Thursday, September 23, 2010

Characters: The eHarmony Technique

Blogger and author extraordinaire, Elana Johnson, had another amazing idea aptly-named The Great Blogging Experiment. Since Elana’s ideas are always “great,” I signed up. The idea is to see what each of us would come up with given the topic of characters.

I had a vague idea about what I wanted to write on and then Whammo! a conversation with a friend turned my post into something entirely different. You see, this wonderful friend had had a sticky divorce and for six years swore off dating. After some persuading from her teenage children, she decided to be EXTREMELY brave and put herself out there. She joined eHarmony.com. Now, before this conversation, I didn’t know anything about eHarmony, but apparently their philosophy is to use “scientific predictors of long-term relationship success”. They set people up by asking their clients hours and hours of questions to turn that person inside out—to get to know the individual first from within. Granted, there is one little profile picture, but really the dating service is looking to match people’s personalities and interests rather than their looks and dress. As I understand it, the client isn’t even allowed to converse with someone they are interested in until after the two people have answered more questions for each other via their online system. One of the most interesting things about my friend’s experience is that after all these hours and hours of questionnaires, she was asked to name one thing she wanted most in a relationship. For this question she had to search deep! After all, she could only say one thing and it was to go on her profile page. For me, I would have put something shallow like “must be outdoorsy” or the like. Instead, my friend once again thought from the inside out and recalled back to the point in her failed marriage when she knew it wasn’t going to work. She remembered when she was so sick that the only thing she could think to do was to pray. She asked her spouse if he would pray with her and he said no, he thought she should just sleep and then she’d feel better. But she wanted him to share that moment with her and he was unwilling. She answered that question “must be willing to pray with me”. Whether you believe in prayer or not isn’t the point, but I hope you saw how much my friend dug inside herself to find her essence and put it on paper. My writing brain was on fire after she told me that last bit.

So I came up with a list I now call The eHarmony Character Plan, things that will help develop characters into people readers want to know about:

1. Write a brainstorming web or list. Start from the inside of the character’s being and work out. Never focus on the outside alone. That is going to be left up to the reader’s imagination anyway.
2. State the one thing (The. Most. Important. Thing.) your character is looking for. What they want the most. State that at the top of the page. This is going to drive just about everything else in the story.
3. Dig deep inside your character’s head. When I’m planning/plotting a story, I also write 100 things about my characters. They don’t have to be things I’ll end up using, but I’m getting to know them and what they might be like. After this, I take a paper and just write as that character (in 1st person—even if the story is not) as if they have possessed me and they’re using my hands to scribble in their journal.
4. Give them a past, a present, and a future. Hopefully their present is the most exciting period of their lives, but make sure you know the other major moments as well. That’s where the 100 things and journaling for them come in handy.

Thankfully my friend found her happily ever after from the experience. She was building character by reaching out of her comfort zone, but we can take her experience and build characters from it as well. All without ever having to create our own eHarmony accounts!* (Ha, ha.)

What do you think? Did eHarmony/my friend’s experience teach us anything? (Ahem... It's okay to say no.)

~ Jackee

P.S. And as a teaser for my next post, the last time I signed up for a
Blogfest ala Elana I sung my love for Elizabeth Bunce’s A Curse Dark as Gold. Well, Elizabeth and her wonderful publisher Scholastic sent me her latest book, Starcrossed, for review. Due out in October, I have in my hot little hands a copy before it’s released and I’d love to pass it on to you. Come on back next week for a chance to win it! (Oh, and to read my review because I LOVED Starcrossed even more than Curse!)

*DISCLAIMER: eHarmony.com has not paid me any sort of sum to advertise for them. Nor do I endorse them. However, if you work for eHarmony and would like to pay me, please feel free to do so!

38 comments:

  1. Wonderful post! It's definitely key to know as much about our characters as possible, even if the info never gets used! :o)

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  2. I always write like a one to three sentence - this is what this character REALLY wants or needs... It's super helpful.

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  3. Great post- I liked the eharmoney story and your tips went along really well with it. I also know the 100 facts about your character tip and this its a great idea!

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  4. That was an interesting story. Ever read Confessions of a Workaholic? She's used on-line dating sites with limited success.

    While I've never compiled a list of my characters, I have thought about them that thoroughly.

    I think this was great way to tackle the question of character.

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  5. I'm so glad to hear that your friend is now happy! I'm very sorry to read about how she wanted her ex to share a very personal moment with her only for him not to. So she deserves all the happiness in the world now! :-)

    Thank you for sharing her story her and for tips on how to use this experience to give characters depth and profundity!

    Now off I go to join eHarmony! LOL!

    take care
    x

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  6. We have to dig deep or everything our character does will be a little shallow. Digging deep gets to the core emotional needs. Bravo for your friend.

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  7. Great story! Yes, you have to dig deep to find out what makes a character tick.

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  8. I love the eHarmony angle. Wonder what my Most Important Thing would be? hmmmmm.

