W3 Wise Words on Writing

W3 is a monthly newsletter for writers on a variety of topics from technique to the psychology of writing. It appears by the 15th of each month. More information is available from www.wisewordsonwriting.com

Monday, May 16, 2005

No 28. VALS and Your Characters

THEORY
When I was working in marketing at the now defunct Digital Equipment Corporation, I found a marketing tool called, VALS, Values and Life styles. It "explains the relationship between personality traits and consumer behavior. VALS uses psychology to analyze the dynamics underlying consumer preferences and choices. VALS not only distinguishes differences in motivation, it also captures the psychological and material constraints on consumer behavior. "
The company that wrote VALS can be found at http://www.sric-bi.com/VALS/. If any of you are doing marketing, it is an extremely efficient tool.

However, I found a second use for it while I was working on a creative writing degree. I needed a research component about my writing, and I used their survey to categorize my characters by answering the questions as each of my characters would. http://www.sric-bi.com/vals/surveynew.shtml It helped me keep them in character by reaffirming that the traits I ascribed to them were consistent. The survey is also interesting in judging our own characters.

Admittedly, there is an American slant to it, but some aspects of human behavior transcend geographical borders. It is another way to think about the people we create.

The groups are as follows:

Innovators are "successful, sophisticated, take-charge people with high self-esteem. Because
they have such abundant resources, they exhibit all three primary motivations in varying degrees. They are change leaders and are the most receptive to new ideas and technologies. Innovators are very active consumers, and their purchases reflect cultivated tastes for upscale, niche products and services. Image is important to Innovators, not as evidence of status or power but as an expression of their taste, independence, and personality. "

Thinkers "are motivated by ideals. They are mature, satisfied, comfortable, and reflective people who value order, knowledge, and responsibility. They tend to be well educated and actively seek out information in the decision-making process. They are well-informed about world and national events and are alert to opportunities to broaden their knowledge. Thinkers have a moderate respect for the status quo institutions of authority and social decorum, but are open to consider new ideas."

Achievers are "motivated by the desire for achievement, Achievers have goal-oriented lifestyles and a deep commitment to career and family. Their social lives reflect this focus and are structured around family, their place of worship, and work. Achievers live conventional lives, are politically conservative, and respect authority and the status quo. They value consensus, predictability, and stability over risk, intimacy, and self-discovery."

Experiencers are "motivated by self-expression. As young, enthusiastic, and impulsive consumers, experiencers quickly become enthusiastic about new possibilities but are equally quick to cool. They seek variety and excitement, savoring the new, the offbeat, and the risky. Their energy finds an outlet in exercise, sports, outdoor recreation, and social activities."
Believers "are motivated by ideals. They are conservative, conventional people with concrete beliefs based on traditional, established codes: family, religion, community, and the nation. Many Believers express moral codes that are deeply rooted and literally interpreted. They follow established routines, organized in large part around home, family, community, and social or religious organizations to which they belong."

Strivers "are trendy and fun loving. Because they are motivated by achievement, Strivers are concerned about the opinions and approval of others. Money defines success for Strivers, who don't have enough of it to meet their desires. They favor stylish products that emulate the purchases of people with greater material wealth. Many see themselves as having a job rather than a career, and a lack of skills and focus often prevents them from moving ahead."
Makers "are motivated by self-expression. They express themselves and experience the world by working on it-building a house, raising children, fixing a car, or canning vegetables-and have enough skill and energy to carry out their projects successfully. Makers are practical people who have constructive skills and value self-sufficiency. They live within a traditional context of family, practical work, and physical recreation and have little interest in what lies outside that context. Makers are suspicious of new ideas and large institutions such as big business. They are respectful of government authority and organized labor, but resentful of government intrusion on individual rights. They are unimpressed by material possessions other than those with a practical or functional purpose."

Survivors "live narrowly focused lives. With few resources with which to cope, they often believe that the world is changing too quickly. They are comfortable with the familiar and are primarily concerned with safety and security. Because they must focus on meeting needs rather than fulfilling desires, Survivors do not show a strong primary motivation."
All quoted material is from the company site that developed VALS.

EXAMPLES
Daisy had a job running a food bank. Though this might not seem like suitable work for a newly minted Harvard cum laude, Daisy saw it as a natural progression from the soup kitchen where she and Henry had volunteered as undergraduates and where her heart had leaped at the tenderness with which he had placed bowls of minestrone into scabbed and trembling hands.
(Notes: From HOST FAMILY by Mameve Medwed. Notice how much information is crammed into this paragraph. We learn where she went to school, which carried many social and intellectual connotations. We see she doesn't follow the crowd and look for top dollar in a job. We see what attracted her to her husband, as well as her sensitivity to those around her. I ran Daisy through the VALS test and her primary personality if a Thinker and her secondary is an Achiever.)

EXERCISE
Take one of your favorite characters in fiction and run them through the VALS suvery.
Take one of your own characters and run them through the VALS survey.

