The Interpersonal Economy

Building on how Stories Are the Study of Being, and combining it with The Very Heart of Fiction for this Workshop Wednesday, I present to you today the Interpersonal Economy.

It’s the idea that interpersonal relationships are like a marketplace where we trade value for value. And much like a marketplace, each individual holds a hierarchy of values that determine whether or not they do business with another. In a way, we are businesses in and of ourselves, and everyone else we interact with are like customers who we want to sell ourselves to.

And I’m not even talking about mere monetary gain where you buy some Pokemon cards off each other or whatever. I’m talking more about selling our ideas and values to others in order to see if we want to do business together. This can range from shared values like the appreciation of art, literature, or any other hobby you can think of. Going even deeper than that, we also want to trade value through the exchange of ideas. Ideas on how one should conduct their lives, their relationships, and contribute to society.

All of these things are values that we measure within our own lives and seek to find those who may either share our values or help improve them through civil discourse. I’m talking, of course, about conflict, which is another thing that is inevitable in the marketplace and in relationships.

Sometimes customers are not content with the service they get, and so the business has the responsibility to humbly receive criticism on how to improve how they serve their customers. That’s assuming that the business is at fault, though. Because on the flip side customers can sometimes mistreat a business due to a myriad of reasons. Maybe the customer is entitled and expects more than the business can actually provide, or maybe they hold a grudge for having been served poorly before.

Whatever the case may be conflict among humans are inevitable in the Interpersonal Economy.


Business Drama is Just Relationship Drama, but Fancier

If you’re planning to write a story with a memorable ensemble cast–or in the middle of it already–I would suggest creating a character web that shows how each character is connected to each other. You could do this with pen/pencil and paper or with a mind mapping program, but I personally prefer Scapple from Literature and Latte.

And no, I am not sponsored by them *wink wink, nudge nudge.* I just really love the writing programs they’ve made, most notably Scrivener for having met so many of my writing needs for many years now. But back to the post!

Creating a Mind Map of how your characters interconnect with each other and detailing what the cost/benefit analysis of their relationships will help you write more meaningful dialogue and plot points. When you know exactly how your characters benefit from each other and what their conflicts cost each other, it will make for deeper and more exciting drama.

What makes human relationships so interesting is how we can get under each other’s skin, yet somehow muster all the forgiveness in the world to keep certain individuals in our lives. For better or for worse. These are things that are hard to measure because several costs might be made up for in one big benefit. Or vice versa. One big cost can tarnish an otherwise seemingly beneficial relationship.

For example you might have a friend who you can air out your frustrations to and they’ll do the same for you, but other than that, you don’t offer each other much else other than free and half baked therapy for each other. There’s no fun in the relationship and there might not even be growth from the sharing of problems, rather the exacerbation of them.

This kind of cost/benefit analysis would be the cornerstone of conflict because people have very unique and individual goals and motivations that drive them, and more often than that, a conflict of interest arises when we have counter values from each other. If not similar values that are approached with methodologies different from our own.


Designing Your Interpersonal Economy

Taking a deeper look, here is an example of what an Interpersonal Economy mind map could look like, drawing straight from my 5th draft of It Starts at Home (which has evolved into a whole other monster and deserving of a new title since I last mentioned it here at Your Write to Live).

The new premise for “It Starts at Home” is that there are four juniors in high school who want to become professional gamers who want to win 1st in the international Atlantis Assault tournament.

Atlantis Assault is a 4v4, team based, first person shooter that is all the craze in the universe of my story. Each of these teens are equipped with their own anxieties about their futures after high school.

Pressured by their parents to succeed academically, and the one thing that brings hope and sparks joy in the lives of these teens is not only playing Atlantis Assault together, but the kind of friendships that develop between them in and out of the game. Both as individuals and as a group.

Each character is designated a specific color, so whenever that color pops up in another character’s web of influence, it’s detailing a cost or benefit of their relationship with each other. Some costs and benefits are recurring and that points to how that one person has the same effect on different people.

You will notice that some of these are tagged with either a + or – and occasionally a +/-. That is describing whether or not the effect one character has another is positive or negative, or maybe even both as a lot of trades of value in relationships end up being double edged swords like any other good cost/benefit analysis could give insight to.


