What is Four Dimensional Characterisation?

Before I began teaching, I became a social worker. One of our lecturers gave us a sound piece of counselling advice that is also a brilliant tool in writing about fictional or real characters. ‘People behave in patterns. Look for the patterns, then you can start to understand what drives them.’ Identifying patterns helps you see their weaknesses, strengths and what genuinely makes them tick.

Characters appear not just in works of fiction. If you are writing an autobiographical or family history piece, describing people you know using characterisation techniques will make them come alive in the reader’s mind, assisting the reader in relating to the person you’re talking about, even if that person is you!

People are at least four dimensional. We have our three dimensional physical form, which you can describe in terms of:

  • How people look: hair, eye colour, height, preferred clothing.
  • Mannerisms such as sitting a certain way, nodding frequently when listening, nervous habits.
  • How they smell: do they regularly use tobacco, cook with garlic or use a signature cologne.
  • What their voice, cough, sneeze, singing or laugh sounds like.
  • Problematic or distinctive characteristics such as oily hair, dry skin or uneven ears.

The fourth, and mostly unseen dimension, is their positive or negative life experiences that replay in their subconscious mind, motivating their behaviour and driving their emotions. This dimension is what produces most patterns and most people don’t even realise that they exhibit these patterns or what is really behind them. As a writer, this gives you a great plot line as your characters can either find themselves or get more lost along the way. You have more room for explorative narratives.

So what kind of patterns can you build into a character, or use to drive a storyline? You have a choice of positive and negative patterns. It is easy to limit your characters and bias your writing by placing the focus on negative behaviours. You can limit them to being the serial womaniser; the bully; the shy person; the issue avoider; the addict; the co-dependent; the unlucky in love or the self destructive. Try and also consider people’s strengths: confidence in their ability in a specific area; kindness towards strangers or animals; a belief one day they will make it no matter what; love of family; strong faith or intuition; determination; emotional stability. What do they value the most? What will they fight to achieve? That way you will have a more balanced personality and more avenues to explore in your storyline.

If your character has been through a particular life experience, do a little research into the psychology behind it. It will assist you in building in personality traits and behaviour patterns which make them realistic. For example, on the My Way Out” web site, Mario is talking about the patterns of behaviour you see in adults who come from families which were neurotic or alcoholic. He identifies six dominant behavioural patterns: the caretaker, people pleaser, martyr, workaholic, perfectionist and stump.

Peace Sign fabric by Alexander Henry

While those roles may look like cliches or stereotypes, many times it is the common attributes of people who have lived through these situations that give rise to those images, so you can’t always write them off as overused. Again, look for positive traits as well. The traits of a survivor pull people through their past and present challenges. They are strong motivators which can fuel heroes and heroines, including the every day kind who aren’t overthrowing evil or slaying dragons.


CRCF4Dim CoverEd2This post was the inspiration for the book “Creating and Resolving Conflicts in Fiction,” the first book in the Four Dimensional Characterisation Series. This book will give you an insight into simple psychology that can be used to build characters and plot lines. It’s an easy, non technical read that will assist you in making your characters realistic, unique and believable. “Creating and Resolving Conflicts in Fiction” focusses on conflict in any kind of relationship. How you can create it, build it, then resolve it throughout any plot line, regardless of the characters or genre.

If you are writing autobiography / memoir it will still help you, as it will make you aware of how conflicts in your life have functioned and why incidents turned out the way they did.

This book is only available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00856U6IC

Thank you too, to Shelly Immel from the Big Life Project, who said:

“I’ve enjoyed Cate Russell-Cole’s posts for writers about character psychology, and here’s more depth pulled together into a book. SWEET! Cate Russell-Cole’s got pyschology chops, which shows in the depth and professional accuracy of the info she presents. And she understands writing, which shows in the useful way she selects and presents psychology to help writers build characters and plot. I can’t wait to read this book! (As soon as I find out how to get it for the Nook…)”

Emo4Dim cover3The second book in the Four Dimension Characterisation series is the newly released, “Building Emotionally Realistic Characters.” Whether you are writing fiction, memoir, poetry, short stories, plays, screenplays or music, the ability of your work to touch others depends on how they relate to the messages you are conveying. What they see and hear must be something they have encountered and can relate to easily; or it must be shared in another way they can grasp. Often that is done through the only common element every human being has: knowing what emotions feel like.

You can read a story about events which have never happened to you, but still laugh or cry over what is occurring with the characters. Why? Because you know what it is to experience pain, joy, fear, rejection, envy, fatigue, laughter, grief, ecstasy or doubt too. This is the magic that makes stories work. The tricky part, is conjuring up the right spell or your reader will not be fooled.

Topics include: change, motivation, healing emotional trauma, post traumatic growth, grief, shock, super-egos and inferiority, escapism, fatal flaws, phobias, shame, violence, character types, suicide prevention, schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. This is the second book in the Four Dimensional Characterisation Series.

Available from Amazon Kindle.


This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2012. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

No images on this blog may be copied, captured, or altered for your own purpose without the consent of the originating owner. Where images are marked as being iStockphoto.com images, they are paid for and licenced to Cate for use on this blog. If you take them, iStockphoto.com has the right to take legal action against you for Copyright Infringement.

