Writers, What’s Your Main Character’s Tendency?

A few weeks ago I posted about Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” model,* and specifically how it revealed a mistake I made in my book on education** — not an error of fact, but an error of omission due to my own failure of imagination.

Since then I’ve been thinking about the Four Tendencies as they might apply to characterization in fiction.

To recap, Ms. Rubin identified four categories into which we sift ourselves according to how we respond to expectations — both our own, inner expectations, and the expectations we perceive that others have for us. Some of us readily meet expectations, and others of us resist expectations, generally as follows:

  • Upholders: Meet both outer and inner expectations
  • Obligers: Meet outer expectations, but resist inner expectations
  • Questioners: Resist outer expectations, but meet inner expectations
  • Rebels: Resist both outer and inner expectations

Like many such schemes, this one has its strengths and weaknesses (e.g., I wish she had explored in more depth the areas where the tendencies overlap), but I find that it has some excellent insights into our choices and behaviors. As statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong. Some models are useful,” and the Four Tendencies is a quite useful model.

So how can this model apply to writing fictional characters?

Writer's Block I
(Image: “Writer’s Block I,” by Drew Coffman, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I think anything that helps us understand that mysterious thing called “human nature” is useful in creating characters who readers will find interesting and believable, let alone relatable and sympathetic. And understanding the Four Tendencies has the potential to make a big difference in writing characters who have clear motivations and consistent reactions to the expectations of the other characters around them.

When I think about the main characters in Walking on the Sea of Clouds (now available in audiobook***), for instance, I think Stormie Pastorelli fits the pattern of an Upholder. She’s driven to succeed, and to help the lunar colony survive and thrive, with a strong “by-the-book” approach and a heavy insistence on living up to her high expectations of herself. I think her husband Frank, on the other hand, is an Obliger: he is ready and willing to do things that other people expect of him, even sometimes at the expense of his own well-being.

Of the other main characters in the novel, Barbara Richards is probably also an Obliger, and that makes her struggle about whether to stay at the lunar colony realistic. (It makes sense to me for two of the main characters to have that tendency, since Ms. Rubin points out that Obligers form the most prevalent tendency in society; honestly, I don’t think society would function if Obligers weren’t the largest group.) I think Barbara’s husband Van, though, is primarily a Questioner — perhaps with a bit of Rebel thrown in.

If you’ve read Walking on the Sea of Clouds, what do you think? Does that assessment sound right to you? How do you think I did in keeping their characteristic tendencies consistent?

If you’re a writer, do you think the Four Tendencies might help you better understand the personalities of your main characters, in order to keep their characterizations consistent? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

As for me, I’m working on a fantasy novel these days, and I’m keeping the Four Tendencies in mind as I try to figure out my characters’ motivations and their feelings about the expectations placed on them. I hope I’ll be able to make them seem realistic! But that, in the end, will be decided by the readers.

___
*Full (and somewhat unwieldy) title: The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).
**Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It (a fairly unwieldy title of my own).
***Reminder for anyone who missed the announcement: I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. Sign up at this link!

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Audiobook Giveaways … Plural!

… and you can enter as many times as you like!

As announced previously, the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook is complete and available for your listening pleasure direct from Audible or, if you prefer, from Amazon — and between now and Tax Day, we’re going to hold multiple drawings to give away free Audible downloads for it!

Why Tax Day? Because somebody ought to get some good news on that day!

Why multiple giveaways? Because anything worth doing is worth doing more than once! (And because the good folks at Wordfire Press gave me several download codes to do with as I pleased, so I’m giving a bunch away.)

How do you enter? Just sign up for my newsletter using this special link, and then every time you share the link and tag me, I’ll enter you in the drawing again!


(Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

If you’re not quite sure whether Walking on the Sea of Clouds is your kind story, here’s what some folks had to say about it:

  • This book will be treasured by anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting the Moon, walking on another world, or bathing beneath the light of a distant star.
    –David Farland
  • If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.
    Abyss & Apex
  • … as entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction, …. closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote in the 1960s and 1970s…. captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again.
    Ad Astra
  • Much like The Martian, Walking on the Sea of Clouds puts you on a lifeless rock and makes you think about why we explore new frontiers even as it explains how it can be done.
    Booklist
  • Everything about Walking on the Sea of Clouds feels amazingly authentic.
    –Edmund R. Schubert
  • Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.
    –Charles E. Gannon
  • This is meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan.
    –Martin L. Shoemaker

It’s a near-future story of survival and sacrifice during the very early days of a lunar colony, and explores the reasons why people sign up for such daring enterprises and the price they’re willing to pay to help them succeed. In addition to Audible, you can also find it in other formats on Amazon and other online sources including Baen e-books.

I hope you’ll give it a listen (or a read), and let me know what you think!

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What’s That I Hear? An Audiobook? Yes, Indeed

Ladies and gentlemen, the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook is complete and available for your listening pleasure! You can score a copy direct from Audible or, if you prefer, from Amazon.

As pleased as I am to announce that the novel is in audio format, I’m even happier to announce that the voice actress who narrates it is … my daughter, Stephanie! (Surprise!)

Stephanie auditioned under her married name (Minervino), so the folks at WordFire Press didn’t realize who she was when they forwarded her audition to me. They agreed she was the best choice and worked with her through the production process long before we ever let on that we were related. (Sneaky, I know.)

If you click through to the Audible website, you can listen to a sample. And while I admit that I may be a little biased, I think she did a fine job. It wasn’t easy, with so many different accents among the characters, but she managed to give each character a unique voice!

And not only that: Stephanie did a great job portraying the emotional depth of the story, and actually added to the emotional depth of some scenes. She made me very proud! I just wish her name was a little bigger on the cover:

I hope you’ll check out this audio version of Walking on the Sea of Clouds, and if you know someone who prefers audio to print I hope you’ll let them know about it. In case you’re still unsure whether the story might be worth your while, here’s what some folks had to say:

  • “[As] entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction…. closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote…. captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again.”
    Ad Astra
  • “Much like The Martian, Walking on the Sea of Clouds puts you on a lifeless rock and makes you think about why we explore new frontiers even as it explains how it can be done.”
    Booklist
  • “If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.”
    Abyss & Apex
  • “Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.”
    –Charles E. Gannon
  • “Everything about Walking on the Sea of Clouds feels amazingly authentic.”
    –Edmund R. Schubert
  • “This is meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan.”
    –Martin L. Shoemaker
  • “This book will be treasured by anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting the Moon, walking on another world, or bathing beneath the light of a distant star.”
    –David Farland

Spread the word! And if you give it a listen, I’d love to know what you think!

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I Thought I Was Signing Up for Elon Musk’s Mars Venture

Alas, it turns out I signed up for an entirely different thing! This weekend, I’ll be at the MarsCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Williamsburg, VA.

All kidding aside, I went to MarsCon once before, many years ago — in fact, at a science panel at that MarsCon I was inspired to write my first “official” filk song! It’s a fine convention, with a nice mix of tracks and entertainment, and I’m pleased that they’re letting me take part in it.

And they’re keeping me busy, as you can tell:

Friday:

  • 5 p.m. — Panel, “Future Laws”
  • 6 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies
  • 9 p.m. — Panel, “Adventures and Disasters in Space”

Saturday:

  • 1 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 5 p.m. — Panel, “Was the Planet Killer a Keynesian Stimulus?”
  • 7 p.m. — Panel, “Tech in the Classrooms”
  • 8 p.m. — Panel, “The Delphic Oracle”
  • 10 p.m. — Open Filking

Sunday:

  • 9 a.m. — Worship Concert — songs at the intersection of faith and fandom
  • 11 a.m. — Panel, “Parody Song Writing Techniques”
  • 2 p.m. — Panel, “The Words, They Are a-Changing”


The MarsCon theme this year is “The Land of Faerie.”

