Even when you’re thinking about character, you’re still really thinking about plot.
This would be Pot’s obersvation about some of what I sent her yesterday as thoughts on Marley’s character arc (and a bunch of random other stuff that inspired). It’s incredibly ironic (and very true) because I have said the exact opposite to her on many occasions. Even when she’s thinking about plot, it’s still really character. We’re a nice bookended pair. This is why she is Pot and I am Kettle.
But I was thinking this morning– No, thinking may be too generous a term. I can’t really call myself conscious yet. A thought from the void floated into my head (that’s probably more apt) about locus of control. In psychology the idea of locus of control has to do with world view. This theory was originally discussed by Julian Rotter, and it has to do with what the person sees as the cause for the good or bad in their life in a general way. Locus of control is really about the extent to which a person feels that he or she has control over the stuff going on in their life. People with a high internal locus of control, feel that they have a lot of control over what goes on in their life. They are far more likely to not only take action but to take responsibility for their actions. Someone with an external locus of control believes that their environment, some higher power, or other people control their decisions and their life. So for example, you have a student who fails a test. If that student has an internal locus of control, he will tell himself, “I failed the test because I didn’t study hard enough.” If he has an external locus of control, he’ll say, “I failed because the teacher is hard and has unreasonable expectations.” No doubt I have a lot of the latter in my classes…
Now it’s important to note that these concepts exist on a continuum. It’s not an either/or kind of thing. Very often you’ll see people have an internal locus for control for the good things in their life and an external one for the bad. We like to think that if something good happens, we did something to make it happen. Likewise, we’re not really keen on admitting when something bad is truly our fault (and sometimes it’s not…unless we were wielding the bloody knife or something, we’re not responsible or in control of someone’s death). You can find out more about the details of locus of control and the attribution theory that goes with it here. It’s a really handy thing to know about your characters.
Me, I am highly, highly internal with my locus of control (this may be why I have such difficulty with the idea that God is always in control–but I digress). I feel like I am (largely) in control of my life. This makes for considerable stress when the things I legitimately don’t have control over pop up and I can’t do anything about them. Likewise, most of my characters (hero or heroine anyway) tend to also have a very internal locus of control. Sometimes to the point of taking responsibility for things that actually were out of their control. Conall, my hero in HiS, is very much like this. He takes the weight of the world on his shoulders. Him I get because in that way, he’s absolutely me.
But Marley, I’m coming to realize, isn’t like this. She’s had several pretty huge circumstances in her life that have forced her into a fairly external locus of control. She’s epileptic–no control over her medical condition. She was orphaned at age 2–she had no control over her parents and what happened to them. She was in and out of foster homes for about 8 years because the foster families couldn’t deal with her psychological problems (neither could she)–again the decision was taken out of her hands. The woman who ultimately became a second mother to her was killed by a drunk driver–no control over him. I think this is one of the reasons I’m having such a difficult time relating to this woman. Because she is very very unlike me in her outlook on things. In her worldview, bad things will happen and you really can’t do much about them but weather the storm. This could have made her very laid back and Zen, but it didn’t. It made her prickly and defensive and always expecting the worst from everyone. Which, surprise, is not at all how I’ve written her. I think I took how she’s meant to be in the end and just started out that way. So, as written, she has nowhere to go or grow.
I think I may have had a breakthrough. And without caffeine either.