Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nature V. Nurture in Your Characters: Info for Writers



Nature V. Nurture is an interesting philosophical/psychological debate that has a great deal of import to the story lines that we are creating. Indeed, it is one of the themes that I am exploring in my new Lynx series, starting with Book One ~ Weakest Lynx.  

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In Weakest Lynx

What Lexi wants is a simple life. What she gets is simply terrifying.

Lexi Sobado is a 20-year-old experienced intelligence consultant with a special psychic gift. However, her gift couldn’t prevent her from becoming the focus of a stalker’s desires. With a death threat shoved in her purse, she finds herself caught in the middle of a sinister web of crime and corruption.

Striker Rheas, a seasoned special agent, is charged with keeping Lexi safe. But can he keep his personal life separate from his professional life as he finds himself falling for his assignment?

What Lexi hides, what she reveals, and what she keeps trying to uncover is a delicate balancing act as she tries to save her own life and stop the killer. Can Lexi learn to love, trust, and harness the power of her psychic flashes before it’s too late?

~

In Lexi Sobado I have crafted a golden girl. You all know at least one of these - the girl at your highschool who was a track star, an honor student, and the Homecoming Queen? But Lexi doesn't see herself as a standout amongst genetic award winners or even among those pushed and prodded by life's circumstances onto the awards' podium. She never got to show off on a public stage to get that kind of feedback. She thinks her skillsets are nothing special just different.

Lexi's parents kept her home to unschool her. Unschooling is like homeschool only less organized. Practically minded, her parents gave her a hands-on, real-world, useful education. She learned applied sciences from her dad, a mechanic, and creative expression from her mom, an artist. She also learned from her neighbors - anyone and everyone who had a skillset to teach her from martial arts by Master Wang at the dry cleaner to the locksmith across the way at the stripmall. Hairdressers, homemakers, primate zoologists are all part of the myriad  teachers who moved in and out of Lexi's life. Amongst them, Lexi's most beloved mentor was Spyder McGraw who trained her brain and her reflexes to follow her career goal of becoming a modern day Kung Fu Nancy Drew.

But here's the question - did Lexi's personal curiosity, drive, and acumen shape whom she became or was it her unusual background?

That's sort of like "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
A person with low IQ and slow metabolism  would find Lexi's frenetic lifestyle impossible. A person who wasn't taught meditation and other stress management skills would have a hard time coping with the shit that kept hitting the fan in Lexi's life.

Obviously, the more we think about how our characters arrived at the people they are at the moment the story opens, the more three dimensional, believable, and interesting they will be for our readers. Think about your heroine.

  • What natural gifts was she born with?
  • Were they nurtured of left uncovered?
  • Did her life experience train her to overcome something she lacked in her genetic code?
  • What was her emotional state based on nurture?
    • How was she treated by the people in her life up until this point?
    • What would she expect of others in their reactions to her - the golden girl in high school may expect doors to open while the foster kid who changed schools every three or four months might expect all those doors to slam shut in her face.
    • What kinds of stresses had she endured?
    • Did her stress load teach her resilience? Or did it errode her ability to cope? 
  • What was her emotional state based on nature?
    • Gregarious?
    • Combative?
    • Assertive?
  • What was her emotional state based on her life's circumstances?
    • Was she taught to be demure and quiet?
    • Was she taught to fight for what she needs?
  • What are her physical capabilities?
    • Was she born with two-left feet?
    • Did her parents put her in every sports class they could find to help her develop stamina and coordination?
    • Is she more comfortable sitting on a couch and reading about/watching others in action?
    • Can she not sit still; does she always need to be in motion?
  • How does she interact with her environment?
    • Was she born a neat nick, feeling better able to cope when her environment isn't chaotic or does she prefer a lived-in look where she can feel more creative?
    • Did she develop OCD - an anxiety disorder - and need everything to be perfect?
    • Did she develop skillsets from a family who gave her chores? Or has she no clue how to do the basics because her mom preferred to do it herself or they had domestic help?
  • How does she interact with others?
    • Extravert?
    • Introvert?
    • Event dependent?
  • And what about the sixth sense?
    • Was your heroine born with the ability to read people? 
    • Does she get a "gut check" when things are going wrong?"
    • Was she trained to rely on data and weigh stats over using her intuition?
    • Where does she land on the spectrum of intuition and how is this augmented or downplayed by her spiritual background?
These types of questions can continue as you sit down and think about your character. Knowing their innate propensity can be a starting point - but what happens when nature conflicts with nurture? 
  • The boy who wants to play the violin and read books is born into a family of diehard football fans.  
  • The girl who wants to run and climb trees born into the family that wants to raise a princess. 
  • The family who raised a doctor - but that doctor only wants to paint.
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Nature V. Nurture can create wonderful external conflict especially in the deeper relationships and in dire circumstances.  But also think of all of that delicious inner conflict that roils in the gut when our characters are pushed and pulled by sometimes opposing forces. Conflict makes for fabulous prose. 





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