Finding inspiration

People always ask me how I find inspiration. Who’s my muse?

They assume it’s something you have, or don’t. Like, you can roll your tongue or you can’t.
But inspiration is not a wacky gene in your body.

It is accessible to anyone. And, surprise, surprise. It’s free and limitless.

My ways to find inspiration are plentiful.
Here are just a few.

nature.

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I know. This is vague. It can be anything. And that’s the point. Take a drive to the oceanside and let the breeze and waves wash over you. Let the wind whisper into your ears. Let the sand settle on your skin and tell you the story of its thousands of years of existence. It may have started out as a giant rock in a faraway land.

Inspiration lurks on every crumbling leaf, gentle wave or gust of warm air.

It is almost impossible not to be inspired by nature. Just think about the enormous size of planet earth, and you are a tiny human that has the privilege to be alive on top of it. Walk its many planes. How inspiring is that?

people.

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This one does not always work for me because I am a major introvert but, on most occasions, humans manage to inspire me. People are emotional, whether we like to admit to it or not.

We all experience life through our own set of eyes. We write our own stories and leave lasting impressions. We go through heartache and joyful experiences. We break out of our comfort zone, or sit alone inside of it, wallowing. Billions of people make for billions of life stories.

Ask them questions. Share your feelings with them. What’s their earliest memory? I’m sure everyone has a story about that. Ask your grandparents about their childhood or first love. Ask your parents how they met. Ask your friends about their favourite memory with you.
Inspiration sits everywhere and is waiting to be discovered.

art.

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The best source of inspiration for writing is, of course, the words of fellow writers.
Is anyone really surprised?

I don’t mean for you to copy their style and exact words. Obviously. But, look at how other writers have transformed their ideas onto paper. What do you like about their style and technique? What do you dislike? Does that poet you are obsessed with conform to a certain rhyme scheme?

Does he or she paint fantastic landscapes with words? Could you get lost in their fictional worlds forever and ever? Maybe you need to switch off after running into a writer’s block. There’s no better way to re-connect with your inner muse (and writer) than to read. The same is true for other art forms.

Music, painting, movies. What do you like about your favorite song? The melody, the lyrics, its eccentric world perception? How does it make you feel?

What’s so special about the dialogue in your favourite rom-com? Why do you cry every time you watch it? You know what will happen.

Access those feelings and channel them into your pen (or keyboard, let’s be honest).

news.

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Every day something happens in the world. Now that we are all connected across the globe, it is insanely easy to read about the happenings on the other side of the globe at the blink of an eye.

Read through the articles that interest you. What catches your eyes? How does injustice or political upheaval make you feel? How would you change it? What about climate change?
Are you frustrated? I know I am. Put it into words.

Discuss world events with friends and family.
Perhaps they can offer you a new perspective. Or make you mad.

Remember, not every character you write about will have the same political, religious or economic upbringing and ideals as you. If they do, maybe they need some further inspection.

What historical events influence the happenings of the present? Have we as humans learnt from past mistakes? How were you affected by them? Or your family?
So much room for imagination.

you.

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It is either the most obvious source of inspiration, or not obvious at all, but you are your own muse. You think, you talk, you see, you learn new things every day. You experience the world.

What bothers you? What sits on your soul and won’t let you breathe?

Why is a wave of anxiety washing through you every morning?

Your inner voice is talking to you every single minute of the day. Or every second if you’re lucky. But we often tune it out to get on with day-to-day life. Listen to her or him. Entertain the voice for a second. Don’t get carried away, just listen.

You should be your number one source of inspiration because all the things I listed above go through you. You are the sponge that absorbs the world around you. That’s how your inner life is created.

What haunts your dreams? Do you have nightmares? Your subconsciousness might be signalling you it needs a talk. Are there symbolisms that follow you around?

(I cannot stop seeing the number 7 at the moment. It’s kinda creepy!)

Tune in to the things we usually put aside. Slow down your fast steps. Take a breath. Tap into your intuition. Your deep emotions. Your shadow side. Your inner voice. I’m sure there is a lot to be expressed.

© 2021 vic lejon

The shadow side of your character

Talking about darkness makes most people think of the villain but even the most heroic and ‘bright lights’ of protagonists have a dark side. If you want to write a convincing story, it’s probably a good idea to tap into it and see what you find.

The notion of a Shadow self was coined by Carl Jung to refer to the part of our unconscious mind that contains the repressed traits, needs or ideas we tend to hide away from everyone. Either, because society has deemed them unspeakably terrible or because we ourselves cannot accept the faults or weaknesses of our own character.
Today’s world pushes positivity and happiness down our throats, but can those concepts truly exist without their counterparts?

