Wingless Soundtrack

Hi guys,

A while ago, I posted soundtracks for Wingéd, Foiche Dé, and Dragon Wingéd. So, here are the songs that I listened to while writing Wingless. Some of them I did add later on, because they seemed to fit. If a certain song reminds me of a character, I put the name in parentheses next to it. Enjoy!

Radioactive – Pentatonix & Lindsey Stirling
Where I Stood – Missy Higgins (Emmy)
Skinny Love – Brooke Adee
Paralyzer – Finger Eleven (Kitane)
Shut Up and Dance – WALK THE MOON
Little Wonders – Rob Thomas (Logan)
Burning Gold – Christina Perri (Nora)
Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons (Dmitri)
Breaking the Habit – Linkin Park
Life Without You (Duett Version) – Stanfour
Come With Me Now – KONGOS
Safe & Sound (feat. The Civil Wars) – Taylor Swift (Rin)
Broken (feat. Amy Lee) – Seether
Demons – Imagine Dragons (Cassius)
One Week – Barenaked Ladies (Daisuke)
I Can’t Stop Drinking About You – Bebe Rexha
Fall Behind Me – The Donnas
Let Her Go – Cole Vosbury
Say Something – A Great Big World
Makes Me Wonder – Maroon 5
Bury Me With My Guns On – Bobaflex
Bring Me to Life – Evanescence
Crystal – Stevie Nicks

Colleen

Empathy: A Writer’s Greatest Tool

My creative writing professor once told me that you cannot be a fiction writer and hate people. It’s just not possible, because writing is people. The world is people. If you don’t like people, you cannot understand the world and cannot be a successful writer. It would be like trying to be a mathematician that hates numbers (or representations of numbers). It is paramount.

Now, I have been called a misanthrope most of my life. People bother me. You are chaotic and overwhelming, especially in large groups. I’m highly introverted and awkward in most social situations. I don’t understand the concept of “small talk” or how not talking about the weather makes me impolite or unfriendly. So, obviously, this meant that I was a horrible writer which led to another jaunt down insecurity lane, because at the time, I thought that he meant that I had to like people, like their personalities, and be a people person.

It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t listening to what he was saying. He was talking about empathy. Having empathy is one of the most important tools at an author’s disposal. There are two kinds of empathy: cognitive and affective.

Cognitive empathy means that you’re able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else. In terms of being an author, this would be your character. You must know likes, dislikes, fears, aspirations, experiences, and how the character feels about himself or herself. However, as an author, this needs to be taken a step further. It’s being able to see and understand how this character views the world around them, how they take in and process events and information, and what actions the character would take based on that view. At the same time, the author must also anticipate how these events and actions interact with the character’s preconceived notions and how the world view changes. It is a give and take that is constantly changing.

I liken it to this quote from Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.”

In order to make a character a whole person, the author must care. It’s loving a character as he or she would love him or herself. They’re like family. You don’t have to like them, but you have to love them. This is true for every character including your villain. That connection should be evident in everything that an author writes otherwise your characters will be flat and unbelievable. If the author doesn’t believe in or care about the character, why should the reader? Which brings us to affective empathy.

In the author/reader relationship, affective empathy is what you want from your reader. It is what occurs as a reader begins to care for your character. When a person sees another in distress, this causes distress (assuming you’re not, y’know, a sociopath or something). The reader isn’t going to care about the character in the same way that the author does, and we wouldn’t want them to. While the author is charged with putting themselves into their character’s shoes and expressing his or her point of view in words, the reader is under no such obligation.

How is this a tool for the author? Well, the reader’s affective empathy can be used to against them. The more that a reader cares for a character, the more easily they can be led. Readers are more forgiving of characters that they like or empathize with. In contrast, if you wanted to surprise your reader with a plot twist, such as a hidden villain, you can play with your readers’ emotions by making them care about a character before pulling the rug out from under them. (I’m sorry readers, but it’s all for your own good.) The bigger the reaction (other than one of “that’s totally unbelievable), the more successful you’ve been.

Oh, but I do have a word of caution though. An author must be careful when manipulating a reader’s empathy. Piss a reader off too much, and they might never pick up your novels again.

