Friday, April 15, 2011

Know your Character: The Iceberg Test

Cultural competency is a hot topic in many workplaces, especially in the medical world. But have you thought about how culturally competent you are with your fictional characters?
When we meet a person (in fiction or real life), what's visible to us is like the tip of the iceberg. Skin color, hair color and texture, facial features, speech, clothes...we make snap judgments, conscious and unconscious, about that person.

In real life, the only way to get below the surface is to ask the person and/or spend time with them. As writers, we have the ability to delve deep below the surface to inform our readers as well.


Have you gone deep below the surface to delve into the culture of your characters?

43 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I love that picture! I hope by the end a reader would know my characters better!

Justine Dell said...

What a great picture! When I looked at the below the iceburg, I realized that I might be missing a lot. Except for maybe the "definition of insanity". LoL.

~JD

mooderino said...

Great post. Thanks Lydia.
regards
mood

Sarah said...

I've certainly thought about it, but I suspect I could do this better. Love the visual! Have you ever read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down? It's an amazing book about cultural differences and how they affect medical treatment.

Beth said...

I have .. but that's exactly what's missing in my current project. Time to go back and spend more time with those characters!

Anne Gallagher said...

Sometimes I go so far beneath the iceberg, I tend to think of characters as real. Which is a good thing I suppose, but when the book is finished, I cry because I can't spend time with them anymore.

Hardygirl said...

I need to print this iceberg picture for inspiration. I'm actually working on deepening some of my secondary characters right now--I'm filling out character worksheets and giving them secrets and weird personality traits so that they won't feel so flat. Most of the iceberg never makes it onto the page, but if you've done a good job with your characters, your reader will sense it.

sf

lbdiamond said...

Ha! Great point. With all the action happening in my novel, it's easy to just skim the surface with my characters. I'll have to take a closer look at what's deeper.

Connie said...

I love the iceberg analogy! I'm going to print this up and save it for when I start my next novel.

foldingfields said...

Definitely bookmarking this for reference. Thanks SO much!

Bossy Betty said...

So true! It's always disappointing when writers don't go this route!

Gina Blechman said...

One of the things I love about writing is how you learn about the characters as you write them. Acting out scenes they're in, processing their actions, and often being surprised by the paths they take (and then going "damn, why didn't I put that in my original plan that's so *insert character's name*), is incredibly fun and teaches me alot about myself.

Thanks for the post.

<3 Gina Blechman
I just opened the picture link and saved the iceburg so that I can view it later.

Emily Rose said...

This is so true. I think I need to spend some more time with my characters!

Lynn said...

I'd like to get out of my comfort zone and dive deeper into my characters lives by doing what they do. For example, if they are a lego addict, I'd like to follow the lego club, maybe even participate. Or if they are a Star Trek fan, I'd like to attend a convention, in full dress (I don't even dress for Halloween)! But I'd draw the line at breaking the law.

Old Kitty said...

I'd like to think that I'd do my research if ever I do write a character culturally different from myself. Or be convincing enough if I do write a totally sci-fi fantasy type creature/person! Take care
x

Rachna Chhabria said...

I need to spend more time with my characters, have not delved into their cultures.

There are two awards for you on my blog, Lydia.

Kelly said...

That is one amazing graphic.
Great points and I am going to enlarge the pic to see all that is written under the surface!

M.B. West said...

Love this! I do character sketches, but this takes it to a new level.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Your picture/graph was truly illuminating. I try to give glimpses deep inside my characters by their reactions to the people and places they meet that are individual to who they are and what they've experienced.

It is always a challenge to do it realistically -- just like your posts are always enlightening, Roland

Sailor said...

You are very true. That is the one reason I never get friendly with people soon. I keep a distance and only when I am sure that he or she is the right person I get deeper. My be because I am too prejudges. But it works for me.

Matthew MacNish said...

It's interesting too, because often even after you've known someone for years, you still don't know much about their secrets, their past, or their subconscious.

jbchicoine said...

That sort of stuff has always facinated me. I've never seen the iceberg chart--I shall have to save that to file, if you don't mind! :)

Chris Phillips said...

I've seen similar diagrams as a teacher, interesting idea to put towards characters.

Lynda R Young said...

I love the chart. This post is a great reminder to get into the details of our characters. They are so much easier to write when we do. And so much more interesting.

Sonia G Medeiros said...

I love doing character profiles. Sometimes I have to write quite a lot of the story to really get into a character's head.

Munk said...

I try to treat of my characters with a similar level of insensitivity, it wouldn't be fair otherwise.

Stephen Tremp said...

I'm doing this in the second book of my trilogy. I did quite a bit in the first, but the characters will really come alive in Opening so the reader either loves them or hates them.

Taryn Tyler said...

I love thinking about the "culture" of my characters! Especially when if they really are from a different culture than me.

The Words Crafter said...

I've actually given this some considerable thought. A friend of mine's husband has been in the Middle East off and on, and I really want to interview him....to get a better grasp and understanding.

I agree that culture needs to be considered with characters and settings, whether in your own hometown, or across the world.

You know I stole your picture, right?

cueng-home said...

I agree with your writing. very interesting

Jeigh said...

What a great tool! I haven't thought too hard about cultural influences on my characters, but I'm saving this picture and going back through my WIP. Thanks!

Katie Mills said...

that's a really neat chart and yeah, it could def be used to help character development! Flash judgements are made by readers as well and we gotta make them want to spend more time with our characters. GP!

Shelley Munro said...

This is a great reminder to dig deep with our characters. Good post.

Carol Riggs said...

Great analogy. I think our characters will be more real and have more depth if we explore that "under" stuff, beyond hair and eye color, etc. It's what makes a diff between a flat character and a well-rounded one. Happy Saturday, Lydia!

Kristin Rae said...

This is great, thanks! I just started a new project and I needed the reminder that I must get to know my characters sooner than later. :)

Alleged Author said...

I agree that physical characteristics are only the tip of the iceberg. They can take you so far. It's what inside that shows the meaning of a man/woman. That's why serial killers are so scary! They seem normal and quiet on the outside, but they are complex and evil on the inside. Great post!

Nas Dean said...

Thanks for sharing this great post!

And the photo is awesome!

Jennifer Hillier said...

I hope I go deep enough with my characters, but I'm honestly not sure that I do? There's always that fine balance between revealing too much and not revealing too much.

Great post!

Melissa Bradley said...

I hope I go deep enough with my character, though no matter what I do, I feel like I've left out or forgotten something.

Posts like this are the reason I love coming here and look forward to return visits. I'm tapping you as a Versatile Blogger. You can come here to my blog and pick up you award http://melissasimaginarium.blogspot.com/

Erin Cole said...

An excellent example for character building! I love this. Thanks, Lydia.

J.L. Campbell said...

So true, you never know someone until you start spending a lot of time with them. I still discover things about my character in the editing/re-writing stage.

ensouling said...

I'm playing blog-reading catch up!

This is soooo very interesting. Being old-school, I like developing characters pretty deeply. I like knowing about them and the people around them. It leaks out, here and there, even if you never spell out the background knowledge. It makes it easier for the character to enflesh. This is a fun graphic and tool for doing that.

Heather said...

I love delving into the culture of my characters! It's one of my favorite parts of creating them. Your picture of the iceberg is brilliant by the way!

 
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