NOTES
This is from an artist, but the creative process can be the same for writers. So many times someone says, "I love your symbolism," and I reply, "what symbolism?"

I found this story of the creative process fascinating. Whether painting or writing, sometimes wonderful things happen. Thank you Barbara for letting me reprint it.

"I can tell you as an artist that paintings not only take on a life, but also take over at times so that I don't know what I've really painted until sometime later. Other artists tell me similar stories. A Montreal artist told me a story about a painting she was working in a workshop she attended with fellow artist friends. She commented to the artist at the easel next to her that she had no idea what she had painted. Her friend looked at the painting and told her it was so obviously her pet cat. On second look, her cat just looked at her out of the painting.

When I saw the painting, all I could see was her cat, yet she did not consciously paint her cat.

"This month I share a story of my latest painting "Saratoga Springs Passion," a red, black, grey and white painting on glass meant to be hung in a window.

"The Saratoga County Arts Council has a "Win, Place & Show" juried equine member exhibit every August when the Saratoga Race Course horses are running. Every painting has to have a connection with horses or racing. Never wanting to be a "me-too," I pondered over the image I would create.

"As luck or fate would have it, I acquired a nicely grained wood frame at an estate sale. I chuckled when I realized the framer had assembled the matted image backwards in the frame. Well, the last laugh was on me when I got it home and realized that the "framer" had glued everything into the frame. A die-hard, I refused to chuck it and painstakingly ripped and tugged at the mat and framed poster until it cleared the glass. Now, I had clear glass glued into a frame. And, I had just received some samples of professional grade liquid watercolour and acrylic I had been anxious to try. I always wanted to do reverse painting on glass.

"I am now in my Red Period and white horses were the subject. After I painted them, I decided to put a black silhouette of myself in the painting. The horse on the right looks menacing in hard darks into the white with some greys. The horse on the left looks as innocent as the horse it faced looked fearsome. In the middle, facing the viewer comes a galloping horse with mane moving. When I first looked at the painting, I saw the menacing horse as a racehorse hot to win.

"The innocent mare as a pet and the galloping horse as a wild horse. I named it "Saratoga Springs Passion" after the fascination and obsession with horses there exists here with our City mantra of 'Health, History and Horses.'

"Three days after I painted it, I woke with a start early one morning and got the message of what the painting really meant to me. Recently, three friends in their 60s were out of my life due to a variety of illnesses that confined them to spaces. One widowed friend was put in an adult home and was lost to me both physically and mentally and she was represented by the menacing horse. Another friend was suffering from a myriad of illnesses along with her husband and was represented by the innocent mare walking resolutely forward eyes to the ground. Finally, another diabetic friend went in for a routine colonoscopy where doctors discovered a cancerous polyp, which was removed with a section of her intestines. She is represented by the galloping horse running to take back her life. I am in shadow because they don't see me in their lives any more.

"So, a routine theme painting for a juried show turned into a picture of my heartache at the recent absence of my three friends in my life. "There you have the painted message my soul wanted to tell me."

Source: "Watercolors Your Way" free Monthly E-Newsletter (to subscribe please go to http://www.barbaragarro.com/ and click on "Newsletter.
http://mudsmith.net/bobbing.html#writing Has some interesting articles on writing.

A W3 reader is really clicking up some credits. To those of you who haven't yet seen your work in type or on the stage, keep working. Sandra Seaton, a playwright and librettist, has a play THE BRIDGE PARTY which won a Theodore Ward Prize for New African American Playwrights. The renowned actor Ruby Dee appeared in a 1998 production of the play Seaton's text, from THE DIARY OF SALLY HEMMINGS was set to music by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom and has been sung at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, San Francisco Performances, the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, and other venues. Her most recent work, SALLY, a solo play about the life of Sally Hemings, premiered at the New York State Writer's Institute in Albany, New York. Website: www.grad.cmich.edu/seaton Congratulations Sandra.

One of my readers who writes in English as a second language asked me if I had any tips for people in her situation. At the moment I don't but if anyone out who writes in any language as a second language, has any ideas please let me know so I can pass them on to her.
Break through writer's block and embark on a journey of self-discovery during a Reflective Writing Workshop, September 10 to 12th, in the Swiss Alps. We will practice a number of journaling techniques and explore a form of meditative writing. For more information, email journalingingeneva@yahoo.com or call 33 4 50 20 26 23

The e-rater is a computer that grades essays for the GMAT, the exam students take in the US to get into business schools according to an article in the Washington Post. A spokesman "emphasized the modest goal of computerized scoring: to judge the structure and coherence of the writing, rather than the quality of the thoughts and originality of the prose. In college, he said, professors grade the development of ideas, while essay-rating computers "are better suited to judgment about more basic-level writing." The College Board which regulates the SATs (the exam taken by high school students and used as a tool by universities for admission) which are the entrance exams does not rule out that the future SAT essays will be graded by computer too.

Maybe I am being old-fashioned, but I always thought the quality of thought and originality of prose major factors in writing.

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