Please see the Blog Content and Image Copyright page of this blog for further information in regards to Guest Posts, other images, Cate’s checks on infringements and Liability.

Writing from Inside Multiple Heads

When you are writing, it can be hard to look beyond your sympathies with your main character. Every book represents the experiences and views of more than one person: and all will think and feel differently. For best effect, the differences in mindset will be profound! This is a skill I was frustrated with in fiction writing. I couldn’t be in two heads at once.

If you find yourself in the same position, you can find helpful inspiration via the friendly folks over at Death Star PR. They are an excellent example of how you can stomp around in the bad guy’s black boots, discovering a world you were morally trained to ignore. When I discovered their blog, I was startled at how effectively they spun the Empire’s side of Star Wars. I was used to looking at things solely from the Rebel Alliance’s point of view. They were the stereotypical good guys. I never thought about any other interpretation to events. I was led by the plot not to. Death Star PR mischievously spin doctors the Star Wars saga from the dark side. Their humour breaks down your resistance and you start to think differently about the storyline. http://deathstarpr.blogspot.com.au/

“Those were the droids you were looking for.” The regrets of a Stormtrooper. Promotion dashed… thanks to Jedi mind “Tricks!”

For example, Han and Leia are the archetypal, requisite love story. Han Solo was a hero to the Rebellion. While admittedly, a little rough, he just had to be Mr Wonderful underneath. To Death Star PR, speaking for her dad, Darth Vader, he quite correctly, was a smuggler, a cheat… and I agree now, he obviously had no sense of romance. Who answers “I love you,” with “I know?” It’s not the line most girls want to hear when these may be your loved one’s last words. From Vader’s point of view, turning him into a carbonite coffee table was “great parenting.” Who better to step in and get Princess Leia away from the bad boyfriend, but dad? Didn’t the plot show that Vader did have a soft side? Even Luke, saved from the Emperor by his father, forgave the misguided, heart-broken Anakin and cremated his long-lost father with dignity. Anakin lost his mother at an early age to his training; then lost her to violence; was publicly denied true love; was constantly criticised by his mentor: not an easy life… no wonder he cracked. With those early insecurities and the burden of his sensitivity to the force alerting him to other’s pain, he reached for power and control to stop all pain. Did I hear you reach for the tissues then? Isn’t he understandable now?

The writer’s mind trick of getting into different character’s heads, comes from their ability to pull themselves into the opposing mindset. You may find it helpful to sketch out a history of the person you wish to tap into. Build their boots, then step into them to imagine what it is like to be in their heart and mind. Look at their upbringing, positive and negative previous experiences and how the current events in their lives have affected them. Consider also, how their skills may drive how they communicate. For example, mathematically or scientifically minded people may be solution orientated, or black and white in how they think. They may not wish to listen to the character’s emotions and tiny details; they may just want to fix the obvious problem. The answer, to them, may be simple. Just do this! That can create tension as the character doesn’t have a shoulder to cry on. Anyone wanting sympathy or affection will be left with those needs unmet.

You can argue anything, from any point of view, if you can look at the scene from a different bias. For an example of rationalisation in action, have a look at the Empire’s explanation on why it’s OK to blow up Alderaan.  “For years, the Rebel Alliance have been waging guerrilla warfare against the Galactic Empire, constantly disrupting our valiant attempts to bring peace, order and security to the galaxy (even if we have to very occasionally use extreme violence, oppression and fear to do it). Although the Rebel insurgents haven’t claimed responsibility for the attack, and indeed have quite vehemently and consistently stated that the Empire is to blame, the reality is that there would be no wars of the star variety or otherwise if the Alliance simply gave up… Said Eeval Tehryryst: “We’re fighting to free the entire galaxy from a ruthlessly oppressive totalitarian dictatorship led by two evil wizards.”

If it sounds a lot like political rhetoric to you, you’re right. Remember, politics isn’t just for government, it begins with everyday individuals trying to gain the better part of any deal in life. We all do it. We all look out for ourselves and aim to avoid pain and suffering. Regardless of who is right or wrong, gaining what we want is fought out on all levels of relationships. Who is right, just depends on who is doing the talking at the time.

If you like Star Wars, here is another take on the Han – Leia relationship. This is a 1950’s set view of their romance. It doesn’t look very healthy from this point of view… They should divorce before they marry!


This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2012. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

No images on this blog may be copied, captured, or altered for your own purpose without the consent of the originating owner. Where images are marked as being iStockphoto.com images, they are paid for and licenced to Cate for use on this blog. If you take them, iStockphoto.com has the right to take legal action against you for Copyright Infringement.

Please see the Blog Content and Image Copyright page of this blog for further information in regards to Guest Posts, other images, Cate’s checks on infringements and Liability.

The Enneagram: A Goldmine of Character Types and Interactions

As authors, we often write using traditional character archetypes that readers recognise. Archetypes we immediately understand include the hero, villain, mentor, outcast, damsel in distress etc. They have an important role to play in literature, teaching us lessons which can also help us on our own life quests.