Keeping that in mind, what my professor said is true. If you don’t want to spend your time thinking about your characters or your reader, if you cannot empathize with them, there is no way that you can be a fiction writer.

In those terms, I actually enjoy people. From psychology to sociology or anthropology, history, art, and music, everything that humanity touches, I find fascinating. Humanity has a beauty and complexity that I just can’t stop exploring. Languages, landmarks, mythology, ethics, value systems: I can never get enough. It all stems from our relationships with others, just living. It’s magical.

Character Creation Using Psychology

When I was younger, I loved watching Harriet the Spy (Is it weird that I feel as if I am betraying someone by saying that I loved a movie instead of the book?), and I especially loved when Ole Golly says, “There are as many ways to live as there are people in this world, and each one deserves a closer look.” This is the approach that I take toward personality.

Some of the biggest complaints regarding fiction are that the reader/viewer was unable to identify with the character, inconsistency in behavior, or that the character is flat and has no discernible personality. This can happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps the character isn’t fully realized. Perhaps the author is unable credibly portray that character’s point of view. Or perhaps the character’s motives are inadequate reasoning for their behavior. If it isn’t a matter of writing, then it’s a matter of psychology. This post seeks to introduce a few subjects to aid authors in figuring out how their characters tick.

Psychology is more than just a personality. It brings to light the biases and assumptions that belong to not only the character but the reader as well. The more that the author understands about these driving forces, the easier it will be to create believable characters, and the easier it will be to manipulate the feelings of your reader. Sometimes I feel bad about that last part, but other times, I just touch my fingertips together and cackle.

Personality Types & Tests

Myers-Briggs
My personal favorite of all the personality tests is the Myers-Briggs test. Its foundations lie in Carl Jung’s theories, and it states that a person is made up of four types of traits. They are either introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, feeling or thinking, judging or perceiving. This ends up in sixteen different personality types to choose from. When I’m stuck on a character, sometimes it helps to read through them. I appreciate this due to the variety, subtle differentiation, and how thorough it is. Also, it’s a really fun test to take. You can find the Myers-Briggs test here: http://typelogic.com/ (All links open new windows.)

Enneagram

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Another popular test is the enneagram test. I’d forgotten about this one until recently. It reduces personalities into nine types: the reformer, the helper, the achiever, the individualist, the investigator, the loyalist, the enthusiast, the challenger, and the peacemaker. I like this test, because it helps to determine what traits motivate a character most and determines his or her biggest flaw. It can also predict how a character will react to stress or events and shows how these personalities are related to one another which Myers-Briggs doesn’t do as well. For more on the enneagram test, you can visit the Enneagram Institute: http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/intro.asp#.UijH3casiSo

Personality Disorders
And if you’re looking for more than your basic personality, you might be interested in the wide world of personality disorders. There are three clusters of disorders: odd or eccentric; dramatic, emotional, or erratic; and anxious or fearful. I do sometimes like to give my characters personality disorders or personalities prone to these traits, because they tend to be more interesting than your every day characters. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has really detailed descriptions on typical behavior manifestations and what might cause them. A word or warning: it’s not recommended that you try to diagnose yourself or others based on these descriptions. You can find a fuller list of personality disorders here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_disorder

Defense Mechanisms

In every story, you’re going to have conflict. If you don’t, let me be the first to tell you, you’re doing it wrong. Whether it be an internal conflict or external conflict, your characters will need to find a way to cope. Sometimes these are obvious reactions and other times less so. Either way, I have found that Freud’s fifteen common defense mechanisms to be most helpful. (See? He wasn’t only obsessed with sex.) Of course not everyone copes with stress or conflict in the same way, so knowing all the various ways that someone might react comes in rather handy. I suggest using some caution, because you will want your character’s defense mechanism to match his or her personality. For more reading on these, you can check out this website: http://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-defense-mechanisms/0001251

Attribution

I learned about attribution from a Social Psychology class. (This is different than sociology by the way. Sociology studies how culture influences behavior and social psychology study how different situations affect social behavior.) On the very first day, this short, elderly woman trudged into the room, slammed her brief case down on the desk, scowled out at us, and said, “Social psychology is simple: we want to feel good about ourselves all the time. That’s all you need to know, but we’re going to spend the next ten weeks studying it anyway.”