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Think of the shadow self like a twin. It’s a mirror of you, only it balances out all the light that you radiate into the world with darkness. In terms of a novel, you will have a hard time creating conflicts if you were to have all your characters at their best behaviour. The villain and protagonist would go out for ice-cream. The villain would offer to pay for both of them instead of poisoning the ice-cream to get revenge on the protagonist’s family.

We can’t have that!

We need our shadow selves, not just to create an entertaining drama but also to allow us to evolve. Conflict is necessary for change, that is to create a brilliant plot but also memorable characters who have gone through hell and back to get where they are.

Your characters will surely have a range of commendable traits.
Morality, honesty and mental resilience are awesome attributes to help beat the bad guy, but, like real-life humans, they will encounter moments of weakness. They might blame themselves for not standing up to the monster earlier, which could have prevented the apocalypse altogether. Damn, that laziness or escapism trait.

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All repressed ideas and traits wavering around in our darkness are not pure evil, some might be underdeveloped sources of potential too. Your character might harbour boundless creativity (in the questionable form of ways to murder his neighbour’s cat) that could be harvested to stop a homicidal lizard creature instead. It is easy to ignore faults to focus on happiness. It is even easier to be scared of our own dark sides. Ignoring them, however, will only feed them. They will become monsters too.

Think about the character you are building for your story, what irritates him in other people? Why does he hate the cops in his city with a passion? Why is his wife resentful towards her sister’s picture-perfect family? Their objects of hate have traits which are veiled in the depth of their own shadow, longing to jump out and revel in the spotlight of your page. Make your protagonist’s life miserable by exposing them!

Jung called these moments of repulsion our ‘projections’, everything that we suppress in ourselves we dislike in others.

Think about why your character dislikes the antagonist. What does he or she stand for, and how could that trait take form in your protagonist? How could you access your protagonist’s darkness and turn it into his power? Or what happens if he chooses to indulge the dark side? Would he become a villain?

It takes a certain kind of bravery to acknowledge the face a shadow self. They might not be the prettiest faces in the mirror but if your characters want to win the big battle (whether in space, underground or a perfectly trimmed backyard), they will have to face their own short-comings to become greater.

How can I make my character face his shadow self?

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There are probably a hundred different ways to confront your character’s dark side, but the ones below came to my mind as I sat and stared at myself in the mirror to find my own shadow self. 😉Villains and antagonists

This one is pretty obvious if your protagonist struggles with some ideal or trait, it is a brilliant idea to give that trait to the antagonist. Make the protagonist face off against his own worst nightmare. Either he will beat it, have a moment of self-awareness and grow even stronger… or he will join the dark side (secret love for those moments). Or maybe, there is a grey area where they could meet. If so, what would that look like?

Dreams, visions, prophecies

At night, our unconscious mind comes out to play. Of course, the shadow self will prowl about to exhibit your character’s darkest longings.
Dream sequences can be used to plant a seed that leads to a shocking plot-twist, whether during a maniac chase through a fantasy underworld or in the form of a vision that points out your protagonist’s weakness.

Mirrors or reflections

A scene where your character looks at herself in the mirror can subtly point out a duality or darkness that others fail to see.

Do her eyes have contrasting colours, or does her skin texture change in the light? It might just be a smile that sits too forced upon her face.
Give a clue in her reflection of what darkness might reside within. Or even more dramatically, give the mirror image its own personality.

A dark room

This is more of a metaphor that I first heard about in a youtube video but I thought it is a great way to incorporate someone’s dark side.

Imagine the house of a friendly family. There is a young boy, a cute dog and the parents have stable jobs and a thriving social life. Everything appears perfect but there is one room in the house no outsider has ever set foot in.
What’s inside of it? What could they be hiding?
It could be a literal representation of a collective shadow. A dark secret they don’t want anyone to know about. What happens when you open that door?

Personality disorder

The perfect example of someone’s dark side being revealed is probably Fight Club. What we first assume to be two completely different characters, is actually one person with a literal dark side in the form of a young Brad Pitt.
The dissociated personalities create one of the biggest plot twists in the story. There is a lot of literature out there that employs personality disorders to show a shadow self. I am not saying to glamourise mental health issues, but if you have experience with it and know what you’re doing, it might be an effective way to showcase a person’s darkness.

The annoyingly perfect person everyone loves

I mentioned this one above, but a simple way to introduce the dark side of anyone is to confront them with a person they hate.
Maybe it’s the girl from the office with the perfectly manicured hands and high-pitched laughter that gets their blood pressure up like no one else.
Maybe, it’s the villain who has a secret crush on the girl next door. He hates her because he hates his own ability to fall in love.
The annoyingly perfect person can take any form as long as it sketches out a side of your character that lurks in their unconsciousness.