Your Interpersonal Economy and You

Your Write to Live has always been about providing fiction writing tips that could also apply to your real life if you pursue self knowledge and personal development. It is my belief that fiction writing (and reading for that matter) is our way of understanding ourselves and the world better. It’s through these larger than life characters we draw inspiration from to become better people who act in good faith in the world.

So with that said, I encourage you to create Interpersonal Economy mind maps for both your fictional and real life ensembles. For your work of fiction, it will help you heighten the drama by creating well crafted characters with nuanced relationships. For your real life, it could give you a better understanding of how valuable your relationships are and where they might need some work.

After all, stories are fundamentally the expression of human relationship, and it’s through them we come to understand our place in the world

Did you find this post helpful?

Do you have any thoughts and criticisms about the Interpersonal Economy?

Is this the kind of content you would like to see more of here at Your Write to Live?

Leave a comment below and let me know!

Making the Mundane Memorable

Readers can gain insight on who your characters are based on how they tackle everyday chores like washing the dishes or doing their laundry. It sounds boring on its own, but with what I’m about to share with you can either be a fun exercise you keep to yourself to get a sense of your characters, or let it become a full scene in your story that provides that insight for your readers.

Some of the most common writing advice writers are given is to leave out the minutiae of everyday life in their stories. Now while I do think it makes logical sense, because you want to get to the meaty dramatic parts of a story that much sooner to keep readers engaged, I think adding a little bit of mundane everyday life can actually enrich the experience. After all;

“How you do anything is how you do everything.” – Harve Eker.

Readers can gain insight on who your characters are based on how they tackle everyday chores like washing the dishes or doing their laundry. It sounds boring on its own, but with what I’m about to share with you can either be a fun exercise you keep to yourself to get a sense of your characters, or let it become a full scene in your story that provides that insight for your readers.

The Meaningfully Mundane

So what am I talking about? How can one possibly make the mundane memorable? How do you even start?

You start by understanding your character’s temperament and how well or how poorly they take on the boring chores of everyday life. Do they brush their teeth only enough to get the taste of morning breath out of their mouth, or do they meticulously brush every single tooth from every nook and cranny? Do they hop in the shower for less than a minute or do they make it a meditative practice of feeling the warmth of the water wash them of their worries of the day?

What you want to do is invoke your character’s personality in how they take on these everyday tasks. Depending on what point you’re at in the plot and what has happened so far, how they take on daily tasks can also become part of the symbology of your story. That is of course, if you want that particular task to be repeated more than once in the story to symbolize your character’s state of mind.

Therapeutic Routines

Let’s take for example a therapist named Linus. He is everything you’d expect from a therapist; someone who has his life together who helps others get their lives together as well. He starts the story off with having healthy hearty breakfasts in the morning, listening attentively to his patients at work, and then coming home to relax by keeping the place tidy and habitable.

But then somewhere down the line, he is confronted by hardship. Linus is given a client named Damon that is so down in the dumps and desperate that despite Linus’ years of experience, he can’t seem to help Damon open up about his life or take any positive action to improve it. Linus prides himself on being an effective therapist, but that pride holds no weight now because he begins to feel like a failure due to not being able to help this downtrodden man.

Now Linus is rattled about himself and all his years spent studying psychology in university. His goal was to help people, but he feels insecure about his capacity to do so. He is lost and mere routine is no longer enough to keep himself stable and capable of being the therapist he knows how to be.

Taking a second look at his daily routine further in the story, it would then devolve compared to how mindfully and meaningfully he once approached it. Instead of taking the time to fry up some eggs and bacon, toast some bread, and brew himself a mug of coffee, he starts settling for a granola bar and drinking an entire pot of coffee to force himself to get through the day.

He goes to work barely listening to any of his patients because he’s obsessed with how and why he can’t help Damon, and he barely has the energy and motivation to keep his place tidy when he gets home from work. A once spotless kitchen now sports unwashed dishes, trash bags that have yet to be taken out, and a dining table cluttered with unopened mail.

For Linus, taking care of his home and his patients was his own personal therapy. It’s what gave him a sense of purpose and joy in his life, but it has been disrupted by one challenging patient he can’t seem to help. Maintaining his home routine and doing well at work go hand in hand, one affecting the other. Maybe now what he needs is a break in his routine and actual therapy himself from a trusted mentor.

