Emotional Hypochondria

Character-driven stories not only must present characters with a well-defined protagonist and antagonist. The characters themselves cannot appear ‘perfect’ to our readers. Characters must have flaws.

What would happen, then, if you presented an antagonist who is an organized extrovert, who intuitively analyzes complex topics, and approaches his or her future using strategic, subjective criteria? In other words, a natural leader whose major flaw is transposing other people’s problems onto him- or herself. Here we have a leader too involved and getting caught up in another person’s plight and begins trying to fix something in themself that doesn’t need correcting.
In all of the research into characterization that I have done over the last few years without exception identifies one central point. As a story-crafter, the more detail we know about our characters before we write them onto the pages of our history, more masterful people, not caricatures, will inhabit our universe.

Okay, okay, okay! I hear you, as a pantser, did I not just lay down an argument for plotting? Admittedly, yes. And, no. Having an in-depth knowledge of the people in our stories does not dictate what they will do, nor does it pigeon-hole them into behaving in specific ways. The beauty of human nature is diversity in thought, word, and deed.

Personality types do not dictate how our creations will behave. They are guidelines suggesting possibilities. Our job, the enjoyable part of what we do every day, is crafting plausible arcs. Knowing these things along the way makes it easier by giving us more possibilities to work with.

New Year, New Publication

Years in the making, it is finally here! 05 Jan 2020, author J.M. Cullen announces the release of Unlikely, the first in a series of technological wanderings throughout history.

Cameron and Crystal are two scientists experimenting in long-range, high-speed communications equipment. An explosion allows them to interact with the Yucatan Peninsula 375 A.D. At City of Dawn, they follow a Warrior-Leader and his father creating the Dzinuhu Amoxtli—A Precious Yellow-Metal Book.

Watch an aspiring priest who believes they also possess the Mahan Codex—secrets to power handed down by the Father of Lies—who will stop at nothing to obtain it for himself. Follow ancient warriors battling political intrigue, insurrection, and betrayal as the mighty Mayan empire tears itself apart. Struggle with heroes from different eras as they fight for the right to survive.

The novel is available in print by clicking here, or Kindle e-reader by clicking here.

J.M. would love to connect with readers:


Looking Down On Others

Here we have the bookworms, those with a thirst for knowledge, who dream big and fail most often. These people take pride in what they know, trust logic, and deductive reasoning. As such, they often see others as inferior and treat them accordingly.
While they examine the future with optimism, they’ll often look around and see others as too lazy, unimaginative, or selfish to reach challenging goals and, therefore, express pessimism in society’s progress. And they are perfectly fine living with this duality, incongruent as it may seem.

This personality type eschews rules, believing them to be bendable guidelines and dislike authority figures who stand by them unmoved by compassion or logic. Because they question everything, and continuously review progress, they think others also do this and are often confused when the evidence shows otherwise.

Characters in our stories with this personality type are challenging to work with. Because they live in duality, and very few of us share this ability, we must reach outside ourselves, step beyond our own ways of looking at the world, to depict these people correctly. But the challenge is worthwhile if we succeed. Tragically, however, we often fail as story-crafters to consistently and accurately portray the introverted, imaginative, thinking judgers of the world.

On A Constant Quest

Our next personality type, like all Analyst personality types, enjoy the mental exercise in questioning everything, especially the prevailing mode of thought. In this, they often step on others’ toes. They openly challenge the boss’ ideas in meetings or pick apart everything a significant other says.

While they have little tolerance for being coddled, they need to remember in the end, they will always depend on other people or risk losing everything. When engaging in a fun exploration of new and exciting ways of perceiving the world, they lose the necessary support for their pet projects.

This is a fun personality to include in your characters, whether they are the protagonist, antagonist, or merely supporting one or the other. They can be stumbling blocks, introducing internal strife, or external conflict. But don’t forget, without support from others, they should always fail. But that’s okay because, in the end, our characters must be challenged. No story worth writing is free from our favorite characters failing. It is the rise above failure that provides the character arc. Who doesn’t like a character-driven story?

Sron Smaltbringer

Sron Smaltbringer felt the power of the stone seep into his body. He opened his eyes and looked at the map on the wall. He knew the map well having looked upon it thousands of times in his longer-than-normal life. Through the magic of the stone, everything appeared with a distinct blue hue.

An orange spark flickered near the southwest corner, where swamps dominated the land. Flickering meant that someone was trying unsuccessfully to manipulate the blue stone without training. It happened in the waters of the swamp more often than any other area of the land. Why do these people, he thought with contempt rising in his heart, continually disobey the laws and tempt fate?

“We have new activity in the swamps, section thirteen or fourteen,” he said. He noted the scratching of the scribe behind him with satisfaction.

