Craft: Would the Godfather Really Do That? by Randy Ingermanson

3) Craft: Would The Godfather Really Do That?

It's 1953 in Birmingham, Alabama. Sherlock Holmes, Scarlett O'Hara, the Godfather, and Uncle Tom walk into an exclusive whites-only restaurant. It's 4 PM and the place is nearly empty.

The maitre d' hurries up, throws a scowl at Uncle Tom, and says to the Godfather, "I'm sorry, sir, but there are no tables available at the present time."

The Godfather grins amiably and hangs his head. "Gosh, I had no idea! Should we come back later when it's less crowded?"

"Let's just think things through rationally," says Scarlett. "I'm sure that
if we slip this gentleman a large enough bill, he can find us a table. Or maybe we can find some dirt on him and blackmail him."

Sherlock shakes his head dejectedly. "They don't seem to like us, so let's leave. It's boring here anyway.
Let's find some place that's more fun!"

"Leave this to me." Uncle Tom puts on a pair of brass knuckles and slugs the maitre d' in the jaw, knocking him out. "These people are going to serve us or else."
He leads his friends to the best table and shouts for a waiter to serve them, pronto.

What's wrong with the picture above?

Yes, the characters are behaving out of character. But how do you know? You've never read a scene in which any of these characters were in Birmingham in 1953. Yet you know roughly how each of them would behave in this situation. The way I wrote it above is completely wrong.

Different people have different "social styles" -- patterns of social behavior.

The Godfather is a Driver. He makes things happen and he's not too concerned about just getting along. He'd be the one to pull out the brass knuckles.

Scarlett O'Hara is an Expressive. She's highly sociable, and when she's rejected, she feels it keenly.
She enjoys fun and would be the first to suggest they go elsewhere.

Sherlock Holmes is an Analytical. When he has a problem, he thinks it through. He might try a bribe or blackmail or anything else he could think of to solve the problem rationally.

Uncle Tom is an Amiable. He likes to get along with people, and he always asks permission, so he never needs to ask forgiveness.

Most people fit into one of these four categories -- Driver, Expressive, Analytical, or Amiable.

As a novelist, you probably find it easiest to write characters who fit your own social style. You might find it harder to identify with characters with other social styles.

But you have to. You can't write a whole novel in which all your characters have your social style. That would be implausible, and it would also be boring.

Why boring?

When you have characters with a variety of social styles, you have a lot more chances to create conflict.
More conflict means a more interesting story.

A couple of examples are in order ...

If Uncle Tom and the Godfather are working together to solve a mystery, they're not going to agree on how to do it. The Godfather will be action-oriented and won't much care about whom he offends. Uncle Tom will be relational-oriented and he'll care very much about other people's feelings.

If Sherlock and Scarlett are dating, they're going to face all sorts of obstacles. Sherlock prefers a quiet evening at home with a pipe and a good conversation, while Scarlet wants to go out somewhere fun and dance, dance, dance. Sherlock may think he's complimenting Scarlett by telling her that she's not as scrawny as she was last month, but Scarlett won't love him for saying she's put on weight.

Most people tend to have a dominant social style and a secondary one. I'm an Analytical Amiable. I'll probably beat you at chess, but at the end of the game, you'll be my friend.

There are 16 combinations of dominant and secondary social styles. And of course there are more aspects to a character's personality than their social styles.

This means that you'll never run out of quirky combinations of character traits. Every character you ever create can be an original.

Yet by studying typical social styles, you can create believable characters that ring true.

If you want a successful salesman who can take rejection in stride and push on to the next customer, make him a Driver Amiable.

If you want an unsuccessful salesman who staggers at each rejection and finds it hard to ask for the sale, make him an Analytical Expressive.

If you want a boring, dull, narrow-minded accountant who obsesses over details, start with an Analytical Analytical and pile on from there. (We Analyticals are sometimes considered fussy and obsessive by flaky, unfocused people. Hmphh!)

Let's be clear that you don't stop with your character's social style. It's a nice place to start, but people are much more complicated than a category.

But knowing the social style of each of your characters will give you a running start on understanding them.

There is very much more to say about social styles, so if you're interested, try Googling the phrase "Driver Analytical Expressive Amiable" and see what you come up with.

One nice summary I've found online is here:

Sherlock says this resource explains a lot of things that have always puzzled him about stupid people.

The Godfather says it'll be useful in figuring out how to manipulate his minions.

Uncle Tom says it'll help him get along better with people.

Scarlett says it's boring.

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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