Whatever the case may be, how he approaches mundane tasks like preparing breakfast and tidying his home have changed because his mental state and life circumstance has changed as well.

Micro and Macro Triumph

In my example story about Linus the Therapist, he starts off with a solid routine that he falls off from when he’s confronted with conflict at work. It is through self reflection and growth that he must return to wholeness by disciplining himself to take care of himself and his home in order to become an effective therapist again.

Being able to help Damon with his personal life and his daily routines would be the macro triumph and that would be symbolized further with the micro triumph of both men cleaning up their homes and their selves in order to act properly in the world, which would be the macro triumph.

Each man doing tiny things in their private lives would greatly impact how they present themselves to the world and operate in it because the way they handle their micro responsibilities greatly affects how they tackle their macro challenges in life.


Give Your Characters Meaningful Mundane Routines

Now obviously you don’t want to bore your readers with excess detail on mundane day to day tasks, but choosing a particular daily routine for your character to symbolize their current state of mind in the story is a sure fire way to making the mundane meaningful, as well as flesh out the plot and characters further.

What I’ve described in this hypothetical story about Linus the Therapist was very bare bones and basic for the sake of simplicity, but for your own work, it could be much more complex than breakfast, work, and keeping a tidy home. The goal would be to emphasize in enough detail how one can approach a daily routine with their heart and soul when things are going well in their lives and then neglecting that kind of discipline later on in the story because of the challenges they face, only to return back to order or something better when they’ve overcome their personal struggles.

Or even have your character start off in a state of absolute chaos and disorder either in how they maintain their homes or selves. Grooming could be a good one too where you have an unkept character not brushing their hair, barely showering on a regular basis, and wearing dirty clothing. Consider a man who wants to find the love of his life, but is constantly rejected because despite his efforts to pick up women because he’s not well groomed and all it would take is basic grooming and self care to begin appearing attractive to not only women, but also friends, family, and potential employers.

Whichever way you slice it, there is more to mundane everyday life than often noted if you take in account how much our daily routines actually affect how we appear and operate in the world.

What are some mundane daily tasks you take pride in excelling at?

Are you a great cook? Do you have a pristine home? How about a well disciplined workout routine?

Whatever you’ve got going for you, let me know if this helps you consider the importance of mundane daily routines in your life and/or the fictional characters you are writing about!

Dialogue Drafting

One of the quickest ways to smashing writer’s block out of the way is by pre-writing the dialogue for your upcoming chapter. Focusing solely on what your characters will say to each other cuts away all the time and energy it takes to set up the scene in terms of describing the environment and the actions the characters will take during their conversations. Stories only move forward because of character interactions and so it’s important to learn to how to do some Dialogue Drafting.

Talking Heads Build the Body

Common writing advice warns writers against turning characters into a bunch of talking heads that exist in a vacuum without non-verbal communication or relation to the environment they converse in. However, for the sake of Dialogue Drafting, the point is to write nothing but the dialogue with little to no “stage direction” that you later turn into narrative.

The point is to have all your characters air out their grievances with each other in whatever stream of consciousness you happen to write if you just focus on what they want to say to each other. A lot of it will inevitably be a bit of small talk before the central themes and conflicts of the story get mentioned, but consider that all as a mere warm up. You will know you’ve hit your stride once you get emotionally invested in their conversations, even if it’s not a heated argument, but nonetheless a critical conversation they must have with each other.

When you’re not concerned about writing any narrative description and let them speak in rapid succession with each other, several things can emerge from this free flow form of writing. You need to free yourself from the expectation to maintain descriptions of the setting, your casts’ physical appearance, and the actions they take within their environment while they have these conversations

Dialogue Drafting can help you:

  1. Discover your characters’ voices.
  2. Reveal what’s truly at stake for each character.
  3. Organically evolve their relationships to each other.

Giving Your Characters Some Singing Lessons

Dialogue Drafting can help you learn how to make your characters talk more uniquely from each other. When all you have is a bunch of talking heads clutter a page or five, you will easily get bored by how similarly your characters speak if dialogue isn’t your forte. Soon you’ll find yourself trying to create different speech patterns for each character to make them stand out more.

Just like singing, dialogue in fiction requires refreshing rhythms and “melodies” in order to maintain reader retention. How you do this is by deciding how much or how little characters speak. For instance, a verbose character contrasted by one who values brevity and concision will react and speak in a drastically different way from one another.

