As a fiction writer, I study a lot of books about the writing craft. A fundamental rule is, make your characters real. Writers do this by constructing personalities for their characters.
I often refer to a list of personality traits created by clinical psychologist Norman Anderson, published in 1968 in the Journal of Social Psychology. Anderson’s list contains 555 personal qualities. They’re listed in the order of “most desirable” to “most distasteful.”
Who knew there were so many ways to characterize someone? The list includes words like punctual, compulsive, tactful, comical, gentle, jealous, productive, fearless, naïve, tense, romantic, and superstitious. You may identify with a number of Anderson’s personality traits, both positive and negative.
Successful authors endow characters in fictional stories with a mix of desirable and undesirable traits because that makes it easier for readers to identify with them.
An added bonus is that opposing personal traits create the necessary tension, drama, and conflict in stories. A character struggles with his own conflicting beliefs — that’s called internal conflict. A character is in a struggle with another personality (a nemesis) — that’s external conflict.
Fiction imitates life as we view/ experience it. In Metaphysical Science, we call this the “mode of paradox.” The phrase is just a way of describing Absolute Allness — all that exists, viewed as a continuum between two extremes.
In fiction, the paradox mode has the honorable Atticus Finch pitted against the bigotry of the people of Maycomb, Alabama. It has Katniss Everdeen fighting against the Capitol and the Hunger Games. It has the men in the fishing vessel in Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm encountering an enormous rogue wave that capsizes them.
In our living, personalities and relationships with others and our world are also seen in the paradox mode. Conflict is built into the paradox mode because it consists of opposites. Opposites define and energize each other.
Author/teacher Eckhart Tolle writes in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, “Can you feel that there is something in you that is at war, something that feels threatened and wants to survive at all cost, that needs the drama in order to assert its identity as the victorious character within that theatrical production?” (p. 77)
Author/ teacher Betty Albee writes, “Most people seldom recognize their attachment to the paradox picture … until an unhappy circumstance or an upset or frustration informs them that they have expectations of the paradox that are not being fulfilled.”
Fictional characters have no choice but to face the music — to live through the drama that envelops them. We have a choice.
When we’re permissive of the paradox picture and aren’t attempting to fix, manage, mitigate, or resolve it, we are standing (existing) at the mid-point of the continuum between its two extremes.
This can be called “standing at zero.” This is where one gets the clearest vision of self (Individuality). And freedom from drama. This does not mean our living becomes colorless and monotonous.
“Zero… is not a bland area of no value,” writes Albee. “Zero is the absence of conditioned thinking. Zero is on the brink of the unknown. Zero is the power point of creativity. In the meta- physical analogy, zero represents the point where absolute Consciousness/Being is most pre- sent in human experience.
“Peace, joy, power and full self-expression are most avail- able to human beings whenever any attachment to the appearance world is released.” (Mind Is the Athlete, p. 108) Characters in fictional stories are at the mercy of the personality traits assigned to them and their resulting worldviews. We have the freedom to be the Self that is our Source — that has humanity be.
– Melinda SwensonAlbee’s Mind Is The Athlete