Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting to Know Your Characters by Jeannie Campbell, Part Four

This month, character therapist, Jeannie Campbell, has shared a great series with  us on characterization. She's back with the conclusion today. Enjoy!

Getting to Know your Characters, Part Four
by Jeannie Campbell

This week we’re finishing up my series of four questions your characters need to answer and why. We’ve covered:

1. What is your biggest fear?
2. What is your biggest accomplishment
3. What is your biggest regret?

So far, these have been questions that I’ve selected from my intake form on my website where I give free psychological mini-assessments to fictional characters. But today’s question is one that I reserve for really digging deeper in a full assessment (valued at $14.99).

Question 4: What concept or principle would you be willing to die for?

The basis of this question stems from Dr. Stanley Williams book, The Moral Premise. Characters usually aren’t motivated to action by trivial thoughts and feelings. They, like real human beings, have core values that ultimately influence what they do, say, and think.

Whatever your character identifies as being worthy and important enough to die for is a good indication of what they value. Dr. Williams writes, “Psychologically, a set of values is the fertilizer for ideas, ideologies, and thought that course through our mind and soul and give us motivation to take action” (p. 9).

Dr. Williams then goes on to say that stories have to grow from a conflict of values, or the result will be “nothing more than…unmotivated juxtapositions.”

So while the answer to this question says a lot about the character, which I use for characterization purposes, it also says a lot about the structure of the book. How? I compare the answer to this question with the answer to two additional questions that are on my free intake form:

1)      What is your external goal in the book? Why do you want that goal and who/what stands in the way?
2)      What is your internal goal in the book? Why do you want that goal and who/what stands in the way?

These are sound questions for your characters to answer anyway, but when paired with the value question asked above, the three together give me a great sense of whether the storyworld you have developed is the best environment to showcase the particular character you’ve dropped on my couch.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series of learning how to get to know your heroes and heroines better. Stop by my website,, and let me know if I can ever put one of your fictional characters on my couch…for real. 

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC # 45366) in the state of California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit in Humboldt County, and enjoys working mainly with children and parents. Two of her “therapeutic romance” manuscripts have garnered the high praise of being finalists in the Genesis Contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), of which she is an active member. She writes a popular monthly column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and has been featured in many other e-zines, newspapers, and blogs.