The Page a Day Writers Group

Who are you and what do you want?

Posted on: December 1, 2009

Deb, thanks so much for Raymond Cattell’s awesome Personality Factors grid. Helpful stuff indeed. Character research makes me long to return to social work school with my mid-life writer’s lens. It’s all about what makes people tick, isn’t it?

Whenever I start feeling confused (often) I ask my character this basic question: Who are you and what do you want?

I wrestle with this question and with my character, sometimes alongside the help of one or another tool such as Deb’s suggestion. With any luck, they (those pesky characters) eventually begin to stand on their own feet and start doing things. And sometimes I say, “Whoa, that’s what you want to do now? I had no idea you had it in you!” And off they go- they’ve come alive.

Continuing this thread, here’s another useful character assessment tool straight out of my social work tool box. (Did someone say “tool?” Deb, you’ve inspired me- pardon my blatant tongue-in-cheek reference.)

So, character assessment tool number two:

Erik Erikson’s Psycosocial Stages Summary Chart

Dig into your character’s past with this chart of Erikson’s developmental stages. It makes it a bit easier to find the “why” behind the evil deeds of our villains and helps keep everyone real instead of all good or bad.

Not that everything we know about our characters needs to be shown on the page. Deb’s iceberg metaphor is spot on in that we may only see ten percent, but what’s going on underneath is equally important. Maybe even more so, because that’s where we gain an understanding of our characters’ motivations- why they react they way they do.

I take a little notebook with me these days to catch fleeting realizations about my characters when I’m out in the world. Sometimes I see someone doing something or saying something that reminds me of my characters. Or I might think, “That’s something Marisol would never do.” And so a new piece of Marisol is illuminated.

Unveiling our characters’ psychology is an ongoing exercise and well worth the time. What do our characters want? Why can’t they have it? What would they do to get it? What are they afraid of? What are their secrets?

Oooh… scary stuff. Good stuff. Go write it. Off I go to do just that.

Ondine Brooks Kuraoka


1 Response to "Who are you and what do you want?"

How could I have forgotten about Erikson? I learned all that stuff when I got my credential.

Thanks for the reminder, Ondine!

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Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!


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