Death or trauma

Nothing gets the dark side going like a loss of a loved one. Your character will be going through a tornado, volcano and tsunami of emotion. That’s a lot of natural disasters to handle!
Crying, laughing, feeling nothing… a phase of utter despair shifts and changes anyone. Your character, whether good or bad, will be no different. The Shadow self might use that moment to creep around and show-off its cunning face.

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There are many more ways to uncover the shadow self of a character, so if you can think of them let me know. I would love to be inspired. I hope this helped you to figure out what your characters might be harbouring in their unconscious minds and to shape them into even more kick-ass people.

© 2021 vic lejon

How do your characters express love?

My previous post discussed how to find your character’s personality type, but what about the way they communicate their love and commitment to another?

For every person the way they convey feelings is different and, to maintain a harmonious relationship or friendship, you need to be aware of how your other half functions in the communications department.

Dr Gary Chapman developed the five love languages test to help people gain insight into how they can improve their communication with partners, friends or their children. Everyone will attach different degrees of importance to their types. Some people tend to favour one type in particular, while others have a top two or three. Either way, the deliberation of how we give or receive love will also help you in creating your characters.

Just like real-life human beings, your characters will have their own love language types, and they’ll stick to them throughout your story.
When two characters fail to communicate their feelings effectively, there will be conflict. (Hint: your antagonist might speak a completely different love language. Turn that into your advantage to increase tension.)

Reflect on your own life, how do you communicate your love to others?
Do you get upset when they express their love differently.

The Five Love Languages

Words of Affirmation

This type thrives on compliments, little post-it notes or text messages throughout the day to remind them why he or she is loved.

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Words can have an immense impact on your life, every writer knows that. Your ‘words of affirmation’ character will agree. Have your character’s boyfriend leave a voicemail to tell his partner that despite all the problems they are facing, everything will be alright in the end. Hearts will soar with appreciation. However, a verbal slight hurts these types more than others.

Quality time

Undivided attention is key for this type. Put your phone and laptop aside for a moment and listen to their thoughts.

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Characters of this type will put emphasis on spending one-on-one time with their loved ones. A young couple might try a new hobby or simply sit on the couch together doing nothing. A quality time person will be fulfilled with love as long as they have the other person’s attention. Time is their most important commodity. If it’s being wasted, they won’t be happy.

Receiving gifts

No, this type is not materialistic. The gesture of gift giving, for them, is about showing thoughtfulness and attention.

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Imagine, your character fell in love with a tiny bird sculpture she saw in an antics shop. Her husband had listened to her gush about it a few weeks ago. He makes the long drive to the shop and even wraps it in that hideous wrapping paper she giggled about on her birthday. The bird sculpture reminds her of her deceased mother, he knows how much she will appreciate the gesture. That’s mindful gifting your character will appreciate greatly.

Acts of service

This type will thrive when you do them favours or take off their excessive workload to show how much you care about them and value their presence.

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Doing the dishes, not out of obligation but support, will emphasise to the tired grandmother how much her grandchild values her. These types appreciate every genuine gesture of help and interpret them as acts of love. Broken promises or complete disregard for others’ needs, however, will make them prone to conflicts filled with accusations of neglect.

Physical touch

The name of this type is the game. Physical touch people love to hug, kiss or pat shoulders to signal others how much they care about them while also providing safety and warmth.

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These character types will prefer to hug someone for their achievements instead of complementing them. Denied touch or rejection will hurt them gravely, and they will probably not forget about the denial any time soon. A mother who fails to acknowledge her daughter’s longing for physical contact might deeply damage their relationship in the future.

Sourced from https://www.5lovelanguages.com/5-love-languages/.

Why are love languages useful?

Change relationship dynamics

Awareness of how your characters communicate their love will be vital in dialogue and non-verbal communication. While it is subtle, a love language will give your fictional friend a more realistic presence, while also allowing to inject extra tension or care into relationships.

The physical touch trait plays an important role in the body language of your fictional figures. Interactions between characters who are on opposing scores of this trait may have a hard time liking each other. One will despise touchy people trying to invade their personal space, the other will feel misunderstood or like there’s something wrong with them. Consider how their body language might differ in crowds versus intimate moments.

Create misunderstandings

If you want to introduce conflict, it can be helpful to identify love languages to establish why characters struggle to find common ground.
Maybe, the protagonist is furious when someone’s promise of help is broken. The protagonist is an ‘acts of service’ guy. To him, the ‘breaker of promises’ is a threat to his cause. They argue and the conflict escalates. An antagonist is born.

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Adding the element of love languages into your stories will shape character’s dynamics, body language or even give way to add subplots as communication break-down drives a wedge between friends and enemies. It’s worth a shot if you are looking to expand the profile you have of your fictional friends.