In the watershed portion of the Granite Spires, where he had not seen Kyan-thrusting in a very, very long time, a smaller, but steadier yellow light pulsed. No! It can’t be! The Pathfinder? Has he returned after all this time?

Instantly, his concentration wavered as he thought of Vonq Heartlasher. Lonesome forlornness filled his heart as his eyes drifted downward, away from the map. Beautiful maiden, why didn’t you take my hand? Absentmindedly his hand reached for the amulet dangling on a leather thong just below his neck.

“Master?” the scribe behind him said.

Swallowing hard, Smaltbringer looked up and spotted several more flickers of orange light.

“Sections twenty-seven, thirty-three, and forty-eight. That’s all,” he said with a growl and instantly regretted it. “There’s an anomaly in the watershed that I will look into,” he said with more calm than was probably necessary.

“I’ll alert the Scryers,” the scribe said and hurried out of the chamber.

He closed his eyes, murmured a word, and felt power leave his body. He knew when he opened his eyes, he’d see the map as everyone else saw it, the kingdom with its seven weather systems and varied landscape. In three dimensional relief, the Granite Spires towered over the plains, swamps, deserts, and coastal regions.

He slumped into his chair and wiped sweat away from his forehead with one bony hand.

It was not magic that brought wetness to his brow, he knew. It was dread. The Pathfinder was back; he who tore his love, his life from his chest after so many years that he’d nearly forgotten about him.

Nearly. Except for the realization every morning over the last fifty-three years that the only woman Smaltbringer had ever, could ever love, no longer slept by his side. Instead, she slept in the mausoleum just outside the window to his left.

Smaltbringer sat up straighter in his chair with a single thought. Maybe, just maybe. The Pathfinders’ return meant also the Kyan-thrusting that no one else in all the intervening years had been able to duplicate. Smaltbringer had been close a few times, though it had cost him, nearly ending his life on one occasion.

Opening his eyes and looking at the map once more, he focused on the spot where the pulsing yellow light had been.

“Hakutcho!” Smaltbringer bellowed. A Pestifuro entered the room and bowed slightly at the waist. He was smaller than Smaltbringer, both in height and weight, but Smaltbringer had no doubt about the man’s ability to protect. He had proved it many times over the last decade.

“Sire?” the Pestifuro asked as he raised himself.

“Ready the contingent, we’re heading to the Watershed. It is time to make our weapons.”

“Right away, sire.”

Krilk Blazingfist Faces Skullcutter

Krilk Blazingfist stood facing the opening of the tent. To his right, a Royal Guardsman stood at attention facing him. Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he knew this was not a good situation to be in.

He could try to run. The guard would bellow and a hundred soldiers would immediately respond. Besides, he had no weapons to defend himself and the only direction that he could run would be into the waiting arms of the enemy, an even worse prospect.
Patting his pocket, he felt the little stone that had brought him so much pain and suffering; a burden he could not throw away.

A strange thing, he thought, that such a small rock could calm my troubled heart in this place and time.

He tilted his head to look past the General’s tent to the granite spires of his former home. He was not welcome there anymore. He expected that seeing the spires once again would feel uncomfortable. He felt nothing. Even childhood memories meant little to him. Except for Kragfury, his childhood friend, who had stayed by his side and remained loyal through all the betrayal.

Looking down the hill to his left, he saw the surgeons tent. The smell of disinfectant, blood, and death wafted up to meet him, mingling with the wild mint, lavender, and tuberose that grew in this valley. He heard the sounds of physicians and nurses scurrying about trying to fend off death in a losing battle. He wondered if Kragfury survived, if nurses were tending to his wounds, or had they given up on him. Just like their kin had given up on the two of them.

If somehow Blazingfist survived the next hour, would he use the power of the stone again? If it meant saving Kragfury or himself from pain and suffering? Without question, without pause.

Angry voices shouted inside the command tent. The General and his advisers discussed his fate while he stood outside under guard.

He had done it to himself, he knew. He had no right to blame anyone else, even if he had wanted to, which he didn’t. He knew the risks and had avoided discovery up until now.

He also knew it was the right thing to do.

“If the Council of Thirteen feinds oot dat we knew ‘bout dis,” a voice from inside the tent proclaimed loudly, “dey’ll ‘ave our ‘eads!” The voice was gravelly and hoarse. Blazingfist didn’t recognize it.

The Council of Thirteen was the ruling council over everyone. It wasn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when they would find out about his use of Kyanite. They always found out. Punishments were dealt swiftly and sternly on the non-Grey Seers who attempted to use the power.

“Not ‘if’,” another voice boomed. “Will! Da Council will find out. We should take ‘im in da for’st ‘n take ‘is ‘ead.”