This was one of the most important lessons that I could learn when it came to character creation, especially when it came to villains. No matter how evil a character is perceived, that person wants to feel good about him/herself, and their actions will reflect that. The logic might be sick and twisted, but even the most evil or sociopathic individual has thoughts and feelings that will lead them to act in ways that serve this core desire. And there are things that we often do subconsciously in order to protect our egos. This article on attribution highlights a few of these biases that you never knew that you had.

Kendra Cherry “The Psychology of Attribution” http://psychology.about.com/od/socialpsychology/a/attribution.htm

Of course, no one can be whittled down to a super fun archetype, but it’s a great place to start if you’re having trouble with your characters. Is there anywhere that you go that helps you with character creation? Feel free to comment below!

Naming Your Characters: Using Etymology

I started seriously delving into history outside mythology while doing research for my third novel, Dragon Wingéd, which takes place around 2200 B.C.E. This had an unexpected side effect, making a profound difference on how I approach naming a character.

When writing about the present, thanks to planes and other forms of mass transit, the boundaries on names aren’t as defined. For example, finding someone named Cassandra in England isn’t unheard of, but in the middle of the bronze age, it pretty much was. According to behindthename.com, “Cassandra” is derived from Greek. So, anyone could rightly assume that someone named “Cassandra” from the bronze age would be Greek. She could be English; it’s not impossible, but, yes, highly improbable.

While looking into these name etymologies, I came to realize just how old some of these everyday names really are, and just how many stereotypical English names happen to be Greek. It boggles my mind, especially when you realize how popular these names had to be in order to survive to modern day. There were individuals four thousand years ago named Cassandra, meaning “shining upon man”. Think about this. Most English speakers cannot read Old English (it looks too much like German), and that wasn’t even one thousand years ago. “Cassandra” comes from Greek. Modern Greek has evolved from Koine Greek and its cousin Classical Greek. Before that? Attic. Before that? Mycenaean, which falls under the Hellenic and Indo-European family tree of languages. When you consider how these languages have evolved, we have a word, “Cassandra” that has changed comparatively little. That I could be picked up and dropped in the middle of Ancient Greece and be able to identify a word, even just one word… It’s amazing!

So, the rest of this entry is dedicated to some of my favorite stories behind my characters’ names.

I used to go back and forth between being obsessed with a name’s meaning and how it either defines or add symbolism to my story and using whatever name happens to be handy. On the one hand, I’ve given names to my characters like Kapera. I almost created her character around the name, because I loved it so much. It is of African origin (which is crazy vague, I know) and it means “this child will die.” It’s incredibly depressing, and furthermore, since the character is a foiche Dé, beings that are reincarnated, I appreciated that it was both fitting and ironic. Yes, the foiche Dé do die over and over again, but they are in a state of perpetual life. It’s one of those things my creative writing professor would love because it’s “dripping with meaning”. This name almost created the Wingéd sequel on its own.

On the other hand, I am also prone to putting in place holders for names that never end up getting changed, which is how my favorite character, Angel Dyson, came to be named after my parents’ vacuum cleaner. In my defense, I also loved that vacuum cleaner. I wish I could have taken it with me when I moved out.

The name I get the most questions on will probably always be Friedel, the girl who started it all. And… as much as I love the name and could not imagine that character being named anything else, I frequently regret naming her that. Partially Mostly… Okay. Okay. BECAUSE no one ever pronounces it correctly. Friedel is actually named after the last name of a famous actor, Will Friedle, who pronounces it “fri-DELL”. I changed the spelling because it looked better and to aid in pronunciation, but it didn’t help. The most frequent pronunciation is “FREE-dl” that rhymes with “Tweedle”. And a little part of me dies inside. When I did my rewrite, I seriously considered either changing her name to something more symbolic or thoughtful or changing the spelling to better reflect what I was trying to achieve. I did neither, because she is Friedel. I did eventually look up what her name online, and it is a variant of Friedelinde which means “gentle peace”. It’s actually appropriate for describing the dead, but I lucked out.

I highly suggest that you check out both Behindthename.com and this Indo-European languages tree from Wikipedia, especially the Latin languages.

Do you have a special process when it comes to naming your characters? Do you have a funny story about how one of your characters was named? Leave me a comment!