Right Left Write,
Breaking Through Writer’s Block
We are told that the language side of our thinking apparatus (left side) sorts the world into compartments of data that describe things that have happened, and has further compartments for what can happen in the future, as a result.
The right side is solely and completely occupied with the mass of data coming in NOW. (See https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight)
The bridge between the two sides is the corpus callosum.
In the literary field, writers struggle to varying degrees with the many topics within which life’s adventures can occur, and how to organize a particular thread of events into the conventions of a story. The past and the future are multitude, while the present is a blank line on a page. Making coherent sense out of that relationship is the profession of a literary artist. As a writer, what does your bridge look like?
When writing non-fiction we must rely on those extensive files of what happened.
Fiction writers may daintily pick through the details of the past, then bring them forth boldly into their creative NOW. Science fiction writers will stare long into the future, then bring their creative sparks back, sometimes reluctantly, to the present so that a narrative may be fashioned.
If a writer’s blank line begins to gather dust, it may be that a bridge is needed.
The blank line can occur when each side in your mind fights for control of what you are doing.
While writing, that fight means loss of focus, inconsistency between sections, and a petering out of your desire to carry on with this project.
So you drop it and go to another one…
Use facts to improve your characters
Let’s bridge that gap.
Rooting your characterizations within a rational methodology will open new avenues for your creativity.
Character development is important for a smooth flow along the arc of the plot line.
For the highly structured genre of film scripts, a standard description of the plot arc goes like this:
- Eye grab – start with a scene that grabs the viewer’s immediate attention
- Introduction of the thread character – usually the protagonist, this person carries the thread of the story all the way
- Incident – the event that gets our attention
- Turning point – something changes to engage the previously reluctant protagonist
- Sweet spot – near the middle, when we are confirmed as pulling for the protagonist
- Reversal – our protagonist runs into a critical decision, and/or gets slammed hard
- Climax – fighting the other characters and maybe “fate”, we don’t know if our protagonist is going to succeed
- Closing – success! Wrap up the loose ends.
We should link the dramatic aspects of a character effectively to the various points along that arc.
There is a way to develop consistent and believable characters whose actions can be followed without having to write too much of a backstory. This taps into the endless files of data from your left side in an effective way.
A person’s traits are defined as a set of enduring characteristics, by which you could recognize someone you knew at just about any time over the years.
They seem to be hard-wired.
While potentially changeable as a result of some dramatic event, for most of us, a few minor changes come only through maturity.
Using traits we can develop verbal pictures of a character without having to resort to a lot of explanation. For instance, taking dominance from the list below, we could say, “She wanted, and usually got, her way.” Looking at the other descriptors for dominance, we would know not to use any of these: deferential, cooperative, avoids conflict, submissive, humble, obedient, easily led, docile, accommodating.
There are a number of contenders to the throne of a definitive theory. The following list is one (of many) that can be useful for writers to consider.
Raymond Cattell’s 16 Personality Factors
Descriptors of Low Range
Descriptors of High Range
|Impersonal, distant, cool, reserved, detached, formal, aloof||Warmth
|Warm, outgoing, attentive to others, kindly, easy-going, participating, likes people|
|Concrete thinking, lower general mental capacity, less intelligent, unable to handle abstract problems||Reasoning
|Abstract-thinking, more intelligent, bright, higher general mental capacity, fast learner|
|Reactive emotionally, changeable, affected by feelings, emotionally less stable, easily upset||Emotional Stability
|Emotionally stable, adaptive, mature, faces reality calmly|
|Deferential, cooperative, avoids conflict, submissive, humble, obedient, easily led, docile, accommodating||Dominance
|Dominant, forceful, assertive, aggressive, competitive, stubborn, bossy|
|Serious, restrained, prudent, taciturn, introspective, silent||Liveliness
|Lively, animated, spontaneous, enthusiastic, happy go lucky, cheerful, expressive, impulsive|
|Expedient, nonconforming, disregards rules, self-indulgent||Rule-Consciousness
|Rule-conscious, dutiful, conscientious, conforming, moralistic, staid, rule bound|
|Shy, threat-sensitive, timid, hesitant, intimidated||Social Boldness
|Socially bold, venturesome, thick skinned, uninhibited|
|Utilitarian, objective, unsentimental, tough minded, self-reliant, no-nonsense, rough||Sensitivity
|Sensitive, aesthetic, sentimental, tender minded, intuitive, refined|
|Trusting, unsuspecting, accepting, unconditional, easy||Vigilance
|Vigilant, suspicious, skeptical, distrustful, oppositional|
|Grounded, practical, prosaic, solution oriented, steady, conventional||Abstractedness
|Abstract, imaginative, absent minded, impractical, absorbed in ideas|
|Forthright, genuine, artless, open, guileless, naive, unpretentious, involved||Privateness
|Private, discreet, nondisclosing, shrewd, polished, worldly, astute, diplomatic|
|Self-Assured, unworried, complacent, secure, free of guilt, confident, self-satisfied||Apprehension
|Apprehensive, self doubting, worried, guilt prone, insecure, worrying, self blaming|
|Traditional, attached to familiar, conservative, respecting traditional ideas||Openness to Change
|Open to change, experimental, liberal, analytical, critical, free thinking, flexibility|
|Group-oriented, affiliative, a joiner and follower dependent||Self-Reliance
|Self-reliant, solitary, resourceful, individualistic, self-sufficient|
|Tolerates disorder, unexacting, flexible, undisciplined, lax, self-conflict, impulsive, careless of social rules, uncontrolled||Perfectionism
|Perfectionistic, organized, compulsive, self-disciplined, socially precise, exacting will power, control, self-sentimental|
|Relaxed, placid, tranquil, torpid, patient, composed low drive||Tension
|Tense, high energy, impatient, driven, frustrated, over wrought, time driven.|
|Primary Factors and Descriptors in Cattell’s 16 Personality Factor Model (Adapted From Conn & Rieke, 1994).|
Taking a combined example: Social Boldness plus Sensitivity
aka Extroversion <> Introversion
Most people would say that a good salesperson should be an extrovert. However if you imagine the extrovert actually selling, you can see that he/she enjoys the conversation, and has trouble getting to a conclusion – since the end of the conversation is not this person’s preferred goal. Making a friend is the objective. An introvert, in contrast, goes through the sales process and focuses on getting the sale. Then on to the next conquest…
So, when writing the scene you would do it quite differently depending on the character’s traits that you chose.
If you wish to write the character of a sympathetic loser, you could assign the salesperson the characteristics of an extrovert (Willy Loman?). If you want to portray a ruthless winner, then an introvert could be a good choice (Steve Jobs?).
Now, having fleshed out your character, you can choose from the descriptors of the traits to pepper psychologically-accurate bits into your story.
This helping of rationality, of course, spices up the creative juices – merging left and right sides.
As you write, the substrate of your ideas should coalesce around the theme that arises out of, either, the right-side-predominant emotional concept that drives your urge to write this piece; or, the unifying idea that is the rational, sequential set of occurrences that you see in your left-side-predominant mind.
Whichever side you feel comfortable starting with, let it be the unifying substrate, the foundation of the road that stretches out through the landscape of your vision for this piece, past definable milestones of occurrences, to a successful conclusion.
Search through Wikipedia’s endless articles on personality traits.
Don’t be confused by descriptions of “personality” that include states.
For instance, consider a Rorschach inkblot test. It is basically a state outcome. People react to it differently depending on their mood, and what the boss did to them today…
A good example of trait-based psych-testing is the Campbell Interest and Skills Survey.
Write good stuff!