Archive | November 2014

Creating Characters with The Four Temperaments (as well as understanding character motivation in literature)

I read recently that Mary Higgins Clark works several books at one time. Never thought I could do that, but apparently I can as I not only wrote/edited nearly 10,000 words on Breaking Promises the past two days, but started another story at the same time.

Ossabaw Island Pigs at Colonial Williamsburb, part of their project to preserve “heirloom” animal breeds.

I started with a beginning scene with a shy young man, an outspoken young slip of a girl, and a Ossabaw Island Pig bent on destruction. It had been brewing in my head for several weeks. After only a few hours I ended up with almost 4,000 words and the plot for a novella. All of this was done without any planning/plotting/character charts, etc. I had certainly jumped the line from plotter to pantser on this one, and I can say that this has never happened to me before. It was a little like being in the Twilight Zone.

Whether this will happen in the future, as I learn and grow as a writer, I don’t know, but at some point, at least for me, I will have to come back to the characters and do some detailing on their background. One of the best techniques I have found when starting out is to work with The Four Temperaments.

You can read about the Four Temperaments in a variety of places online, including here on Wikipedia, and for a longer more thorough article try here.  The basic idea is that people can be divided into four basic personality types, albeit with some crossovers. Sanguine individuals are fun-loving and pleasure-seeking and thrive in social situations. Choleric persons are serious, ambitious, and function best if they are in charge. Melancholic individuals are usually highly sensitive, especially to personal criticism. They feel deeply and are motivated by beauty and feelings. They are also analytical and quiet. Phelgmatic persons tend to be relaxed and peaceful. They rarely get upset in any situation, preferring to just let things happen as they happen. Of course, people can be a mixture of several, but usually with a predominant type. For the purpose of writing novels, I find it easiest to stick with one overriding personality, and most great works of literature tend to do the same. (And if you have children trying to understand character motivation in literature, this is useful information as well.)

Hippocrates incorporated the four temperaments into his medical theories and they became part of the ancient medical concept of humorism., Humorism espoused that four different bodily fluids were responsible for the human personality and behaviors, and this was the cause of various diseases. I won’t go into that now, but you can read more here on Wikipedia. Science, of course, rejects this theory today, but it is worthy of note that it was still widely believed and practiced as late as the American Revolution.

But, back to creating characters.

There are several good charts and resources on the internet on The Four Temperaments. I use the second one found here, but for others you can go to my Pinterest page or do a google search in images. Since I have a general idea of my characters temperament, I then take the personality traits and make them specific to my character’s situations and personal issues. In doing this, I create a small bio which I can then use to go deeper into my character’s psyche. For example, the hero in this book is John Cayle, an extreme melancholic. As such, he is reserved and sensitive in his conversations with other people. In contrast, Sarah Grayson, the heroine, as a choleric, is straight-forward and usually speaks her mind, sometimes to her detriment. At first, John finds her bluntness annoying, later embarrassing, and finally he comes to appreciate this trait as it contrasts so sharply with his. These traits are, of course, brought forward through the scenes in the book as the two interact. Just from these two contrasts on The Four Temperaments, you can see the inevitable stress and fireworks between the two, and I haven’t even gone deeper into character motivation or pysche.

While working with The Four Temperaments is a great starting place for that rush of ideas that an author sometimes has come into their head, it isn’t generally enough. It’s a little bit like making a new friend, but not yet knowing them really well. I will go deeper into my characters’ background and psychology eventually, but I find this to be a very good start.

Now, for a quick tidbit from this unnamed work, and it is a working copy. I don’t promise to keep it like this, or even have it, in the final work. That’s my prerogative as a writer, of course. (I grin as I head back to the computer to work on Breaking Promises.)

Excerpt from Untitled book, by Donna Hechler Porter

“The fire licked up his spine. “But I am asking you to spend a few minutes speaking for me. You are asking me to spend hours with you teaching you to read.  ‘Tis a difficult thing you ask, and not everyone can master the letters.”

“I am a quick learner, John Cayle.”

That she was.

“And I have to learn. I need to be able to read my Bible.”’

“Your Bible?”

“So as not to be misled by . . . men.”

His eyes narrowed. Who was misling her?

“Just ask your step-brother.”