Couple that with the kind of vocabulary each character is equipped with, you can bring your characters’ dialogue to life much more with this in consideration. Do they use big words or simple words? Do they speak too much or too little? Do they speak loudly or quietly? These are all the things to consider when you are crafting a character.

Try and think of it musically: each character is a different instrument in a song. Each instrument, in a well written piece, will do their job in laying the foundation of the song and maybe sometimes get their spotlight moments the way a sweet guitar solo does before letting the rest of the instruments breathe and say what they need to say.

Likewise with your characters, some will have to hang back and not say much before they step in and say their piece especially when a certain point of contention in the conversation means more to them than it does for the others, which brings me to the next point.

Revealing Character Motivations

When you do this dance of inhabiting all of your characters’ voices in rapid succession, they begin to reveal things to you that they truly wanted. Especially things you may not have originally outlined for their GMC’s or for the chapter as a whole. This is because when you’re not concerned with the setting or physical movement of characters, you are actually constantly shifting between their minds and letting them speak for you.

It is an odd thing to consider that these fictional characters we create having a life of their own, sometimes separate from what we intend for them, let alone display in our manuscripts, but nonetheless I believe this is true at some psychological level. After all, the characters we create are simply amalgamations of ourselves and other people we have met, so while they may or may not closely resemble us or the people we have (hopefully) loosely based them on, what stands eternal is the behavior.

What this means is that people may have certain mix of thought patterns and behaviors unique to them, but thought patterns and behaviors in general exist in a universal realm regardless of time and person exhibiting them. There are commonalities among all people, and so the characters we create may not be “real” in a sense, but they are hyper real because they represent various modes of beings human undertake.

I apologize if that’s a little too heady, so a simple way to put it is this:

No matter how many new people enter the world and how different they may be in appearance, they will still inevitably embody common human behaviors. Or even simpler; we may look different from each other, but we’re all almost inevitably the same.

Keeping that in mind when you write a Dialogue Draft, you may start to learn that your characters share common goals, but go about them in a different way, or maybe they have different goals, but approach them in the same way–along with every other combination in the book.

Whatever the case, Dialogue Drafting will reveal the fundamental differences and similarities between your characters, for better or for worse. Sometimes those similarities are due to the lack of individuating them from each other, and other times they’re good story serving similarities that they need to learn and discover along the way.

In doing so, they get to experience the following:

Ever Evolving Relationships

While there is much to be said what people, and characters do to each other and for each other, what relationships all come down to is verbal communication. Your word is bond. What you say to others and how you communicate with them create an implicit promise of interacting that way unless stated otherwise.

If you’re kind and generous then it is implied that people can come to expect more of that from you. If you’re mean and cold hearted then it is implied that people can come to expect more of that from you as well. Until of course the other party says something that is either suspicious of the former and/or opposed to the latter.

We may all have almost the same needs and desires, but how we communicate them and how we mix and match our own values are what’s unique to each of us. What generosity means to me might mean something entirely different for you because we most likely have different ways to measure how generous we want to be respectively.

So that said, another thing you learn from Dialogue Drafting is how your characters communicate the same needs differently, as well as what that could mean for the future of their relationships if they so choose to maintain it. We’re all social creatures and we need each other to survive, but that doesn’t mean we have to get along with every single person on the planet. That would actually be counter productive because you can’t please everybody and not everybody can and will like you.

Again, while behaviors might be universal, how we measure our personal values will be unique across individuals, and it’s in that fundamental difference that creates conflict, as well as pave the way toward relationships that either end up stronger, strained, or severed.

If you’ve mapped out your own Interpersonal Economy for your ensemble of characters, every cost and benefit you’ve outlined between individuals will become more pronounced when you write a Dialogue Draft. It’s through our words that we express our values and it’s through our relationships that we either affirm or deny them depending on any new information that may get us to rethink our positions.

And in the end that’s what all dialogue is really about: characters stating their positions and arguing why their needs should trump the needs of others, or at the very least be taken into account equally if they aren’t already.

Piecing it All Together

Now of course once you’re done Dialogue Drafting, you can’t keep your characters bodiless and nothing but mere heads floating in a vacuum of nothingness. But thanks to the dialogue you have pre-written for your chapter, you are even better equipped to fill in the blanks in regards to the environment and the physical actions they may take in between certain lines.