I look forward to having a good time with a bunch of great people!

___

P.S. In case you’re wondering … I might just have with me a copy or two of Distorted Vision, Truths and Lies and Make-Believe, and even Walking on the Sea of Clouds….

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It’s Only Logical that I’ll Be at illogiCon

It’s time again for illogiCon, our local Research Triangle, North Carolina, science fiction and fantasy convention, happening this weekend at the RDU Embassy Suites (with some events in the nearby Hampton Inn).


(Professor Schrodington, the illogiCon mascot.)

Here’s what I’ve got going on:

Friday:

  • 7:00 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies — wherein I will play my “Convention Oddity” cover song
  • 8:00 p.m. — Panel, “That’s Just Wrong”
  • 10:00 p.m. — Panel, “I Spy with My Little Eyes”

Saturday:

  • 11:00 a.m. — Panel, “Ground Control to Major Tom” — oddly appropriate
  • 1:00 p.m. — Panel, “Networking for Introverts”
  • 2:00 p.m. — Filk Music Hour
  • 3:00 p.m. — Panel, “What Should We be Reading?”
  • 4:00 p.m. — Panel, “Star Trek: Worst. Episode. Ever.”
  • 8:00 p.m. and after — More Filking

Sunday:

  • 10:00 a.m. — Reading (Time Changed from 2 p.m.)

There’s no “Baen Books Traveling Road Show” this year, because I didn’t realize until too late that I was the only Baen representative and didn’t ask for a time slot.

On Sunday, I’ll be skating out after lunch to head to north Raleigh to host the monthly Writers Coffeehouse at Quail Ridge Books from 2-4 p.m. All writers are welcome!

Let’s have some fun!

___
Related Items:
– Speaking of filk, listen free to both of my albums: Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe
– Speaking of reading aloud, watch my Public Speaking Tip: The Value of Inflection
– Speaking of nothing in particular, visit my Online Store

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Coming this Weekend: the ‘All Types of Media Arts Convention’

Otherwise known as ATOMACON!

If you’re looking for something to do in the Charleston, South Carolina, area this weekend, why not swing by the AtomaCon science fiction and fantasy convention in North Charleston? It runs Friday through Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport. You’ll find a friendly atmosphere, activities and panels to please fans of many different fandoms and genres, and a Musical Guest of Honor who could use some encouragement and support. (By which I mean, me!)

In addition to just hanging out with interesting people, I’ll be performing a couple of solo concerts (plus another concert with friends), showing off the newest and upcoming releases from Baen Books, and I’ll also be the auctioneer at the charity auction! They’re raising money for the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Care Center, which is pretty cool.

Let me know if you can come by, or if you want to donate to help the sea turtles!

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Ten Days Until AtomaCon!

Starting just ten days from now, I’ll be the Musical Guest of Honor at the AtomaCon science fiction and fantasy convention in North Charleston, South Carolina.

AtomaCon is sometimes rendered as ATOMACON, an acronym for “All Types of Media Arts Convention.” It’s a family-friendly show, run by some terrific people, that encompasses many different fandoms and genres. It’s still a youngish convention, now in its fifth year of operation and still growing.

I’ll post more about it as we get closer to the event, but one thing I know is that I’ll be serving as the auctioneer at the charity auction to benefit the Sea Turtle Care Center at the South Carolina Aquarium. If you want to donate something to the auction, let me know!

And better yet, if you’re going to be in the area then make plans to come to the show!

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Another Atlanta Labor Day Weekend

Once again I’m in Atlanta, Georgia, where I will spend the weekend with thousands of my closest friends — at least 80 thousand, I believe — at Dragon Con, one of the largest science fiction and fantasy conventions in the world. This year I get to kick off the Filk Music Track’s concert series; I’m playing music twice for Art Show patrons; and I’m part of several other shows as well!

