous,
YOUNGEST CHILD – Lighthearted, charming, dependent, creative,
ONLY CHILD – High self-esteem, perfectionist, imaginative, selfish, high
TWINS – Dependent (especially on each other), competitive, secretive
NOTE: There can be more than one “first born” per family. The oldest
child of each sex often inherits the characteristics of a first born;
also, a child born five or more years after the previous child will
behave more like an oldest or only child, and birth order begins again.
For example, if a family consists of children ages 1, 3, 11, 12, 14 and
22, the 3 and 14-year-olds will both exhibit characteristics of a first
born, and the 1 and 11-year-olds will exhibit characteristics of the
youngest child. The 12-year-old will behave like a middle child, and the
22-year-old will act as an only child. It is also possible to have three
(or more) only children in the same family.
We can use these tools—and our overly active imagination—to conjure up a
character who is multi-dimensional and who will walk off the pages of
our novel and into the hearts of our reader.
(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. November be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in
conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt
for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.
Critiques by Sandy
Unlike most editors, I consider my role
to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I
explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how
to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat
business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other
Treat you with respect and compassion.
All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to
improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.
Mark your manuscript, correcting
grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where
Highlight areas that are especially
well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.
Where appropriate, offer suggestions for
plot development, character development or other areas that could be
Return a two-to-four page written
analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting,
characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks,
etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.
If appropriate, recommend reading or
resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.
Answer any questions you have via
Provide my telephone number for a
personal follow-up, if you desire.
For Sandy's success stories, see
Write Sandy at
(See Sandy's article
Review: Poetry Repair Manual
by Bruce L. Cook
Review: Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair
Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 2005)
In reviewing this 163-page book, I
expected to see poetry with part numbers – something like the Sears
Manual to its LP-20 washing machine. Or a taxonomy of rhymes and
rhythms. Happily, I was disappointed in both expectations.
The new U.S. Poet Laureate
Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Ted Kooser dispels the
idea of poetry as an elite medium. “A lot of the resistance to poetry
can be blamed on poets,” he says, reminding me that a similar sentence
could be constructed to blame low opera attendance on Wagner. Now this
comparison is probably unfair, but is does have some traction.
But bear with me, if you will.
Here’s a better quote: “A poem is the invited guest of its reader.” Now
this can become controversial, because there are those that might feel
the poet is in charge, regardless. Kooser would rather bring the reader
into the equation.
It gets more interesting with this
quotation: “Give those titles and openings a cost-benefit analysis: How
much do you gain by using the beginning you’ve written, versus how much
might it cost you by putting off the reader?” The economics of poetry.
But Kooser isn’t all wrong.
Kooser gets into the idea of
audience building and making poetry more readily understandable for
readers, for example by using contemporary speech. “Don’t Worry about
Rules” (the title of Chapter 4) is the order of the day.
Kooser also gives us important
warnings, such as the avoidance of self-indulgence and sentimentality,
which often forms a barrier between good and bad in this area of
expression. (After all, many “Roses are red, violets are blue… “ poets
feel that sentimentality and self-indulgence is the stuff of good
Here a poet laureate gets down to
earth and helps “the rest of us” learn how to apply our imagination in
this unique form of expression. “Most of the poets I know are of average
intelligence,” he says. “What makes them ‘different’ is that they love
playing with language.” We can all be different that way, he seems to be
saying, and the poetic profession is closed to none.
I recommend this “Home Repair
Manual” for poets and students of poetry. There’s something there for
all of us and it’s far better reading than that Sears Manual I was
The Truth about Writing Biography
When I was first
asked to write a short piece of writing
memoir or biography, I that it a bit
strange I would be asked to write
something when the only other things I
have written were stories based on my
life – so far. However, I do have a
manuscript, a very long manuscript, so I
would suppose I am qualified to tell you
what I learned along the way of writing
‘that great American memoir’.
When I first
made up my mind to put my writing
where my mouth is, and quit talking
about what I would do, a very good
friend advised me by saying, ‘Diane,
just down and write. Start with the
first day you met, and take it from
there.” I had no idea our brief 4 ½
years were worthy of an entire
manuscript, and hopefully a book or
a TV miniseries. Ah! I do dream!
So, I followed
my friends advice and I began to
write, and I wrote and I wrote, and
I wrote, for 8 hours straight I told
the story of the most remarkable
young man I would ever meet, and how
he fell in love with me. I wrote
about the first date, and I wrote
about how we fell so much in love we
could not even study… and then I had
a dilemma – so I tell the truth now,
or would I change our story to a
version sanitized of all our human
failures. With the idea of our
children someday reading my words,
and our deeds, I decided to ‘nice’
it over. As I wrote the fiction, I
continued to have difficulties
making the ends meet, once I told
that first ‘lie’, nothing fit, and
unknown to me at the time, I learned
my first great lesson about how to
Now, after all
the years of writing, editing, and
re-writing, the truth is the truth.
It is the shortcut to the final
chapters simply because I did not
have to go back and see what I had
said, and when. I did not have to
maneuver script simply write.
Once, when I
was a child, my grandmother told me,
“Diane, if you tell the truth, you
never have to remember what you
Oh how right
manuscript is over 1000 pages, one
side, double spaced, but still a
huge piece of work, and not one
single word is a lie, an
embellishment, although I left my
heart on every page. However, over
time, IF I ever published, I KNOW
that no one can say, “It didn’t
happen that way.” Perhaps, they will
think they remember it differently,
but it was my life, I lived it, and
I KNOW what happened, what happened,
what was said, how, and why.
So, if you want
to write memoir, tell the truth from
the very beginning, check your
resources about memories that might
have become fuzzy, and ask others
what they remember. I sure had to do
that for the funeral because I was
not there, rather floating overhead
watching this person who was
supposed to be me, do and say all
the right things. I cannot give any
other advice, each of us has to live
with what we write and for some, and
the truth may be too painful. There
were times when I did not think I
could finish our story, but I did,
and I cried more tears than I have
in my lifetime.
If you want to
write memoir, tell it like it
happened, tears and all, if not,
write fiction, usually it makes for
a more interesting story. I simply
do not know how to write other than
my own heartaches.
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Publishing New Writers,
March, 2006 (no. 703)
Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
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