By Kathy Clark
In earlier BLOGS we’ve discussed the basis, nature and characteristics of what a REALITY ROMANCE novel is all about. As a refresher, a REALITY ROMANCE is a character-driven story where real life is interrupted by the risks, rewards, and romance of life. Most important to any great story is great characters. You must hate them or love them, ultimately hoping they succeed or fail if you want the readers to remember them after they close the book or turn off the ereader.
What makes a character memorable? This BLOG,WHAT ABOUT BOB, delves into the 17 psychological tricks to make people like the character immediately based on a Business Insider article by Shana Lebowitz. She’s really nailed it and we’ve quoted her extensively.
But first, there are three things to keep in mind when reading this BLOG:
- Re-watch the movie What About Bob and analyze what made Bob so creepy and eventually likable. He was clearly a nice guy who had good intentions. How and why did his actions work against him?
- Think about the characters who have stuck with you, either literary or in film/TV. Analyze why you liked or hated them. What made them memorable?
- Relate your characters to real people you know or memorable characters from other sources. That doesn’t mean to copy them verbatim or name them Hans Gruber (the bad guy from Die Hard). Just absorb the elements that make them interesting into your own hero, heroine, or villain.
I’m sure you all already know that one of the rules of writing both books and screenplays is that you should come into a scene late and leave early. That works for characters, too. You don’t start your story on the day your hero was born. Rather, you jump into the middle of his life and reveal his backstory as you go along. That unveiling is how the readers get to know him and to understand his motivations and actions, as well as his weaknesses and strengths. It has taken him twenty-five or so years to become the person he is. A good writer finds ways to work that backstory into his current story to make him three-dimensional. Everyone has flaws and fears. Even heroes.
But how do your characters react to each other? That reveals more about a character than what he thinks about himself. Everyone has a different type of relationship with his mother than he does with his boss or his best friend or a woman he’s trying to impress. All are layers of his personality that make him memorable.
A screenwriter or author can make these relationships come alive by relying on certain techniques that we have all seen or maybe even used ourselves. Try them to reveal the different layers of your characters and how they relate to others.
In the movie What About Bob, the Bill Murray character tries to be everything to everyone, and ends up being really annoying. By trying to hide his own reality by becoming someone else, he used many of the following techniques to become someone else. We don’t advise you go quite that far. But watching people relate to other people gives you a lot of opportunity to develop even minor players into memorable characters.
Following is a list of how real people establish relationships. Some will work for your characters, and some you may find helpful when you’re marketing your book or dealing with customers or fellow workers. Just don’t put them all into one person like they did in What About Bob.
- Copy them
This strategy is called mirroring, and involves subtly mimicking the other person’s behavior. When talking to someone, try copying their body language, gestures, and facial expressions.
- Spend more time around them
According to the mere exposure effect, people tend to like things that are familiar to them.
Knowledge of this phenomenon dates back to the 1950s, when MIT
Researchers discovered that college students who lived closer together in housing projects were more likely to be friends than students who lived farther apart.
- Compliment other people
People will associate the adjectives you use to describe other people with your personality. This phenomenon is called spontaneous trait transference.
According to Gretchen Rubin, author of books including “The Happiness Project,” whatever you say about other people influences how people see you.
The reverse is also true: If you are constantly trashing people behind their backs, your friends will start to associate the negative qualities with you as well.
- Be in a great mood
Emotional contagion describes what happens when people are strongly influenced by the moods of other people. According to a research paper from the University of Ohio and the University of Hawaii, people can unconsciously feel the emotions of those around them. If you want to make others feel happy when they’re around you, do your best to communicate positive emotions.
- Make friends with their friends
The social network theory behind this effect is called triadic closure, which means that two people are likely to be closer when they have a common friend.
To illustrate this effect, students at the University of British Columbia designed a program that friends random individuals on Facebook. They found that people were more likely to accept their friend request as their number of mutual friends increased from 20% with no mutual friends to close to 80% with more than 11 mutual friends.
- Don’t be complimentary all the time
The gain-loss theory of interpersonal attractiveness suggests that your positive comments will make more of an impact if you only deliver them occasionally.
A 1965 study by University of Minnesota researchers shows how this theory might work in practice. Researchers had 80 female college students work in pairs on a task and then allowed those students to “overhear” their partners talking about them. In one scenario, the comments were all positive; in a second scenario, the comments were all negative; in a third scenario, the comments went from positive to negative; and in a fourth scenario, the comments went from negative to positive.
As it turns out, students liked their partners best when the comments went from positive to negative, suggesting that people like to feel that they’ve won you over in some capacity.