When I was in my twenties, a book was very popular in my peer group which categorised people using four personality types. Understanding them could solve all their problems! I am absolutely, solidly against any stereotypical categorisation, human beings are too complex! So I did the research.

I discovered those types were based on the ancient theory of the four humours and outright rejected it. I am not alone: in researching this post, someone was talking about how they bought a book published in 1896, which was based on the four humours in children. The original owner had written inside: “Critique: Psychologists say it’s unscientific – lacks rigor, precision, control of facts. Nevertheless it sure is widespread in use and application, or trials at it! Feb.29.40. R.N.S.”

The four humours are actually based on the balances of four body fluids: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. They were seen to affect temperament, making you either sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic or choleric. Of course, the in-vogue book presented it as a more advanced theory. My friends didn’t know what they were really reading and they weren’t impressed when they heard what the theory was actually based on. Why would they be impressed, even if body fluids weren’t involved in dictating behaviour? Who would want to be labelled as, say, melancholic? Do you want to be classed as “crestfallen, crummy, dejected, desolate, despondent, destroyed, disconsolate, dispirited, down and out?” It’s not likely to do wonders for your self-esteem. Neither was one theory we learnt in psychology, that typed people based on body shape. If you were tall and thin, or small and fat, you had the same traits as all the other people with your body type. Does this make sense?

Image Source: http://tinyurl.com/84jumcb

Then I came face to face with my kryptonite. The one theory that paralysed my ability to criticise type theories. One of my memoir students asked me to sit through an introduction to the enneagram. I was having a hard time with a co-worker and thought well, why not? It’s always good to hear a new theory. I love psychology. I easily located my dominant personality type and it shocked me. I found myself publicly looking into the private parts of how my mind works, that I never wanted revealed to anyone else. It was all there on paper in tale-telling detail and it was scary… particularly for a psychology buff who does not believe in stereotyping. Oddly enough, it didn’t box me in, it gave me strategies for getting free, which is exactly what the enneagram is supposed to do. It is about growth and healing.

If you are feeling brave, there is a free enneagram personality test here for you to take: http://similarminds.com/test.html

I am not asking you to take all this too seriously. I don’t live by it religiously or refer to it often. I occasionally pull out my Enneagram notes when I am stuck on a people problem and it does help, but I would still never rigidly adhere to it. Whether you want to believe in it or not, for writers building characters, the enneagram is a gold mine! It is similar to a road map for human behaviour which shows your basic motivational needs; strengths, weaknesses, temptations and what you can do to balance out your negatives. To increase it’s usefulness, there is information online on how to get on with other types which clash with your own. That can be used to create dynamic plot conflicts.

Source: A Lofty Existence Blog on WordPress: http://tinyurl.com/blmdl2g

Let me give you an example on how this can work. Let me play devil’s advocate and use a creative personality as an example. They are referred to as the Thinker or Observer (the five). They are withdrawn, thought-driven, self-motivated, happy to be alone and have a strong need for independence and privacy. Often they don’t fit in, in social groups. This is a weakness of their personality type. Problems for fives include isolation, pride, power seeking and their intellectual approach can drive people in the other direction, seeking warmer company! Famous fives include William Rhenquist, Stephen Hawking, Francis Crick, Helen Keller, Wittgenstein, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Now, no one has just one type they fit wholly and solely into. We have a little of every type in us, but we have two other less dominant types which are called wings. They balance us out. A five will have the wings of a four: the romantic, withdrawn ideal-seeker who wants authenticity, self expression and who can also be deeply empathetic. Famous 5/4s include Sigmund Freud. Fives also have a six wing, which is the loyalist, an attachment making approval-seeker. Famous 5/6s include Charles Darwin, Frederich Nietzsche, David Lynch, and Isaac Newton. You can see how a five could work themselves into difficult situations as they are a deep thinker, wanting to solve problems; are seeking approval for doing so… but can push people away as they are so independent and socially stilted. The five can become one very frustrated, lonely individual, with answers no one will listen to.

Designed by Rick Hogue: http://www.prosperity.com/enneagram/

This is where the enneagram displays it’s potential power to transform. To move away from being a dominant five who needs to master things, is prone to pride and is scared of helplessness or being seen as incompetent; you follow the triangle in the diagram to see what you do to balance. So from a five, go up the arrow to the eight: the boss. Taking that path, the five has to come out of their mental world to lead and interact with others. One step further, if you were predominantly an eight, the ideal is to go to two, which means instead of being based in power and control, you take a balancing, helping role.

Of course, it is a lot more complex than that. This is a mystically based theory which has been around for centuries. At it’s simplest level it is an excellent idea generator you will find useful and intriguing. Just do the test by yourself. You could be in for confronting revelations you didn’t see coming!

Enneagram Resources:

This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2012. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

No images on this blog may be copied, captured, or altered for your own purpose without the consent of the originating owner. Where images are marked as being iStockphoto.com images, they are paid for and licenced to Cate for use on this blog. If you take them, iStockphoto.com has the right to take legal action against you for Copyright Infringement.

Please see the Blog Content and Image Copyright page of this blog for further information in regards to Guest Posts, other images, Cate’s checks on infringements and Liability.