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  9. Great character list! I'm definitely going to use it for digging deeper into my characters. Thanks for sharing! And I'm glad your friend found her happily ever after! :)

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  10. This was a wonderful post. She really did dig deep to find what she wanted most. Something that was so simple to say, but so hard to come up with. I can see the time, I could feel the effort behind it.

    I have to say that you showed two ways of a compelling character, the story you shared of your friend and the eharmony examples. I loved it.

    As for your friend, it's very Eat, Pray, Love of her... which I adore. I wish her luck on her search.

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  11. Very excellent advice. I'd like to get my hands on the whole eHarmony list of questions for character building! I have a list of interview questions that I sometimes impose on my friends and other hapless aquaintances when I'm running low on good character ideas. But you are so right, it has to start with what is the one thing they want above all else, the one thing that sustains them. Except, like your friend, I don't think our characters know that at first (only we do, as the author). We have to help them discover it! (maybe you said that and I just missed it)

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  12. I like to make lists about all the different things about my characters. Some of the things never make it into the book, but it all makes the person who they are.

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  13. Oustanding post, Jackee! One I will refer to when I get back to my wip...Thanks so much for putting so much effort and thought into it!!!!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

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  14. what a great analogy! I think that's a great technique for figuring out who your character is and leading you toward making them compelling! No one wants to read/date that boring guy/girl. :)

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  15. I enjoyed how you posted this today. I admit, I haven't stopped at many for this fest today. Yours was good! You acutally write 100 things about your character first? Wow-- I must be really really lazy1

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  16. I love the analogy with eHarmony. Knowing everything about our characters is key, especially what they want most.

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  17. Oh, how do I love this story? With all my heart and liver. Excellent corralation (how do you spell that??) to writing.

    We must dig deep and find the one thing we can put on our profile page. Frawesome.

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  18. What a great way to develop a character. I am delighted your friend got her happily ever after too. I think my deep down requirement would be that someone had my back. And after reading this I realized that is exactly what my MC also requires.

    COngrat on the book! Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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  19. This is a great post Jackee! I can't believe your friend's ex-hubby wouldn't pray with her.

    Great points about characters. I agree, you've gotta get into their heads. =)

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  20. This is such amazing advice! I'm definitely going to think about the ONE most important thing my characters want--I hadn't thought about that before! Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Thats a great tip - the one importent thing, I think its going to help me get my plot moving too! Thanks!

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  22. Wow, Jackee. Just wow. That is one of the most original posts I've read today. And it hits a home run for me, because I see how asking our characters that huge question-- the one they're going to put out for all the world to see, the one that says this is my heart's desire--will focus and drive a story.

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  23. Excellent post. Yes, the eHarmony Character Plan is a success! :) And congrats to your friend!

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  24. Great post. As Elena said, no two posts will be remotely the same. I loved the link with eHarmony.

    I agree about brainstorming the characters. Many writers skip this (I do too) then find themselves getting tangled up in their characters' lives in ways they wouldn't if they had done more planning.

    Enjoyed reading your post..:)

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  25. Nice take - I love the 'eharmony techniques'. ;)) Hope your friend finds a happy ever after too.

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  26. I simply adore your EHarmony story and how the tips complimented it. You tied this post together so brilliantly.

    Knowing our characters are so important.

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  27. Your title made me laugh. The story made me smile!

    Digging deep for the true and meaningful needs/desires is such a great point! Awesome :)

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  28. FABULOUS post, Jackee. Really. Just what I wanted to learn and I loved the idea of letting your character "possess" you and write out on the page. =]

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  29. Jackee! You took the words right out of my mouth!

    When I right my character profiles one of the things I do is sum them up in one word or phrase. That helps me so much understand them as people with hopes and dreams.

    Jai

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  30. What a great post Jackee, and a unique look on characters. I think it's so important for authors to know their characters inside and out, from their "deepest, most desperate desires" to their more superficial qualities, like clothing etc. Love the advice, and am looking forward to your book review! It's great to meet you :}

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  31. I like your eharmony reference. And I'm impressed with your friend's #1 thing. To me, that would be important too!

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  32. Great post! It's key to know our characters from the inside out. Well said!

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  33. I heart "The eHarmony Technique". I woke my cat up because you made me snort in my tea at that. That was an excellent tie in. I think we have to be like your friend when creating characters and reach outside of our comfort zone at times as well. GREAT post!

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  34. My "e-harmony" experience led me to writing about myself – a memoir. Which could seem self indulgent, but I swear, it isn't. Still, I do like digging into my fictional character's heads!

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  35. What a great way to demonstrate the concept of a compelling character. Really great post! Thanks.

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  36. Great post! We definitely need to know our characters inside and out before we can do their story justice.

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  37. What a great story! I've heard so many authors/agents/editors say that knowing what your character wants is one of the most important things to figure out. Sounds like eHarmony was onto it :)

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  38. That's an awesome idea! And Elana does rather rock.

    Thanks for visiting my blog today. :)

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