How to approach ‘characterisation’ – Here’s one suggestion.

A friend of mine, who has the brain the size of Kilmanjaro, has spent some years extolling the benefits of Myers-Briggs as a way of understanding ourselves and others. He insists this is of great use in the workplace and in relationships with others.

I was not convinced, and indeed some argue that use of Myers-Briggs by HR departments is totally meaningless. But when I explored a little deeper into Myers-Briggs, I began to see an alternative use for this ‘structured personality-type indicator’.

Traits are divided into blocks, as shown below. What best describes you?

By Jake Beech – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Download a larger version here

Now, this is not an exact science, but it could be a useful baseline framework from which a writer can mould a character. For example, I can be difficult to live with because I’m pretty much an ESTJ and like to ‘run the show’, so I’m bossy because I like things done properly (in other words ‘my way’ – and therefore I’m a control freak). However, in general, I am organised and dependable. If you take those traits to the extreme you could have an interesting fictional character in the making; an SIO in a murder investigation perhaps.

If you want to irritate a character with those personality traits: turn up late, be unprepared, and waffle on… Or be, a careless rule-breaker, and rude.

The question to ask yourself as a writer is, what do I want this person to do? What is their role in the story I wish to tell?

Let’s take someone we know in the world of fiction and see if we can view them in terms of Myers-Briggs: Would Sherlock Holmes be an INTP?

Fair enough, we can’t fit everyone, real or imagined, into these boxes and that’s not the intention with such tools, but if you need to get into the head of a character it is somewhere to start. Then think body language, speech and language, principles and beliefs, and eventually your character becomes more rounded. Provide a backstory and you build further to develop behavioural patterns both good and bad. Before you know it, you’ve created a person in your head that won’t go away…

The best suspense thriller this year so far…is not a book.

When I wasn’t on my feet shouting or singing, I sat in the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday and was swept away by the experience to such an extent that it’s taken until now to get my thoughts together. Wales v England in the Rugby Six Nations was the most astounding example of suspense, tension and emotional outpouring and I had no way of bottling it, because, unless you were there, it’s hard to capture. If I could write it I’d be a best selling thriller author – no question.

Alfred Hitchcock said about suspense as a genre that nothing much has changed ‘since Little Red Riding Hood met the Big Bad Wolf‘ and he’s right, to a point. However, sometimes in suspense novels it’s not always clear just who is the Big Bad Wolf. Take Saturday’s match for example: If you’re Welsh then it was the English and vice versa, and yet, like Holmes and Moriarty, each side had mutual respect for each others strengths and potential to undermine their determination to be victorious in the end. There’s no separation of fans either. We sat side by side, happy in each other’s company, knowing that the fearsome battle would happen in front of us.

Recently, with fellow author Morgen Bailey, I facilitated a basic crime writing workshop on the art of building suspense. There were several key areas or strategies that we hoped to get across to a group of avid writers and readers. We pulled together the most salient components of a suspense novel and enjoyed the whole morning.

That’s straightforward enough to do, but how did Saturday’s wonderful suspense drama fit with this? What could I learn from it as a writer?

The Setting: The Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Packed to the open roof with anticipation on a clear bright February day. The city streets teeming with jovial groups, street entertainers, colour, castle walls, song, drums, laughter, face painters and palpable excitement.

The Characters: This would require a whole day to describe, but suffice to say each and every member of the two opposing national rugby squads have strengths, flaws, and passion, buckets of passion. With fascinating backstories to explore, I had my favourites. The contrast between the two captains was intriguing and exploited well by the national media in the run up to the match. As for the spectators … merrily bonkers, most of them.

Foreshadowing: A writing term for ramping up the suspense with clues and hints about what is to come. Before every big international rugby match this is part of the process for building excitement. The media do a fine job, – ‘No doubt it will be a bloody confrontation,’- as do the fans themselves. What will happen? Who is playing and who is on the bench? How is this going to end? Come on!

What is at Stake?: This is the big one. In suspense novels and film we are shown the danger, the monster in the wardrobe, the kidnap victim in dire straits. On Saturday it wasn’t merely win or lose. National pride, meeting expectations, and victory, these were the prizes. For the Welsh they had one special record to uphold – the year of the nines – and one there to be broken, could they really make twelve consecutive test wins? This added unbearable tension for Welsh fans. (I feared for Mr Morgan’s health, let me tell you!)