You will almost always have way more dialogue than you can actually include in your manuscript so this is the part where you will have to trust your instincts and see which lines are worth keeping and which ones need to be discarded. Some lines of dialogue might turn into internal narrative for a first person book, or side insights for a 3rd person one. Some may not even make the cut.

The lines that will make it, though, are the ones you feel strongly resemble what the characters are truly about and actually move the plot along due to the shift and evolution of their relationships from the exchange. Another great benefit to Drafting Dialogue is to get the throwaway dialogue out of the way so it’s much easier for the meaningful dialogue to emerge and be honed in on.

Did you find this Workshop Wednesday tip useful?

Have you done anything similar to Dialogue Drafting before?

Let me know in the comments below, and happy writing, Your Write to Live Lovers!

Words Left Unspoken Leave the Strongest Impact

One important aspect of compelling storytelling is putting meaningful words in the mouths of your characters, also known as dialogue by some professionals. Good dialogue conveys what the characters say to each other with purpose and direction, in addition to non-verbal communication, and even small talk if conveyed correctly. But today we’re talking about a more subtle level of character interaction much deeper than meaningful words and actions: the lack thereof.


It’s What You Don’t Say That Matters

Dialogue may move the plot forward and reveal who the characters are through their communication style and vocabulary, but sometimes it’s what they do not say that creates the most interesting of conflicts. When characters hold secrets from each other, how they feel about those secrets cause their interactions to be strained because withholding information from either their loved ones, or enemies who could use the secret against them, can change their relationships forever.

The most common feeling accompanied by a secret is shame because as human we are fundamentally flawed, and knowing this we strive to be better than we are, thus having a tough time admitting or even acknowledging having any flaws. After all, it’s these flaws and mistakes we make that degrade our self perception in the eyes of our better potential selves, and how we’re perceived by others.

Our self image is important to us because having an identity is comforting, and identifying ourselves as good virtuous people is how we navigate the strange and difficult canals of life. Rocky waters are just part of life, but secrets can be deadly waves that drown us all.

But amidst all the watery turmoil we may face in our lives, perhaps learning how to weather the storm is how we come to discover strong we truly are, assuming we have the strength to survive.

So if anyone ever comes close to exposing our secrets and insecurities, whether they mean to or not, it can cause us to becoming defensive and deflect the topic. Unless you willingly go to therapy to talk about your problems and share your secrets, chances are, you would much rather keep your secrets to yourself and not let anybody catch wind of them.

You could either be protecting others from something you perceive as dangerous to them, or something that is dangerous to your public and/or personal perception. A secret that if word got out could potentially hurt several others, or hurt your ability to deserve any trust from others.


A Happy Accident For a Set Up

Let’s take Bob, for instance, who gets so drunk at his best friend’s bachelor party that he ends up cheating on his wife with the “hired entertainment.”

(I’m talking about a stripper, of course, not a party clown. Though hiring a party clown instead of a stripper would make for a good best man prank. Even better if the party clown turns out to be the stripper’s character gimmick, but anyways! Let’s actually roll with that for this example.)

Imagine how awkward it will be for Bob to wake up to his wife Jane the next morning, knowing what he had just done the night prior. She could ask how the bachelor party was and he could admit that he got down and dirty with a clown stripper named Trixie, but where would the drama be in that?

No, instead, he would do anything to avoid the topic because of the guilt eating him up inside. He’s questioning if he’s a horrible husband and if the drinks were laced with something strong because there’s no way he could have cheated on Jane. Maybe it was a drug induced hallucination? Or maybe the Clown Stripper took advantage of him? In either case he perceives himself as weak and unworthy to called himself a married man.


Bob and the Clown Stripper

“How was the party?” Jane asks.

“F-fine,” Bob stammers. He swiftly sits up in bed, causing his head to spin from the heavy hangover induced from one too many whiskey shots and using beer and wine as chasers.

“Hey, be careful.” Jane caresses Bob’s bed head from behind him and smooths out his hair. “Just fine? But you spent weeks setting up this prank. Did it back fire? Did Jim end up hating it?”

