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Some Quotes About “Character”

“I have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensively alive.” The Letters of William James. To his wife, Alice Gibbons James, 1878.

“Character is higher than intellect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar.

“It seems that the analysis of character is the highest human entertainment. And literature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning names.” Isaa Bashevis Singer, in an interview with Richard Burgin in the New York Times Magazine, November 26, 1978.

The following is a short extract from a very long questionnaire offered by Eclectics.com here as Fiction Writers Character Chart. Those filling out the questionnaire are promised: “Once filled out, this chart helps writers get a firm grasp of characters.” The sample is taken from a subsection titled Attitude (meaning the fictional character’s):

    Philosophy:
    How s/he feels about self:
    Past failure s/he would be embarrassed to have people know about:
        Why?
    If granted one wish, what would it be?
        Why?

We recommend a close study of this questionnaire. At last, in the twenty-first century, we have managed to turn the creation of characters into recipes, formulae, and algorithms. Praise the day!

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2 Responses

  1. Today, as I was reading the descriptive literature of the art school we are trying to get Stella enrolled at one expression made my hair stand on end : they say the kids, among many other fascinating things, are going to learn “les méthodes de créativité.” I naïvely thought that creativity is precisely the kind of thing that escapes method… Now I read here that characters can also be created through algorithm. It’s all just (a +b)(a-b)=a² -b². Let’s not tell Stella though, I think that’s exactly what she’s trying to get away from!

  2. I agree with Emerson (Ralph Waldo, I mean) that “character is higher than intellect.” And I very much also agree with Michelle: creativity is definitely more than method.

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