SCBWI rules and Steve Hartley wins

Posted: April 15, 2012 in thoughts
Tags: , , , , , ,

I spent yesterday in York, as I do periodically, at the library, in a grand room surrounded by lovely SCBWI folk and a few visitors. Steve Hartley – he of Danny Baker fame – was giving an interactive presentation on character development. He is funny and clever, and has a bag full of imitations of people we know, both real and fictional, to demonstrate the characters he’s summoning up from his model of who and what people are. Amazing.

This is the third way of examining character I have come across – if you discount the list that goes something like: what they take for insomnia, which side of the bed they straighten first, how they screw up their rubbish etc. (All perfectly useless in my experience.)

The first method of character development is one I learnt from my therapist training. MBTI typology indicates our preferences, and could therefore conceivably be used to check a character is acting in, well, character. From this assessment, you get four letters that represent your main preferences in four chief areas. And under this system, my reading, done by someone qualified to test, came out as INFJ. You can check these meanings all over the internet. Stick that in google and you will come up with a sample of this kind of thing. But MBTI is official and lengthy, despite being fun to know. I wouldn’t want to check out all my characters this way.

Then there’s Gloria Kempton, whose class I once took and who focuses on the Enneagram – a model of ancient Sufi origins, also used by psychologists, that is, according to her detailed course description, ‘the answer to flat, dull, undeveloped characters that readers soon forget after reading the story’. I found this incredibly complicated – or maybe it was the workload. Rounded character stems from motivation here, and there was a lot of sense in it. I just don’t choose to use it now.

So on the whole, my impression this morning, after a good night’s sleep, is that Steve’s method was the best of fun and worked well. So I’m off to check whether my characters are Analytics, Drivers, Expressives or Agreeables; see who they clash with, and check out how I can ratchet up the tension where necessary by employing all the information he discussed with us. If you see him offering a session, GO!

As an aside, one of my psychologist friends reckons that personality is what we developed in order to get out of childhood alive (!) and that, apart from some givens, it is open to change as we develop. I agree, and would add that as we develop we can indeed move out of the assigned quadrant, not just ‘around within it’. Which is the only place I disagreed with the excellent Steve. Neurons can indeed be activated in new paths, even late in life. But it was a small point and, as I say, SCBWI rules in giving us professional input that is usable and fun.

  1. jongleuse says:

    Interesting post! Thanks for the run through of the ways you’ve found useful in analysing character. Also intrigued by Anne Tyler’s interview in the Guardian yesterday where she mentions Erving Goffman’s the Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, a sociology book which she calls, ‘the most valuable book any novelist could read.’ I imagine there will be a few UK writers ordering it today…


  2. That’s really interesting. Here is the link to the Anne Tyler interview:
    Just imagine having proper writers as your tutors rather than someone’s writing course or programme – I’d be top-notch by now 🙂
    Thanks for stopping by.


  3. Right, I am now going to apply all the stuff I learned in management training about employees and colleagues and apply it to character development, from MTBI to Social Styles.


    • Absolutely – and while you’re at it, why not take a look at a tarot deck? Not joking. There’s plenty of stuff there to help us develop a character!! I think Steve’s model must be based on Social Styles though I didn’t ask, and he develops it in a way that’s skewed to our needs and very visual.


  4. Beverley says:

    Thanks for the link to the Anne Tyler interview. That was really interesting. I did the Myers Briggs personality test several years ago and think I was INFJ too. I would guess many fiction writers are INF, and their ability (or not) to get the darned thing finished may depend on whether they are J or P. Books on star signs and Chinese animal personality types can also give ideas for characters.


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