Here’s my schedule, at least as it exists right now:

Friday

  • 10:00 am: What is Filk? / Meet, Greet, Filk (Hyatt Hanover F/G)
  • 11:30 am: Gray Rinehart in Concert (Hyatt Hanover F/G) — mixing a few favorites from Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe with some Dragon Con debuts!
  • 2:30 pm: Art Show music (Hyatt Grand Hall East)
  • 7:00 pm: Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow, with Alethea Kontis, Leanna Renee Hieber, Mari Mancusi, Diana Peterfreund, and Mikey Mason (Marriott A707)

Saturday

  • 10:00 am: Art Show music (Hyatt Grand Hall East)
  • 2:30 pm: Baen BooksTraveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol, with Toni Weisskopf, James Minz, Christopher Ruocchio, and many more (Hyatt Regency V)
  • 5:30 pm: Panel, “Tooting Your Own Horn: Marketing Yourself,” with John Hartness, Cecilia Dominic, Courtland D Lewis, Quincy J Allen, and Matthew Kressel (Hyatt Embassy A/B)
  • 7:00 pm: Peter S. Beagle & Authors Perform (Hyatt International North) … I’ll open this show, then head over to
  • 7:00 pm: World of Harry Potter Tribute Show, with Brobdingnagian Bards, Hawthorn & Holly, Nick Edelstein, Toucan Dubh, Foot Pound Force, Mikey Mason, and Misbehavin’ Maidens (Hyatt Hanover C/D/E)

On Sunday, my only official event is at 5:30 pm, when I’ll be giving a reading and special guest Nick Edelstein will play some music. If I can arrange it, I may have some other guests, too! That will be in the Hyatt’s Marietta Room.

As usual, when I’m not performing or working I’ll probably be attending concerts by my musical friends, or hanging out with my writerly friends or Baen Barflies. Or trying to catch a little bit of sleep!

If you’re in the area, I hope I get to say hello — but whatever you’ve got going on this weekend, I hope it goes well!

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What Would C.S. Lewis Think of WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS? (Part 2)

(I originally wrote this as an item in the Lorehaven Book Club Facebook group. Part one is found here.)

As I noted in part one, I recently re-read C.S. Lewis’s essay, “On Science Fiction,” in which he divided the field into a number of what he called “sub-species” and examined them in some depth. Last time I pointed out that my near-future science fiction novel Walking on the Sea of Clouds seems to fit into a couple of his categories. Unfortunately, Lewis asserts (referring specifically to H.G. Wells’s First Men in the Moon) that

The more plausible [the scientific basis of the story], the worse. That would merely invite interest in actual possibilities of reaching the Moon, an interest foreign to [Wells’s] story. Never mind how they got there; we are imagining what it would be like.

Since I tried hard to keep the science plausible in my story — taking a few liberties here and there, I admit — Lewis would apparently think that I had labored in vain. And it seems he would think the same with regard to my effort to build in believable characterization (emphasis added):

It is absurd to condemn [these stories] because they do not often display any deep or sensitive characterization. They oughtn’t to. It is a fault if they do…. Every good writer knows that the more unusual the scenes and events of his stories are, the slighter, the more ordinary, the more typical his persons should be. Hence Gulliver is a commonplace little man and Alice a commonplace little girl. If they had been more remarkable they would have wrecked their books.

In my defense, I’d say that the characters in my book are rather ordinary compared to today’s astronauts, many of whom have multiple advanced degrees and generally stellar credentials. But even if my characters themselves aren’t exactly commonplace, I tried to focus on the commonplace nature of their tasks: building things, repairing things, keeping things going.

Lewis says,

To tell how odd things struck odd people is to have an oddity too much: he who is to see strange sights must not himself be strange. He ought to be as nearly as possible Everyman or Anyman. Of course, we must not confuse slight or typical characterization with impossible or unconvincing characterization. Falsification of character will always spoil a story.