He may as well have slapped her.  “He would be the last person I would ask.” She pulled her shoulders back and leveled her gaze straight into his face. The girl certainly had an iron spine.  John couldn’t say she gave up easily. Maybe she could have handled herself against that pig after all. He had about decided he should have let her try.

“You need a wife, son, someone who can handle the children.”

If she could have handled the pig, she was more than a match for his step-siblings.

He waved his hand across his face to sweep aside the thought.

“Are you prone to twitching, John Cayle?”


“Thy hand. It always seems to be sweeping across your person.” For effect, she mimicked his actions, except her sweep was twice as wide as his. She had to step sideways to catch up with her arm.

John crossed his arms savagely, shifting his knee forward and stifling the groan, or laugh, he wasn’t sure which it was, back down his throat. “Fine. I’ll teach you to read.” Why had he said that? She had insulted him twice. She had refused to help him unless he bargained with her.

She  was as saucy as the gravy on his potatoes.

But he couldn’t afford to lose that case. And all he had to do was get her reading enough she could figure out the rest for herself.


Religious Freedom? Not So Much

I originally published this article last May. I had very few followers at that point. Since it pertains somewhat to Thanksgiving and some misplaced traditions about religious freedom and the roots of our country’s history, I thought it would be appropriate to repost it here. 

Contrary to popular historical thought, colonial America was not built upon freedom of religion. Not counting the lost colony of Roanoke, the first settlement in the New World was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Although this colony went through several periods of near abandonment, the colony survived enough to consider that year as its date of establishment.  This colony was NOT founded on any sort of religious pretext whatsoever, but was founded purely on England’s desire to expand its border beyond Europe and to beat its rivals, Spain and France, in founding new territories. The Virginia settlers were Englishmen and were supporters of the Anglican Church. That religion, naturally, became the state religion of the colony. In 1753, the year my novel, Keeping Secrets, opens, colonists were expected to support the church and the priests with their tithes and money, as well as attend Anglican services. Fines were levied against those who chose not to do either.

The Pilgrims are oftentimes not only hailed as being the first colonists to settle the New World, but they are praised for their courage in leaving England to establish a country for religious freedom. Neither is the case. The Pilgrims did not land at Plymouth, Massachusetts until 1620, nearly 13 years after the settlement at Jamestown. It was, therefore, the second English settlement in the colonies, and ironically, while they left England for freedom of religion, they turned around and held a monopoly on religion much like what they left England to escape. Anyone who has read of the Salem witch trials, or Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, knows the kind of pressure Puritans could bring to bear on those who chose to follow a path different from their own. While they believed in freedom of religion for themselves, they did not believe in it for other people.

1427658_41429283Unlike Virginia and the Plymouth Colony, the colony of Maryland, granted a charter in 1632, was founded by Catholics on the idea of religious freedom. Originally a haven for Catholics, by the early part of the 18th century, it had been supplanted by Protestant factions, and the Catholic Church was driven underground. Mass was not allowed in public, and Catholics never regained their primary standing in any colony.

In 1681, William Penn founded Penn’s Colony, or Penn’s Wood, also on the idea of religious freedom.  Penn, himself, was a Friend (Quaker), however, the Friends were eventually disenfranchised there as well despite their large numbers. Part of the problem with Pennsylvania Friends was their western border which endured a constant state of Indian wars from the mid-18th century to well after the Revolution. “Quaker pacifism,” in the face of such brutal hostilities, just didn’t make sense to the vast majority of colonials.

The Baptists and Methodists arrived in the colonies at around the same time as the Friends. While there were other smaller groups, for example, the Mennonites and the Moravians, they were smaller and of lesser consequence than the main religious sects.  In the south, especially in Virginia, the Church of England was the established religion, so fines were levied against those who refused to participate, including Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, and the Society of Friends.

It was within this hodgepodge of emeshutterstock_194160026rging religious availability that Keeping Secrets opens. While Mary McKechnie is a devout Friend, embracing her religion and all it entails, Amon Cayle is not. The Friends literally controlled every aspect of their members’ lives, and while devout Friends welcomed the structure, many chafed against the restraint.

For Amon Cayle, the problem is deeper. He doesn’t believe the Friends, as a religious group, have the authority to tell him how to live. Thus, he constantly walks a fine line between raising his kids to follow God, staying in good standing within the Friends so as to honor the promise he made to his late wife, and his quest for inner peace.  Amon Cayle’s turmoil mirrors so many of the Friends at that time.

