A manager at a local bookstore stopped to ask if I needed any help, then paused.
“Is your name Ainsley?” she asked.
“Yes, it is!” I answered, surprised.
“You probably don’t remember me, but I used to manage the bookstore in Corner Brook. You shopped there on Saturdays with your family.”
Corner Brook is my hometown, and she was right: I didn’t remember her. I had moved away 30 years earlier when I was only 8 years old.
“You were able to recognize me now from seeing me in passing as a child?!” I said. “You have an unbelievable memory!”
“Oh, it’s nothing special,” she replied. “I’m just good with faces.”
Though she might have downplayed her feat, she is in all likelihood a super-recognizer, part of a small segment of the population with an exceptional memory for faces.
What is a Super-Recognizer?
Human beings are hard-wired to recognize faces. A whole region of the human brain—the fusiform gyrus—is devoted to analyzing the faces we see and recalling the ones we’ve seen before. We’re so primed to pick out faces that we see them even where they don’t exist.
Psychologists once assumed that everyone had more or less the same ability to identify faces unless they suffered a brain injury or neurological illness that damaged the fusiform gyrus. In the early 2000s, though, researchers realized that some people are born with very poor facial recognition, a condition known as prosopagnosia. And if a small number of people are born with a terrible memory for faces, they reasoned, perhaps there are others who are born with a phenomenal memory for faces.
Since then, experts have come to believe that facial recognition ability lies along a bell curve, like IQ and other human capacities. The vast majority of us are somewhere in the middle, but a scattering of people fall at the extreme ends of the spectrum, with exceptionally good or exceptionally weak face identification skills. The top 2 to 3 percent of this bell curve are called super-recognizers. They excel at two tasks:
Face perception. The ability to match images of the same face to each other even if they look different due to age, facial hair, or camera angle.
Face recognition. The ability to match a face to a name or identity.
What It’s Like to Be a Super-Recognizer
The best super-recognizers describe their talent as a photographic memory for faces. They only need the briefest glimpse to memorize a face, and they store that information for months, years, or even the rest of their lives.
As one super-recognizer, a 26-year-old female Ph.D. student known in the research as CS, explained: “It doesn’t matter how many years pass; if I’ve seen your face before I will be able to recall it.”
Like many super-recognizers, CS hides her extraordinary ability to avoid making other people uncomfortable. “I often pretend not to recognize someone because it scares them if I say, ‘Oh, I remember you, you were behind me in line at a supermarket in 1996 wearing a yellow soccer jersey!’”
Another super-recognizer named Yenny Seo has found her aptitude for faces more awkward since the advent of social media. “I would start a new class in uni,” says Seo, “or I would meet people through social gatherings and I would remember visually what kind of photos I’d seen them in. I’d already be so familiar with them and I’d know in my head: ‘Oh, you are that person’s sibling, or you used to date so-and-so,’ but I also knew it’d be really creepy if I said that out loud, so I’d keep it on the down low and just say: ‘Oh, nice to meet you.’
It is challenging and exhausting being romantically involved with a narcissist, and they can also cause havoc when they leave. Breakups are always hard, but when you’ve been in a relationship with someone who uses others and is obsessed with themselves, it can be even harder.
On the surface, narcissists can seem charming, engaging and charismatic, which can make them difficult to leave in the first place.
Dr Judith Orloff, a clinical psychiatrist at the University of California Los Angeles, told Insider that narcissists can make you fall in love with them quickly, because they’re very adept at becoming the centre of your universe.
“Narcissists present a false self, where they can seem charming and intelligent, and even giving,” she said. “Until you don’t do things their way. Then they get cold, withholding and punishing.”
Here’s what to expect if a relationship with a narcissist ends.
It can feel brutal and sudden
One minute you may feel like everything your partner has ever wanted, and the next you’re left wondering what on Earth went wrong. This is because narcissists are great at playing a part while they’re getting something from you, according to Orloff. But when they’re done using you, they have no difficulty in casting you aside like a used tissue.
There will be no apologies or remorse, and you may well never hear from them again, regardless of how long your relationship was. If they do return, it will be because they’ve realized they can get something from you.
Be prepared for begging, pleading, or bargaining
If you’re the one who chose to leave, good for you, because that’s hard to do, Orloff said. They are likely to give you the fight of your life because they’re not done with you yet. Narcissists hate losing their supply, so they won’t let you go easily.
Prepare for them to promise “to change.” They might suddenly start doing things for you that you’d been complaining about. They may say “you’ll be lost without me,” or “you’ll never find someone like me.”
Don’t listen, Orloff advised. It’s just a trick to get you to come back to them out of fear.
If that doesn’t work, they may try different tactics
If their begging isn’t successful, narcissists can turn mean. Psychiatrist Dr. Edward Ratush told Insider that narcissists are master manipulators, and will have learned over time how to use your thoughts and behaviors to control you.
