Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Character Profile Question: Organization

It's been ages since I've done a post like this.  Three times before, I posted an odd profile question I like to answer about the characters in my stories.  Looking back at those older posts, I can see I still had a little to learn about blogging. Hell, I still have plenty to learn, though I do feel I've learned quite a bit since May, when the last of my posts on this subject was written.

If you're curious about what I wrote before, you can click on the links below.

Question #1: Time Travel
In a time travel scenario, how would this character react if they met an older version themselves?  How would the older version react?

Question #2: Weapon
If your character is faced with a situation where they have to fight, what weapon would they choose?  (This can include any real or fictional weapon.)  And when they fight, do they fight to kill, or merely to wound or frighten?

Question #3: Ultimate Questions
If your character could ask any question, no matter how big, and get an answer, what would he/she/it ask?

Now I have a new question that I must answer about my characters before I can write them into a story.

Question #4: Organization
How does your character organize their personal space?  The space in question can be a desk, backpack, purse, or briefcase.  Are they meticulous, or are they sloppy?  Have they always been this way, and why?

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they organize certain spaces.  I'll share with you some of the categories of categorization (ha ha!), that I use to describe my characters and what they mean.

The Meticulous Planner 
Image courtesy of photouten
You know those people who have a personal planner to keep track of all their appointments, deadlines, assignments, and all of that.  In college I certainly tried to be that organized, though I frequently failed. More recently I am trying to adhere to a strict blogging schedule to make sure that I build my online presence and force myself to write and perfect my craft on a regular basis.

Meticulous planning says a lot about a person.  Many people use this method of planning as a way to work toward a larger goal they have for their lives.  They set incremental goals for themselves in the hope of holding themselves accountable.  Those who plan a lot may also fear a lack of control.  I know I often feel like I'll lose sight of my goals if I don't plan things out.  Without those plans in place, I won't hold myself accountable.

On the other hand, such planning may also be symptomatic of someone who is afraid of leaping into action.  Paying extreme attention to detail might show a desire to be in control of a situation without needing to actually get out there and risk failure.  Obsessively plotting your future ambitions may make you feel like they're taking action, but the plans never do a person any good if the plans aren't actually implemented.  One character who fits this description is Arnold Rimmer from the show Red Dwarf.  He took the time to make sure his study materials were color coded and kept neatly in a binder.  In fact, he spent so much time organizing his study materials that he didn't have time left to actually study.  Obviously, this is a problem.  There are times when I fear I fall into this trap, but that's why I need to keep working.

Minimal Organization, Maximum Ambition
Some people don't take the time to plot out how they're going to reach their goals.  These people don't need a calendar or personal planner to motivate them. They, being people of action, take bold leaps that others may not take. Due to this action centered approach, these people tend to either succeed or fail rather spectacularly.  Sometimes they cross a line that they may have avoided had they thought about their choices beforehand.

I've written this kind of character, the look before you leap personality, many times before.  This is the opposite of how I tend to be, because that kind of risk terrifies me.  Yet I find it fun to step into their shoes in the world of fiction, because it's an exciting place to visit.

Creator of Organized Chaos
A picture of my table.
This is the organizational scheme that perhaps best describes my work space.  I may have my blog posts planned in advance, and I have multiple notebooks dedicated to different projects.  To someone who doesn't know the chaotic way my brain works, the disjointed stories scribbled on those pages would make no sense.  After all, I can't even write a story straight through from start to finish.  I write scenes sporadically, then I piece them together afterwards. Only I know how the pieces fit.  Therefore what makes sense to me is utterly ridiculous to someone else.

I think this is common among creative people.  Our brains explode onto the world around us, and from those messy fragments, we have to create art. Plotting may help give our projects direction, but at the end of the day, when those plans don't work out, we can throw caution to the wind and just do what feels right.  It may not be a logical process, but it can work.

The Maximum Slob (or, as some might argue, The Satisfied Person)
Then there are the people who are disorganized and have no ambition to advance.  They don't leap into action and take risks.  They simply go about their lives and try to be happy with what they have.  They don't necessarily need to plan ahead too much, because they know what their path is.  They're already on it.  If these people have a personal planner, it's likely to be focused on remembering personal encounters and small appointments that we all have to make.  A character with this personality may be thrown into upheaval when external forces toss them off the path they're so accustomed to, and that certainly makes for a fascinating conflict.

Now, I don't want anyone to be offended by my use of the term "slob."  I only used this term in salute to another favorite character from Red Dwarf, Dave Lister.  Yes, he is a bit slobby, but his lack of ambition is what defines his character.  He may have said on many occasions that he planned to one day own a farm where he would live with the girl of his dreams and breed horses, but he certainly never actually went beyond the stage of naming what he wanted.  He was satisfied having the least authority of everyone else on the ship, and he spent his spare time drinking with his buddies.  While Rimmer spent all his time planning for the future he was never going to be bold enough to get, Lister at least managed to enjoy himself.

I'm sure there are plenty of other organizational types out there in the world, but I made this short list only to prove one point.  The way we organize our lives says a great deal about who we are.  It's the same for our fictional characters, and that's why it's valuable to analyze questions like this.


  1. You know, I loved this post! You should do this more often:) Very inspirational and creative character building:)

  2. Ooh I'm so stealing those questions! Very useful for character development :)

  3. I'm not quite meticulous, but I am organized. And a minimalist. Come to think of it, so is my main character.