     Amon laced his fingers together and rested his elbows atop his knees. The heat from the open window warmed his back. “What happened with Jackson?”

     The boy looked away, but not before Amon caught a glimpse of shame.

    “The note from Andrew says thee picked a fight with him.”

     Still nothing.  Amon felt his temper rising. “David, if thou will not speak to me, I will have to punish you with the information I have. After last year, I will not tolerate any fighting.”

     “He said his Pa was trying to keep me out of the test so he had a better chance of winning and . . .”

     “And what?”

    “And that as long as you were a disorderly walker, he just might win.”

    “So you started a fight?”

    “No. He started it.”

    “Who threw the first punch?”

    “I did, but he shoved me into a tree.” David shifted his right shoulder forward. “Tore the last good shirt I have.”

    Amon reached up and pulled the three inch ragged tear apart to reveal a middling patch of inflamed raw skin.  That goodness it wasn’t the other shoulder.  “Tell Rosie to put something on that later.”

     “‘Tis not even my shirt. Aunt Agathy found an old one at her house and gave it to me.”

    “What’s wrong with yours?”

   “They are all too small. I gave them to John. With this torn, I don’t know what I will wear to school tomorrow.”

   Amon ran his hand along his jaw. He wasn’t going to punish the boy for defending himself, and he didn’t doubt David was telling the truth. His nephew had been caught in too many lies over the years, lies his brother always believed. 

   “What am I going to do Pa? I’ve worked my whole life to take that test.” 

   “I am seeking restitution at the Friend’s next monthly meeting. After that, I will again be a member in good standing.”

   David’s chin jerked upwards. “I don’t want thee lowering yourself to apologize to those people for me.”

   Amon thought his head would burst. “Do you want to take the test?”

David nodded.

   “Then ‘tis a good thing I go to meeting.”

   “But ‘tis not fair. Elizabeth was the one who took off and married a Baptist behind your back. So why apologize?”

   The pressure around Amon’s heart was almost too much to bear. “Because I made a promise to your mother before you children were born that I would try to remain faithful to the Friends, and as long as I remain censured for Elizabeth’s marriage, it puts the rest of you outside their world.”

From the moment Keeping Secrets opens, Amon Cayle’s doubt as to the authority of the Friends collides with his family and his promise to his late wife. Eventually, he is forced to make decisions.

But will those decisions be in the best interest of his children?

And what will they have to do with Mary McKechnie?

It’s the Little Things!

It’s the little things that count!

I have this morning ritual. I eat egg burritos, hopefully have a clementine or something similar, and drink my coffee. (A perfect ritual involves coconut oil in the coffee, but right now it’s not perfect. Sigh . . . ) I eat, then crack open the laptop and check all my accounts.

Needless to say, this morning was super sweet because I have been in the hospital the past week with my son. We went to the ER exactly a week ago today with what turned out to be appendicitis. He had surgery Tuesday afternoon, but since it had turned gangrenous he had to have a drain and also IV antibiotics.

Needless to say, we were both glad to finally come home yesterday. After all, the hospital doesn’t serve egg burritos, and coffee in a styrofoam cup in a hard hospital chair just isn’t the same.

The little things. cowswithbars-page0001

I did manage, with so much time sitting, to finish the 2nd edition of Metes & Bounds II: David Crews, Ancestors & Descendants.


I also pulled the first chapters on John Crews and Sarah Gatley, and on his son David Crew and wives Mary Stanley and Mary Ladd-Magee, as well as the chapter on the Stanleys, to create another book. This book will be just for individuals who descend from Crew/Gatley and Crew/Stanley. Anyone descending from them through David Milton Crews (1740-1821) need not purchase the smaller edition as the chapters are in the larger work about his life and descendants.

I also debuted the trailer for Metes & Bounds II last night. You can see it here!

Watch Trailer for 

Metes & Bounds II: David Crews, Ancestors & Descendants

I should have both books available the week of Thanksgiving. I will post here, on my Facebook page, as well as several other places when they are available. will ask, though, that if you purchase please go through my website which takes you to the publisher Createspace. Amazon literally takes 1/2 my profits.

Purchasing through Createspace is a little thing, yes, but it is the little things that count!