“’E’s a KyanThruster. We ‘ave no idea what ‘e is capable of,” gravel-voice said.

“Come on, Deathreaper, he’s an untrained Cloudviper at best. His hair isn’t even white.”

This voice was younger, refined in a way Blazingfist had never heard before. It sounded like he and the bearer of that voice were about the same age.

“Maybe it’s colored.” The last word came out cul-r-d.

Gravel-voice must be Deathreaper, Blazingfist thought. He wondered briefly why he was trying to piece together who was in the war-council. It wouldn’t matter much if they marched him out into the forest to take his head. Would I defend myself with magic, he mused, but he already knew the answer. He patted his pocket and felt reassured by the small stone.

Blazingfist’s mind began to drift back to the day he and his friend Qhrulk Kragfury found the old shack and the book of runes that changed his life forever. His reverie halted short as the refined voice spoke.

“Let me speak with the soldier. Alone.”

The refined voice must be the General, Blazingfist thought. There was only one General that could be that young — Qhun Skullcutter, son of the infamous Qhun Skythrasher, the senior-most member of the Council of Thirteen.

One by one the war-council exited the tent. One by one they each scowled at him, some with anger burning in their eyes, others with fear. The last one to exit was a fearsome specimen of a warrior.

Holy Shuzbah! Blazingfist thought. He’s a mountain! A real live walking, breathing mountain!

He was huge. Not just tall, though he stood at least a head taller than Blazingfist. He twisted as he passed through the flaps of the doorway, sending one shoulder through, then his chest and head, followed by his trailing arm. Each bicep was larger than Blazingfist’s thigh. When he straightened his back, arching it to relieve the strain of hunching over inside the tent, he growled in ecstasy.

Then he straightened and began adjusting his accouterments, chest plate, and sword belt.

As he did, he looked Blazingfist up and down, mostly down, assessing his prowess. He grunted, then walked away.

Deathreaper, Blazingfist thought. Don’t get on his bad side!

Before he could muse on the thought, a stern voice called from inside the tent. “Guard! The prisoner!”

The guard spun around, grabbed an arm and began leading Blazingfist into the tent. With a complete lack of concern, the guard pushed a tent flap away from his face while pulling Blazingfist through. A seam of the tent door flap caught Blazingfist on the chin.

The force of it all would have nearly taken his head off his shoulders, making the General’s decision for him.

I’m about to be questioned by a baby, Blazingfist thought. Good thing my lips aren’t moving, right now.

Qhun Skullcutter looked younger than he was. His shaved face and short hair cut at least five of his twenty-five years from his countenance. He wore gold plated armor over a red padded shirt. Finely woven silver chain-mail covered any spot exposed in the mail. He remained seated behind a portable desk at the rear of the tent.
Shelves lined the sides of the tent, filled with tomes, maps, and jars holding things Blazingfist could not identify.

“That will be all,” Skullcutter said, eyes never leaving Blazingfist.

The guard bowed slightly, the returned to his spot outside.

“Sir…” Blazingfist began when the silence aged old and uncomfortable.

“Do NOT speak,” Skullcutter said sharply, then calmed to continue quietly, “until I ask you a question. And then, if I don’t like your answer, I’ll remove your head. Understand?”

Blazingfist remained silent, fearing another outburst, which was the wrong thing to do.

The General stood up and marched around his desk and backhanded Blazingfist.

The force of the blow snapped his head around and nearly caused him to lose his balance.

“Is THAT understood?” the General demanded, staring his prisoner in the eye as he straightened.

“Yes… Yes, sir,” Blazingfist stammered.

The General stared for another long and uncomfortable pause. “Good,” he said at last.

Then he turned his back on the prisoner and slowly walked back to his chair, but he stood behind it, resting his hands on the back, instead of sitting down.

“I need soldiers who obey,” the General began. “Chaos and disorder lose wars. By not disclosing your abilities, you brought chaos; you sow disorder, you struck at the enemy with power I did not authorize, without regard to timing, without respecting the larger distribution of forces.”

Since he did not ask a question, Blazingfist remained silent.

The General looked down at the chair. “Now I have to decide what to do with you. If I do nothing, I appear weak and invite others to follow your example. If I am excessive in punishing you, I sow fear. I want soldiers who obey of choice, not fear.”
Shouldn’t conscript men into war then, Blazingfist thought.

The General sighed, and sat down in the chair. He leaned back, placing his hands behind his head, and regarded his prisoner for a long time.

“If you are albino, your mother did an excellent job of hiding you from the Grey Seers.”
Blazingfist remained silent, but shifted his weight on his feet.

