Step 5: Write Character Sketches

Step 5 instructs us Snowflake practitioners to write a few paragraphs (up to a page) on the main characters, including their backstory, story goals, values and ambitions, etc.

I find this part so interesting, which should be no surprise as a psychology graduate. I am going to be spending a lot of time with these characters, so unlike the cardboard characters in Netflix’s Top Boy (it might just be the terrible actors playing them), I want them to be believable, multi-dimensional and fun to be around. I inevitably started to brainstorm what that would entail and ended up on a google-sponsored tangent instead.

4D People

I read that K-Pop culture has invented a slang term 4D, to refer to a person who is strange, eccentric or has a big personality. It’s supposed to be a compliment, not a derogatory comment. But for years I’ve had my own meaning for a 4D person, that’s not so positive. In fact, I do everything I can to keep these people at a firm distance in real life – even before that was in vogue – but as a reader, I do enjoy these characters.

4D people are those individuals perpetually drawn towards Drama, Disease, Divorce and Debt. They will be totally oblivious to the fact that they are a 4D person, so there’s no point in telling them or even blogging about it. They have probably blogged about it in the past themselves and not even realised who they were writing about (too meta?).

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Drama

Make no mistake. It is ALWAYS about them. Victim one minute, hero the next – but their challenges far outweigh anyone else’s. They have the unenviable ability to start a fight in an empty room. They use Machiavellian methods to stir shit up, but only if it would cause them to lose favour to be seen throwing the first punch. They are predictably unpredictable, and to keep your sanity it’s best to laugh and marvel at their endlessly inventive ways of starting shit.

The opposite is the character who won’t take the bait. They can chuckle to themselves and shake their head, or roll their eyes and sigh, because they hold a “live and let live” attitude and they are firm on their decision not to be drawn in to the person’s shitshow. Life is too short my friend, it will offer enough drama of its own, without you inviting/creating more. The second character may be a bit less entertaining on the page or the screen however, so God bless those drama queens.

Disease

Whether it’s karma from a previous life, a genetic predisposition or sheer bad luck – if we are lucky to live long enough, we’re going to end up with some illness or other. A cheery thought, I know – but there are actually people out there, who are rubbing their hands together and hoping for that very thing – like I hope for a lottery win. The NHS website describes Munchausen’s syndrome (Factitious Disorder) as a psychological disorder where someone pretends to be ill or deliberately produces symptoms of illness in themselves. They might actually be ill – but they bring it on themselves. Their aim is to assume the “sick role” so that people care for them and they are the centre of attention. I try and keep the posts to 1000 words, so I can’t even begin to go into the how fucked up that is….and Munchausen’s by proxy? Don’t even get me started.

The opposite is someone who does their best to guard their own mental-emotional health, to sleep right, eat right and exercise. When they are concerned about their health, they go and see the doctor (after a terrifying morning on WebMD, we’ve all done it) and don’t trouble everyone else with their ailments until they’ve actually been diagnosed. They take the doctor’s advice and complete their treatment, they don’t see-saw between doing so and throwing caution to the wind – “well, you only live once”. They don’t have to say, “I’m a fighter,” because they show it with their continued efforts to get and stay well. They do not run, screaming from the burning building, only to start another fire outside.

A vegan, teetotal marathon runner may not sound like someone you would want to be sat next to at a party – but given the choice between them and Sick Note? Let’s talk tofu recipes. On the page however, at a distance, those characteristics might well make it into the DNA of one of my characters.

Divorce

This is not necessarily marital divorce, but could be any strained relationship resulting in arguments, separation or lack of communication. People can have short-term falling outs, but these are generally over situational specific disputes, as opposed to ever-present personality conflicts.

It’s the difference between an argument caused by a momentary misinterpretation of someone’s intent, versus the long standing feud caused by them being so different in terms of their values, beliefs and behaviours, that people realise it’s better to keep their distance. They are not part of the same tribe.

Apparently there are lots of different types of toxic people, which again, make great fictional characters – but you wouldn’t want them as a room mate or partner. But we love to read about or watch them from the safety of our sofa, where they can’t penetrate our own like bubble of Hugge. We hope.

Debt

“Neither a lender nor borrower be.” – William Shakespeare

You will see these people win the jackpot on Friday, only to ask you if they can borrow a fiver the following Monday. They live beyond their means and any pay rises are accompanied by an increase in spending on excessively expensive possessions or ENC (pronounced, en-see, stands for emperor’s new clothes) experiences – you know the kind? You went, you thought it was shite, but you dare not say so to all of your friends who loved it, because you don’t want to seem uncultured or like a Neanderthal. Just smile for the selfie.

Money is a charged topic. Give a character an issue with handling their money (think, Snatch, Frankie Four Fingers) and you automatically have tension. It’s a car crash waiting to happen. Do I want someone like this as my accountant? No. But do I want to watch or read about a gambler getting further and further into debt to pay off his other debts…it would be a tense read, but it will keep me turning the pages.