Bottom line: Although it’s counterintuitive, try complimenting your friends less often.
- Be both warm and competent
Social psychologist Susan Fiske proposed the stereotype content model, which is a theory that people judge others based on their warmth and competence.
According to the model, if you can portray yourself as warm — i.e. noncompetitive and friendly — people will feel like they can trust you. If you seem competent — for example, if you have high economic or educational status — they’re more inclined to respect you.
- Reveal your flaws from time to time
According to the pratfall effect, people will like you more after you make a mistake. This is true only if they believe you are usually a competent person. Revealing that you aren’t perfect makes you more relatable and vulnerable toward the people around you.
When people did well on the quiz but spilled coffee at the end of the interview, the students rated them higher on likeability than when they did well on the quiz and didn’t spill coffee or didn’t do well on the quiz and spilled coffee.
- Emphasize your shared values
According to a classic study by Theodore Newcomb, people are more attracted to those who are similar to them. This is known as the similarity-attraction effect. In his experiment, Newcomb measured his subjects’ attitudes on controversial topics such as sex and politics and then put them in a University of Michigan-owned house to live together.
By the end of their stay, the subjects liked their housemates more when they had similar attitudes about the topics that were measured.
- Casually touch them
This is known as subliminal touching, which occurs when you touch a person so subtly that they barely notice. Common examples including tapping someone’s back or touching their arm, which can make them feel more warmly toward you.
In a University of Mississippi and Rhodes College experiment that studied the effects of interpersonal touch on restaurant tipping, waitresses briefly touched customers on the hand or shoulder as they were returning their change. As it turns out, they earned significantly larger tips than waitresses who didn’t touch their customers.
In one study, nearly 100 undergraduate women looked at photos of another woman in one of four poses: smiling in an open body position, smiling in a closed body position, not smiling in an open body position, or not smiling in a closed body position. Results suggested that the woman in the photo was liked most when she was smiling, regardless of her body position.
- See the other person how they want to be seen
People want to be perceived in a way that aligns with their own beliefs about themselves. This phenomenon is described by self-verification theory. We all seek confirmations of our views, positive or negative.
The participants with positive self-views preferred people who thought highly of them, while those with negative self-views preferred critics. This could be because people like to interact with those who provide feedback consistent with their known identity.
- Tell them a secret
Self-disclosure may be one of the best relationship-building techniques.
In a study led by Arthur Aron at Stony Brook University, college students were paired off and told they should spend 45 minutes getting to know each other better.
Experimenters provided some student pairs with a series of questions to ask, which got increasingly deep and personal. For example, one of the intermediate questions was “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” Other pairs were given small-talk-type questions. For example, one question was “What is your favorite holiday? Why?”
At the end of the experiment, the students who’d asked increasingly personal questions reported feeling much closer to each other than students who’d engaged in small talk.
- Expect good things from people
According to the Pygmalion effect, people treat others in ways that are consistent with their expectations of them and therefore cause the person to behave in a way that confirms those expectations.
In a Harvard Magazine article, Cuddy says, “If you think someone’s a jerk, you’ll behave toward them in a way that elicits jerky behaviors.”
On the other hand, if you expect someone to be friendly toward you, they are more likely to behave in a friendly manner toward you.
- Act like you like them
Psychologists have known for a while about a phenomenon called “reciprocity of liking”. When we think someone likes us, we tend to like them as well.
In one study, for example, participants were told that certain members of a group discussion would probably like them. (These group members were chosen randomly by the experimenter.) After the discussion, participants indicated that the people they liked best were the ones who supposedly liked them.
- Display a sense of humor
Research from Illinois State University and California State University at Los Angeles found that, regardless of whether people were thinking about their ideal friend or romantic partner, having a sense of humor was really important.
Meanwhile, not having a sense of humor, especially at the office, could backfire. One study of 140 Chinese workers between ages 26 and 35 found that people were less well-liked and less popular among their colleagues if they were “morally focused.” That means they placed a high value on displaying caring, fairness, and other moral traits. The researchers explained that was because morally focused individuals were perceived as less humorous by their colleagues.
- Let them talk about themselves
Harvard researchers recently discovered that talking about yourself may be inherently rewarding, the same way that food, money, and sex are.
In one study, the researchers had participants sit in an MRI machine and respond to questions about either their own opinions or someone else’s. Results showed that the brain regions associated with motivation and reward were most active when participants were sharing information publicly — but also when they were talking about themselves, even if no one was listening.
Whether in your life or in the life of a hero or heroine in a book (or movie), paying attention to these seventeen techniques and selectively blending them into the characters personality in a seamless and natural manner adds depth and personality that will make them memorable.
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