“Or you might simply be divergent. Which is it?”

“Sir, I don’t know what that means.”

“Of course not!” he snapped. He stood up quickly, knocking the chair over, then grabbed the edges of the desk and, lowering his head, breathed calmness into his demeanor. “Guard!”

Instantly the guard reappeared at Blazingfist’s side.

“Scourge, then take him to the Grey Seers.”

“Sir!” the guard said, then whipped Blazingfist around and half dragged him out and away from the tent.

Passion, Observation, Action

Have you ever met someone with a thirst for knowledge, who love philosophy because finding actionable ideas leads them to new careers? These men often connect disparate ideas together in ways that the rest of us don’t see. Take Steve Jobs, for example, and the people who took technology in new directions.

You might think that men with this perceptive skill would play mind games, use their observations to manipulate people. But what if a character in our novels is perceptive without guile? He would prefer to communicate clearly, with factual questions and answers–take a direct approach.

But being direct has its drawbacks, too. Impatience and insensitivity come out too strongly. They lack the finesse to maneuver emotionally charged situations. And slowing down because someone else doesn’t get it? Forget it! They’ll get the job done and, if you’re lucky, they’ll notice they stepped on toes.

Their action-orientation prevents them from staying within the lines. Their inability to “go with the flow” prevents them from staying focused long enough in entry-level jobs to be noticed by management.

Their enthusiasm and unpredictability are obvious turn-ons for women. But watch out! Relationships require depth and emotionally intimate levels, which they find hard to maintain.

Do you have great examples of ESTP personalities in the stories you love? Care to share?


Logical Women

I know, a topic that sounds too strange to be found on earth. What comes to my mind are Vulcan women—dispassionate, all-business, no sensitivity.

When my feet touch earth once again, I think of the ladies I have had extraordinary conversations with, who eschew small talk, preferring mentally stimulating topics instead.

But dating these women, I’ve found that before our first date, they’ve already imagined a myriad of ways we can experience new things and grow in tandem. The problem is if I take my laid back, easy-going nature with me on those dates, their assessment of me is often lacking. “Show me a satisfied man, and I’ll show you a failure.”

Here’s an idea: Take a tyrant of a man and make them fall in love with an ENTP woman. Can you do it? Will it be a happy, Hallmark ending, or a tragedy?

An Introvert As A Villain?

Some men eschew dominance, preferring democratic approaches, and working hard to ensure everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone’s perspective is given equal light under the sun. Being open-minded, rules feel constrictive, dampening their creative powers. As ideas capture their attention, they go all-in working hard behind the scenes to see the project to completion. When others focus on the challenges and lose their way during challenging situations, these men have the benefit of far-reaching vision.

Often, these men take their idealism too far, and find disappointment as evil, again and again, conquers the world. Wanting to give to the world, they often give more than they are able, ignoring important people in their lives and paying too little attention to a healthy self. Taking their passions too far, they may forget to eat or sleep. Often, they’re so focused on the big picture that small details, facts, and data that contradict their ideals become insurmountable challenges.

Because these men are private, yet take things personally, it is difficult for others to offer friendly suggestions and critique. Notoriously difficult to get to know, understanding what motivates these men are often misunderstood. Their guilt for being so private hinders their ability to open up, often causing downward spirals in their life.

It is difficult to imagine an antagonist with these character traits. How many open-minded villains can you think of? I’ll bet dozens of supporting roles come to mind. Maybe even a few protagonists along the way. So, here’s a challenge for you: write an INFP villain—introverted, quiet, who prefers solitude to understand and make sense of the complexities they see, who use subjective criteria to make decisions, and who remains flexible and keeps their options open.

Holding Nothing Back

Note: Originally posted in the early days, moved as part of site cleanup.

Two-thirds of women, according to the personality distribution charts, use personal values, feelings and subjective criteria when making decisions. They are primarily motivated by appreciation. This should come as no surprise to anyone who is observing.

Combine this trait with outgoing enthusiasm, and you end up with someone who loves with her whole heart, observes intently, and makes social connections easily and almost effortlessly. As a result, they are excited about their new findings and share them with anyone who will listen. This natural ability to explore fails to maintain interest as tasks drift toward routine, administrative matters.

Because they care deeply, they are often stressed and easily overwhelmed. When stressed, their sensitivity bounces back as emotional outbursts that are often counter-productive at best. Especially when they view others attempting to help them as micro-managing. Checks and balances is a pill they’d rather not swallow.

Everyone has multiple projects left undone. We all feel the pressure of returning to them and finishing them. Because we don’t, we often feel a sense of shame. If allowed to simmer, that shame becomes toxic–to ourselves and others.

Consider this when writing the next conflict involving a female character.