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He Who Fights With Monsters…

“…might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” – Fredrich Nietzsche

Basically you start to become like the people you associate with and think about the most. Tim Ferriss says something similar, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” So I shall be watching myself as I write about the dodgier of my characters – wary of any changes to my usual thinking or behaviour.

I am currently rereading James Clear’s Atomic Habits and he argues that a key component of changing your habits comes down to changing your identity. I’m nearly 40 years old, but I don’t believe my identity is fixed (as in stable, not repaired) – although it’s human nature for other people to want it to be.

I believe that change is possible. Improvement is possible. I hope that my characters change and grow throughout this novel – from this starting point I’m writing – and that some of those 4D characters are just 3D by the end.

UBI and B******* Jobs

In typical No Rocket Scientist fashion, I have been trying to expand my mental horizons and read a bit wider afield than usual. I’m a fan of self-development, science and health books, but I find history, politics and religion a bit tedious.

That said, two books that I have found particularly intriguing are Rutger Bregman’s book, Utopia for Realists, and David Graeber’s book, Bullshit Jobs.

Bregman argues that a Universal Basic Income (UBI – free money for all to cover basic expenses like food and rent) is a possibility and a positive solution to many problems such as homelessness, poverty and even environmental damage. Well I’m all in favour of that. Elon Musk, despite stating that it’s not what he would want to happen, sees UBI as inevitable due to the automation of so many jobs. The left and the right have their own versions and motivations for UBI – which is reassuring, as I’m repelled from either in side their extremes.

So lockdown is giving us a taste of the future. Many employees have started to question (if they weren’t doing so already) the point of their current job. Many are learning the distinguishing features of a s*** job – a hard job with terrible conditions or low pay, but which is of use to society e.g. nurses, and a b******* job – a meaningless and pointless job you do but can’t justify the existence of e.g. advertising executive. I can therefore drop the “bull” from my job description, but that doesn’t negate the small print I ignored when I signed up. A few questions that thinking about these things has brought up for me are:

What meaning do we find in life without employment?

Without work, what’s your ikigai (reason for getting out of bed)?

What employment would we choose if our basic needs were covered and we could retrain?

Debt Cancellation

The current crisis understandably throws some anomalies into my initial analysis of this concept.

I have heard people I admire (e.g. Russell Brand) talk about this in the past, and they lose me for the following (faulty or questionable? Happy to discuss) reasons:

If I go out and choose to drink more alcohol than my body is able to handle – there will be a consequence to that action. One I’m all too familiar with.

If I eat continuously, especially high carbohydrate or highly processed foods, and don’t move enough, there will be consequences to that action as well. As I get older, those consequences become apparent a lot more quickly than they used to – and take a longer time to put right again!

So if I spend more money than I earn, and borrow to spend more than I have saved, the obvious consequence to that behaviour is debt. My values, beliefs and actions i.e. habits, have landed me in that debt. My inability to spend only what I’ve earned (hopefully a little less than I’ve earned), my inability to wait, my insatiable desire to consume.

If I’m hungover, overweight or in debt, I don’t expect sympathy. As much as I would love someone to come and solve these problems for me, I don’t expect it or see it as a right. I don’t want to be in those situations in the first place, so I do my best not to end up in those places – and double my efforts if I do temporarily end up there.

What I’m saying is – does being “saved” from the consequences of our actions really help us in the long run? Shouldn’t we be assisted, helped to change our habits, rather than having our slates wiped clean and getting ourselves into the same mess all over again?

My initial knee-jerk reaction is a feeling of injustice. “Hold on a minute, I’ve been denying myself beer/donuts/expensive holidays for years…trying to be responsible…only for them to get a saline drip/liposuction/bail out?”

But two thoughts help me see this from a different perspective and rid me of those negative (insensitive? immature?) sentiments.

  1. What if it was my brother or friend who was being saved? I’d feel relieved for them, and joyful that their burden had been lifted. I’m sure they would learn whatever they could from the past and not end up in the same situation again without a fight.
  2. What if it was my arch enemy who had been saved? Let him drink – and mask the true consequences for a while. Let him post his six pack photos, but he knows, we all know, he didn’t earn them. Let him go to Bora Bora, and forget how boring boring the other 50 weeks of the year are (don’t worry, the booze will help ease the pain).

Win-Win. So governments will do what they will do, and I suppose the important thing is not letting them get in the way of us living a life of purpose and meaning.

For my own sanity, I need to work. It’s nice to feel needed. For my own self-respect, I’m not looking for handouts – but I don’t blame anyone for trying the occasional short cut (gotta love a lifehack)!

Our identity and self-worth can’t be solely based on our occupation however, and I am more than my job. So if my work does become automated, just like when marathons get cancelled, there are other parts of me to weather the storm. It does motivate me to start looking at alternatives to my current work though – and use this lockdown as a chance to retrain in something less vulnerable to automation. Apparently I’m a closet Luddite!

Thank You

Post 9 out of 10…so close…just – one – more!!! Thanks so much for reading, liking, sharing, commenting and SUBSCRIBING! I really appreciate your time and attention, but I think I need to start trolling a few bloggers to get some comments! Either that or I need to start writing some more controversial posts that get me trolled?! I’ll work on it!