To relate to audiences, writers must make their characters connect with basic human emotions. They deliberately plot stories using the same components, human needs and feelings that we all encounter every day – dreams and disappointments, desires and fears, rivalries and resolutions.
Equally important, however, is the point of view (POV) of the story – through whose eyes is it being told? One of the most common perspectives to best connect with readers is third-person: the wise narrator who knows what the characters are thinking and what’s going to happen, and who unfolds the story for the reader. Even in a first-person story, writers must have a third-person perspective in a sense since they hold the pen and can make anything appear on the blank page – they must observe their story from on high.
What does this mean for you? Well, thinking in the third-person – as if you are the emotionally detached writer of your story with a 40,000-foot-view – will give you the same emotional distance to enhance your performance at work. You can begin with these two intertwined author’s truths:
WRITERS ALWAYS BUILD PERSONAS
From their third-person perch, every author profiles their characters so they can get inside their hearts and minds. They do so with detailed backstories until they know that character inside and out – what has shaped them, what motivates and scares them, what jazzes or deflates them. So, what’s your backstory? Reflecting on and understanding what has brought you to where you are now – the good and the bad – will empower you to move your story forward even more effectively. You don’t want to keep repeating plotlines that have not served you, or ones that you have now outgrown because you’re ready to move on from that version of yourself.
Do This One Thing Today
Ask yourself these three questions that are a part of every character’s persona and inner journey:
- Who do I understand myself to be?
- Who do people understand me to be?
- What, if anything, do I want to change about the story I’m telling?
WRITERS ALWAYS FICTIONALIZE
Those three simple little questions above are surprisingly hard to answer. Why? Because not only do we all have difficulty answering straightforward questions about ourselves, but we often cannot see ourselves clearly. What’s the solution? To fictionalize yourself.
Just for this exercise, think of yourself as a fictional character that you have the power to create. You may add some strengths or subtract some weaknesses as you develop your persona, but the essence of you – who you are and what you want – will be in there. Ever wonder how much of any author is in the characters of your favorite books? A lot! Because a writer goes from good to great when they write what they know.
Their third-person view allows them to be inside the persona they spin out of the air; characters who are built upon nuggets of truth from the writer’s own life. So, to help you get the roots of the character that is you, we’re going to play a game I call the Protagonist Profile. It’s a set of questions that every author can answer about their protagonist. And it will allow you to see the circumstances of your life in the third-person as if you were standing outside of yourself, watching your life on-screen at a movie theater.
It’s liberating to shift to this imaginary realm and pretend that you’re talking about a fictional character. But in the same way that a fiction writer’s work incorporates their own experiences and aspirations, your answers to this third-person approach will reveal different aspects of you. And, this objectivity from on-high will help you to identify your inner storyline and further solidify what you want.
So start by asking yourself the Protagonist Profile questions below as if you were developing a character for a novel or screenplay. Describe what makes this star character who they are and try to be as honest and unfiltered as you can be – don’t overthink. Your goal is to learn more about yourself so you can optimize all that you are at work.
Do This One Thing Today
There are many more questions to build a persona but start with these five. Then add any more questions of your own that come to mind along the way. This exercise should grant you a better understanding of the character that is you – and help you to shape that fictionalized persona into the character you want to be:
- What is your protagonist’s character, personality and temperament?
- What are your protagonist’s five positive traits and five negative ones?
- What are three things your protagonist enjoys and does well, and what are three things your protagonist hates and avoids?
- What’s the best thing that ever happened to your protagonist, and the most terrible?
- What is your protagonist’s biggest dream, biggest inner conflict, longing or need?
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Deborah Burns’ story has always been about invention and reinvention. She’s lived those two keywords throughout her career as a women’s media chief innovation officer (CIO), a leader of brands like ELLE Décor and Metropolitan Home, an industry consultant and throughout a creative pivot that led to the award-winning memoir, “Saturday’s Child.”
The experience of becoming an author illuminated the path to her second book, “Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life.” Now, Deborah combines her business and creative expertise in professional development workshops that improve outcomes and help everyone invent, reinvent and live up to their career potential.