Time Constraints: Watching that clock tick away… 80 minutes. Win or lose?

Pacing: As writers we talk about use of pace, in rugby it’s not a different meaning altogether and what I witnessed on Saturday was a battle, brutal and hard fought, fast, furious and yet sometimes measured, with play deliberately slowed to gather thoughts and reset. But my heart was hammering at the same rapid pulse throughout and this wasn’t a book, I couldn’t put it down even if I wanted to.

BUT: Here is where a writer cannot capture the feelings of the match. The sounds and sights, the smells, the emotions, yes … maybe we can give it a bash, trot out a string of elegant descriptions about hearts soaring, the shower of beer that landed on my head when the ecstatic crowd erupted. But nothing can hope to explain the physical force of the voices in chorus willing their teams on, beautiful harmonious Hymns and Arias, Swing Low, Bread of Heaven, Swing Low, Sosban Fach …

I’ve been to hundreds of rugby matches, – local, national, international – but this one tops them all. I will never forget it. Like that special book that you can’t shake off, it was ‘Magical’.

Now back to some writing:

A B Morgan

When you are a writer, thinking is working.

 I dragged my poor unsuspecting mother along to her first literary festival on Saturday, and she loved it! BeaconLit Festival  has been running since 2013 and this year attracted such authors as Carole Matthews, Louise Jensen, Tony Klinger and the highly entertaining double act of Mark Billingham in conversation with Martyn Waites – both of whom also have a background in stand up comedy and goodness me did it show. My sense of humour too …

The author panels were lively, informative and positive, giving voice to newer authors as well as seasoned bestsellers. What made it all the more enjoyable was being able to chat to other authors, writers and avid readers in a relaxed atmosphere and to join in a creative writing workshop run by Morgen Bailey, editor, author, literary judge and a woman with more energy than the Duracell bunny.

What golden nugget of wisdom did I glean from the day?

That I am not as mad as I thought. “Hurrah!”

Lousie Jensen admitted to having no idea where her plots would take her – me too. Mark Billingham asserted that, like me, he is constantly thinking of ideas for the next book and will vacuum up interesting anecdotes pocketing them for later use. His sidekick Martyn Waites confirmed that it’s perfectly reasonable to consider musings and imaginings as working, as long as the ideas make it to the page in one way or another.  So going to the pub is research.

As well as accepting that we all seem to be kings and queens of procrastination at times, I  also learnt that those of us who write crime thrillers are untrustworthy and devious people watchers always on the lookout for a story, a juicy tale, an unusual titbit or a twisted perspective on a simple situation. Perfectly normal.

I’m just polishing the manuscript for book number five and the good news is that today I have also been working on the next idea for a story. I did this while cleaning the bathroom. I was talking to myself a lot, pretending to be in conversation with the dog, of course. Yes … I am working.


Clumsy or Left-handed?

Left-Handers day was back in August, but as I’m having an uncoordinated day today, I began to wonder if it was due to being a leftie.

According to the world of research, #left-handers are more creative generally and stronger on the use of words than our right-handed counterparts. Good news for us left-handed writers!

Apparently we make up about 10% of the total population and our brains are wired somewhat differently to the righties. This may account for why we are at higher risk for ADHD, psychosis and dyslexia, and why we’re more affected by fear (British Psychological Society), get angrier and worry more. We are also three times more likely to become alcoholics. (I’m undertaking some research involving cider to test this theory).

But surely it can’t all be bad?

It isn’t: we are better at multitasking, thinking in 3D, surviving in hostile environments, make excellent sportsmen and women, especially tennis, fencing, boxing. We are well represented in the sport of swimming. Could this be because lefties adjust to seeing underwater quicker than righties?

And here’s one for the #writers …

  • On a QWERTY keyboard there are 1447 English words typed solely with the left hand, whilst only 187 are typed with the right hand.

Other boffins have identified that we are ‘less likely’to develop arthritis and ulcers.

‘From scissors and smudged ink, spiral-bound notebooks to impossible-to-use tin openers, the lefties’ struggle is real,’ so there has to be some compensation.

Here’s one last fact for you: Sinistrophobia is the fear of left-handers.

Don’t be afraid, we’re lovely really.

We’re not clumsy, we merely appear to be so in a right handed world.

This means it’s my age then …

Source: Left-Handers Day: 13 facts about the wonderful left