Thoughts of last night’s shenanigans flood Bob’s memories, and the fact that they are hazy is not the part that troubles him. It is the image of Trixie sitting on his lap and possibly kissing his neck, which is where the dirty deed may have began. He gasps and snaps out of the memory and tugs at his black polo shirt’s collar to see traces of white make up and cherry red lipstick.

Bob leaps out of bed, unbuttons his shirt and rushes to take it off to hide any evidence of his misdoings from Jane. He immediately regrets it because it comes off as suspicious.

“Thank God because you reek,” Jane says. “I was going to take your shirt off for you when you climbed into bed last night, but I didn’t want to wake you.”

Jane knows how much of a light sleeper Bob is, even when he’s punched out drunk. Bob feels ever guiltier considering how much Jane knows and loves him so much. Despite his shirt being off, he begins to sweat.

“Bob?” She asks, but he doesn’t hear her. He feels guilty considering how she had to sleep next to him stinking of alcohol.

“Sorry,” Bob says steadying himself against the dresser. “I am so sorry, Jane, I really am. And thanks.”

“It’s no big deal. Everything okay?” Jane shuffles over to the edge of the bed. “You should lie down, I’ll go make you some breakfast.”

“It’s okay,” Bob says, feeling undeserving of her affection.

Jane goes to pick up Bob’s shirt off the floor, and he tries to grab for it, but grabs for air instead. As she heads to the hamper, he hopes that she just tosses it in so he can grab it and wash off Trixie’s make up off his shirt while Jane cooks breakfast. Just as Bob is about to let out a sigh of relief when Jane takes the lid off the hamper, she pauses and turns around clearly staring at the clown’s make up smeared on Bob’s shirt.

“Bob?” Jane asks.

“It’s not what it looks like,” he says.

“Did you cheat on me with a clown stripper?” Jane giggles.

“N-no, of course not.”

“Gosh, I sure hope she took her foam nose off before you whisked her off to the circus.”

Bob is frozen, slowly realizing that Jane is obviously joking, but doesn’t know how to shake off his guilt exuding demeanour. Jane’s grin slowly fades into a questioning frown and Bob licks his lips after realizing how dry his mouth has become from the laboured breathing.


Less is More

As you can see from my morbid example that less is more. The dialogue is for the most part short with a few actions, thoughts, and exposition to provide context to why the seemingly innocuous conversation between Bob and Jane is more tense that it would seem at face value.

Though when it comes to a character trying to hide a secret from another, they don’t always have to be sparse for words. They could even over compensate by spinning lies rather than simply avoiding the truth. Bob doesn’t have to say anything, his entire avoidant responses imply that he’s hiding something, but poor Jane is non-the-wiser, even when she jokingly asks if he cheated on her with a clown stripper.

On top of hiding the truth from Jane, Bob apologized profusely for something his wife didn’t take as that big of a deal when it came to coming home drunk and falling asleep reeking of alcohol. That itself is a subtle tell that the reader could pick up on to gauge Bob’s guilt over possibly betraying his loving trusting wife.

It is implied that cheating is unusual and unexpected of Bob, and that he and Jane have a solid marriage with how she’s joking around with him with the idea of…well…the possible truth of what happened. I will leave it up to interpretation whether he actually she cheated on her, and whether she figured it out after where the examples off from.

That is it for today’s Workshop Wednesday! I hope this helps you make good use of a valuable tension building tool.

What are your favourite unspoken words from fiction?

Do you have any thoughts, questions, and criticisms about this post?

Was the example too out of left field and not very family friendly when it could have been?

Whatever the case, let me know in the comments below!

 

How to Create Instantly Likeable Characters

One of the best writing guides I’ve read and studied from lately is The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass. It has some incredible insights on not just how to craft the emotional landscape of your work of fiction, but also a handful of other insights on how to get in touch with your own emotional world to better inform the characters you create. After all, the characters we create in one shape or form are extensions of ourselves all of which who yearn to be understood and expressed with the respect they deserve.

Crafting characters, as you know, is one of my favourite aspects of writing because without people there are no stories. It is through the characters that we get to relate to in navigating the human experience, and that’s why it’s important to make them as true to life as possible, no matter what the setting is or whatever other lifeform they take that isn’t exactly human.