And there, I think I may have redeemed myself in Lewis’s eye. (At least, it would be nice if that were the case!)

I was, additionally, interested in another note that Lewis includes. Referring to the “novel of manners” (which Britannica.com defines as one that “re-creates a social world” and conveys “finely detailed observation of the customs, values, and mores of a highly developed and complex society”), Lewis writes — again with emphasis added:

We must not allow the novel of manners to give laws to all literature: let it rule its own domain. We must not listen to Pope’s maxim about the proper study of mankind. The proper study of man is everything. The proper study of man as artist is everything which gives a foothold to the imagination and the passions.

And, so far as I can tell, spaceflight — and the possibility of extending our reach to the Moon and beyond — definitely stirs the imagination and passion of at least some people! (Now, if more of them would find their way to my story, that would be great….)

Crescent Moon
(Image: “Crescent Moon,” by kloniwotski, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Finally (for my purpose here), before delving into other sub-species of science fiction that would not include my novel, Lewis warns,

… while I think this sort of science fiction legitimate, and capable of great virtues, it is not a kind which can endure copious production. It is only the first visit to the Moon or to Mars that is, for this purpose, any good. After each has been discovered in one or two stories (and turned out to be different in each) it becomes difficult to suspend our disbelief in favor of subsequent stories. However good they were they would kill each other by becoming numerous.

I wonder if the people who have asked me for a sequel would take that as an excuse for me not to do so.

Anyway, what do you think of all that? Is Lewis on to something?

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What Would C.S. Lewis Think of WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS? (Part 1)

(I originally wrote this as an item in the Lorehaven Book Club Facebook group.)

Have you read C.S. Lewis’s essay, “On Science Fiction”?

He divided the field into a number of “sub-species,” as he put it, and I think Walking on the Sea of Clouds would fit into a couple of them — though he admits that he wouldn’t have been in the audience for it.

My novel doesn’t fit into the first sub-species that Lewis identified, wherein

the author leaps forward into an imagined future when planetary, sidereal, or even galactic travel has become common. Against this huge backdrop he then proceeds to develop an ordinary love-story, spy-story, wreck-story, or crime-story.

Lewis didn’t think very highly of that kind of science fiction, and presumably would bemoan its popularity. (And it is quite popular! If I could think of a good story like that, I’d surely write it.) Anyway, he then wrote (emphasis added),

Having condemned that sub-species, I am glad to turn to another which I believe to be legitimate, though I have not the slightest taste for it myself, [which] might be called the fiction of Engineers. It is written by people who are primarily interested in space-travel, or in other undiscovered techniques, as real possibilities in the actual universe. They give us in imaginative form their guesses as to how the thing might be done….

That seems to describe my near-future technological drama, does it not?

C. S. Lewis
(Image: “C. S. Lewis,” by Levan Ramishvili, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Lewis continues,

I am too uneducated scientifically to criticize such stories on the mechanical side; and I am so completely out of sympathy with the projects they anticipate that I am incapable of criticizing them as stories…. But heaven forbid that I should regard the limitations of my sympathy as anything save a red light which warns me not to criticize at all. For all I know, these may be very good stories in their own kind.

That’s why I think Lewis just wouldn’t be in the audience for my story. And that’s okay! Every story isn’t for everyone. But he goes on (emphasis added):

I think it useful to distinguish from these Engineers’ Stories a third sub-species where the interest is, in a sense, scientific, but speculative. When we learn from the sciences the probable nature of places or conditions which no human being has experienced, there is, in normal men, an impulse to attempt to imagine them. Is any man such a dull clod that he can look at the Moon through a good telescope without asking himself what it would be like to walk among those mountains under that black, crowded sky?

Ahem — Walking on the Sea of Clouds, anyone? It sure seems to fit that description.

But what do you think?

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