© 2021 vic lejon

What is your character’s personality type?

In my previous post, I suggested that the use of psychological typologies is a useful starting point for character creation or when you’re stuck in their development.
Today, we will have a closer look at the Myers-Briggs personality test (MBTI).

Personality tests are controversial to some people. Recently, I talked to a friend of mine about the MBTI. He questioned whether it is pseudoscience like horoscopes.
Or worse, like a Buzzfeed quiz about which Game of Thrones character you are.
(They are fun though, who are you? 😉 )

Not quite. 

The MBTI is based on Carl Gustav Jung’s extensive research around what he called the ‘self’. His work suggests there are different parts of ourselves. The Self, representative of your inside world, and a persona we put on for the outside world. Test your Self and Persona here.

No one is going to match a personality type 100%. Results depend on mood, experiences and concentration. Instead, they give us an impression or a tendency.

In character development, personality types give us an overview of a character who starts out on his journey. Who will he be at the end of it? That depends on what you put him through and whether you want his weaknesses to become heightened or to turn into his strengths. Being aware of your characters’ flaws and strong points will make it easier to decide how they respond to various problems.

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Problems like what?

Applied to fictional characters, tests like the MBTI can help us with a range of questions, such as:

How would a character approach a relationship problem? Would he openly talk about the issue with his significant other or dwell in silence until the small problem gets blown out of proportion?

How does your character act as a mom or dad? Does he play the good or bad cop when the little ones spread peanut butter all over mom’s new clothes?

Would the young woman in your story be able to manage a business, shoulder the responsibility with a charismatic smile, or would she buckle under the pressure?

Summary of Myers-Briggs personality types

Sourced from the 16 Personalities website.

Analysts 

INTJ – The Architect – strategy, planner, imaginative
INTP – The Logician – innovation, inventions, thirst for knowledge
ENTJ – The Commander – leadership, dominant, charisma
ENTP – The Debater – intellect, argumentative, rationality

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Diplomats 

INFJ – the Advocate – idealist, quiet, mystical
INFP – the Mediator – creativity, altruistic, secretive
ENFJ- the Protagonist- natural leaders, sensitive, reliable
ENFP- the Campaigner – communication, independent, popular

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Sentinels

ISTJ – the Logistician – factual, effective, dutiful
ISFJ – the Defender – hard-working, perfectionism, emotional
ESTJ – the Executive – management, traditional, direct
ESFJ- the Consul – loyalty, caring, selfless

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Explorers 

ISTP – the Virtuoso – energetic, practicality, stubborn
ISFP- the Adventurer- flexible, independent, passionate
ESTP- the Entrepreneur – energetic, original, perceptive
ESFP – the Entertainer – optimism, sensitive, dramatic

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Examples of Types in Practice

ENTJ – Grumpy business owner

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In one of my short stories, there is a business owner who could be identified as an ENTJ. He is ruthless and sickeningly confident to the point that he scares off everyone around him. His attitude problem lands him in troubled waters with his community. No one bothers to stand up for him. He is forced to either trust someone he doesn’t know or drown.

ISFJ – Soul of a community

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In the same short story, there is a young community leader. Her innate need to protect the people of her hometown makes her go up against the grumpy business owner. While she teaches him to become more patient with other people, he reprimands her for taking on the burden of an entire community without regard for her own health. Their contrasting personalities actually help the other grow.

ISFP – Crazy auntie 

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This character type is one of my favourites to write. My crazy auntie character excels in life by pushing the social boundaries and embracing her status as a free-spirit who drinks too much wine during boring family dinners. Her open-mindedness and ability to make everyone feel welcome is a basis for a much-loved character. However, her over-reliance on herself and hatred of everything ‘conventional’ causes her to keep serious health issues a secret.

You have the basis of your character. What now?  

Now comes the point where I tell you these personality types are archetypes, not real people. No one is 100% ISFP or 100% platinum blonde (congrats if you are!).

Traumatic events or challenges will force characters to face their core values and re-establish their personalities. Villains and antagonists will shatter the protagonist’s world view.

Your character may start out as a controlling ENTJ but, over time, and through many obstacles, he might learn that his focus on himself is hindering him from making true human connections. He will have to learn to trust people and respect their feelings. To make your characters progress, they will have to confront their weaknesses and deepest, gut-wrenching fears.

It takes time to create the perfect concoction of personality types, quirks and magic to make your character a three-dimensional person on the page.

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If you have a soft-spoken, timid INFJ who is faced by a big, bad monster, she will need to step up to protect those around her. She might take on leadership qualities that have been dormant inside of her but never dared tap into.

Give your readers the chance to follow her journey of self-discovery so they, too, can evolve and grow in their own lives.


© 2021 vic lejon