For many years I’ve had pre-conceptions of what makes relatable and likeable characters, and unfortunately a lot of those pre-conceptions were at a very shallow, if not obvious, layer of the human spirit. Make your characters flawed like real people. Take traits from people you know and blend them together. Oh and let’s not forget; give them goals, motivation, and conflict like every other human being has.

And while these are all important aspects of what create multi-dimensional characters, I am here to introduce something that I’ve missed over the years!


Virtue as the Cornerstone of Love

We live in a world where gritty anti-heroes are starting to take centre stage, villains are becoming more sympathizable, and we have overall entered into an era in which there’s a strange embracing of the darkness. And yes of course this all important to our evolution in not only our tastes in fiction, but also our human progression, but one thing that hasn’t had much spotlight on lately is virtue.

An act of kindness goes a long way.

They seem insignificant in the moment, but a bunch of tiny acts of kindness add up.

And in the end, it all makes for a better world to live in if we could all just give each other a helping in whatever way we can.

Whenever we see someone or hear about someone doing a good thing for someone else, it makes us feel good by extension. That’s because we’re social empathetic creatures. We end up feeling the good nature of the giver who gave a helping hand to someone who needed it and we feel the gratitude of the person in need. Throughout our lives we fluxuate between being people who are capable of giving to the less fortunate, and being in unfortunate situations ourselves in need of the generousity of others.

Whether it’s from a stranger or a close loved one, we can’t help but feel a sense of euphoria from an act of kindness we either give to or receive from others. This can range from simple things like dropping a few coins in the shaking can of a homeless person on the street to something more personal and expansive like lending an empathic ear to a friend who has a problem to deal with. Nothing feels better than a win-win situation where we don’t have to lose something of value, whether it was a long awaited desire or a piece of our conscience.

Whatever way you choose to create your characters, it’s imperative that you give them an act of virtue that makes your reader develop a natural admiration for them. Even if you choose to create an anti-hero character who is resistant to their responsibility of greatness, we want to see at least a glimpse of goodness in them because it’s the potential that we want to root for so it can come into fruition later on in the story.

Saving a Cat Moment

In Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald writes about how a simple saving a cat moment can make a protagonist instantly likeable, especially if you include it early on in the story. This gets us to admire the goodness in thecharacter and in turn remind us of the goodness in ourselves–and to take it even further it allows us to see the potential in ourselves to become even better human beings.

So what does a Saving a Cat Moment look like?

It can literally be saving a cat that’s stuck in a tall tree.

Or it can be something more subtle or even more grand than that!

Here are some rapid fire examples from my own stories and other stories I’ve enjoyed over the years. None of them will be ultra specific as to boil down the core principles of the acts themselves.

How to Save a Cat in Several Ways

  • Stepping in when someone is being bullied
  • Mentoring an eager apprentice in a specific skill or vocational path
  • Comforting someone in grief
  • Equipping someone with an important life lesson
  • Providing someone with a sense of purpose
  • Volunteering at an old folks’ home or a homeless shelter
  • Helping the disabled get around town
  • Saving a suicide victim moments before they execute their plan
  • Saving a child from an abusive home situation
  • A parent bonding deeply with their child
  • A spouse bonding deeply with their partner
  • Admitting to fault and asking for forgiveness

The list can go on forever. There’re definitely an infinite amount of other examples I could have put and some that you are starting to think of right now, in which case feel free to share in the comments below!

The point is that whatever good deed your characters perform, they need to come from an earnest and authentic place, even if they have resistance toward it at the beginning. It might be a hard sell if the character performs the deed for admiration and ego gratification as opposed from the goodness of their heart. But you can even make it so that it can start off as an ego boost that eventually touches the character in a deep and moving way where it inspires them to seek even more virtue.

So there you have it, one of the best ways to make instantly likeable characters. It may be obvious to others, but this fell under my radar for a very long time having been so obsessed with the more technical aspect of writing over the years. Sometimes we all need to get back to the basics and remember what we all (hopefully) learned in kindergarten: be kind and share your toys with other kids.

Now I’d like to hear from you, the reader!

What are some other good deeds can we add to the list? What good deeds have you writte your characters to perform in your stories? What acts of kindness from fiction and reality have inspired you?

And as always, if you have any feedback on my writing tips feel free to comment down below. Did I miss something? Should I elaborate more or less? Even feel free to tell me if it was completely useless information, in which you are welcome to give me your two cents on how I can improve Your Write to Live!