I don’t have much interpersonal conflict in my life. I tend towards easy-going and diplomatic and try to spend most of my time with people who are the same. And so, when it comes to writing and developing these conflicts in fiction I find I’m struggling with it. I throw a conflict at the characters and then try to solve it for them in the mediation style I would use if I were trying to help them in real life, which makes good reality, but boring fiction.
So, I’ve been thinking about ways of broadening my character and conflict types and have found inspiration in some interesting places. These sources can also provide great inspiration for dealing with writer’s block.
1. Personality Type Assessments. The realm of popular psychology has more type assessments than you can shake a writer’s dream stick at. Whether you buy into any of them or not, they provide a rich source of common collection of characteristics which you can kidnap and make your own. Many people have written books and other interpretations of The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, making it one of my favorites. Please Understand Me 2 by David Kiersey has not only detailed descriptions of each type with strength and weaknesses, but also a section on relationships and the types of conflicts different pairings are susceptible to and ways to resolve them. Reading that chapter was almost dangerous since story ideas started attacking me as I read and I really need to finish one of the in progress works before starting something else.
2. Tarot Cards. I know this sounds strange, but stay with me. Each tarot card represents a character archetype and/or a universal theme of conflict or desire. As such, I find them great for brainstorming for fiction or real life. There are many free online places that you can get these readings. For example, I just went to Llewellyn Worldwide, chose a Celtic Cross pattern (because it provides a lot of variety) and skimmed through the results looking for combinations that seemed interesting to me for current or future projects. I like to read a card’s description and position and then think about whether or how it might be applicable and what implications it might have.
3. Zodiac and Chinese Year signs. You can easily find lists for both of these which will paint in broad strokes the characteristics for people born under these signs. I’m not suggesting you match your characters to these signs, just that it can help to have a basket of grouped strengths and weaknesses to start from to build your own unique character. It can also help identify when you the flip side of characteristics you may be painting as purely strengths.
So, what do you use for inspiration?