“Strategically, separating from a narcissist can resemble defending oneself against a shark: you have to punch them right in the nose,” he said. “Despite the fierceness of their appearance, they often crumble when confronted. Their bullying ways will quickly dissolve and reveal what’s beneath.”
The best defense against the narcissist’s tactics is a good, strong sense of self, Ratush said — “a solid grasp of your needs and how they can be used against you.”
DESCRIPTION: A grotesque is a character whose deformities mask their likable personality and arouse pity and sympathy from others. They have extreme physical or behavioral features that can be unsettling, disturbing, or even repulsive. Because of this, grotesques can challenge preconceptions of what is beautiful and acceptable.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Frankenstein’s monster (Frankenstein), Erik/the Phantom (The Phantom of the Opera), the Beast (Beauty and the Beast), Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)
In traditional storytelling, especially in fairy tales, the main characters often don’t have names. Instead they are referred to only by their roles: the tailor, the shepherdess, the knight, the princess, the giant. When a character does get a name, often it’s an emblematic sort of name, like Snow White (named for her skin as white as snow) or Rapunzel (named for the herb her mother stole from the witch’s garden.) Then there’s Prince Charming, named thus (I guess) because his parents assumed he’d grow up to be much admired, and would learn pretty court manners in preparation for the prince job. Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk) has a real name; but you’ll find quite a few different stories with a Jack in them, and he’s usually making mischief and/or getting into trouble, so that one may be emblematic as well – what about the Jack in a card deck, also known as the Knave? Generally those stories are not big on character development. We may have a dramatic change of circumstances: the goatherd slays the dragon and gets to wed the princess (too bad it she’s not keen on the idea); the tailor is kind to the elves and is given magical assistance as a reward. But an individual human journey that draws us in deeply? Generally not. Maybe fairy tale characters don’t need names.
Legends are different, being almost always associated with a particular location, a notable event that took place (or may have taken place) there, and a person or being: Robin Hood, William Tell, King Arthur. Each of those has some historical basis, but in the cases of Arthur and Robin, the old story has morphed over the years into an elaborate piece of (mostly) fantasy. For Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, this is largely down to a twelfth century Welsh cleric and writer, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and to a lesser extent to Chrétien de Troyes, a French writer of the same general period. There are many more such examples. The stories are grand, heroic, stirring, and often deeply romantic, and they’ve been retold and rewritten over and over right to the present day. The retellings and reworkings tend to reflect the culture and values of their time; the storyteller shapes the tale to resonate with its audience. Generally the original character names, or recognisable versions of them, remain.
Today’s writers, and fantasy writers in particular, have produced some ground-breaking work when re-interpreting well-known, and often well-loved, traditional stories. A case in point is Juliet E McKenna’s The Cleaving, published recently by Angry Robot (UK). In this compelling novel, the heroic trappings of the Arthurian story are stripped away, and we are confronted with the gritty reality of the time and culture through the eyes of the women in the tale. It’s a challenging read at times, especially for anyone who loves the pageantry and romanticism of the Arthurian legend. It’s also deeply rewarding. These characters are not the idealised figures of legend, but real individuals struggling to take back control of their lives and their world. We recognise their names—Ygraine, Morgana, Nimue, Guinevere—and because the Arthurian tale is so familiar to us, it hits us with striking force when these characters don’t adhere to the old story, or when the author’s vision of that story is so different from the old tale of chivalry and honour. McKenna shows us how little choice women in their situations would actually have had. The interaction between the workers of magic, Merlin and Nimue, is a particularly strong element in this novel. In the legend, Merlin’s intervention governs some key aspects of Arthur’s rise to the throne, and the author’s take on this is fascinating.
I’ve written before about some brilliant feminist reworkings of myths that have been published in recent years. From Claire North, we have Ithaca and House of Odysseus, the first two novels in a planned trilogy, The Songs of Penelope. Genevieve Gornichec’s The Witch’s Heart is a wonderful reworking of Norse mythology with an unforgettable central character. The illustration for this post honours that Norse connection – I couldn’t resist the ravens. Gornichec’s new title, to be published this month, is The Weaver and the Witch Queen, described as a blend of Viking age history and myth. These two authors use the framework of myth, but their characters are fully fleshed individuals, real people whose journeys feel entirely authentic as we share them. For a highly original fairy tale reworking try Alix E Harrow’s Fractured Fables series, or Marissa Meyer’s Cinder.
Times change, and stories change with them. We don’t often listen to someone telling a story these days. Audiobooks are great, but they lack the spontaneity of the tale told by the fireside, which can change in every single telling. If we tell a story, we usually do so in writing, and the stories we absorb generally come to us as in published form, whether it’s as print, e-book or audio. The exception, I guess, might be telling stories to small children rather than reading them. Keep doing this, folks, it’s a great bonding experience! Also, it’s good brain training when you have to make things up as you go.
One of the many strengths of point of view (POV) is that readers get to experience the story world through the eyes of your POV character. And characters can assume incorrectly, have an unfair opinion, or just flat out be wrong.
But sometimes ambiguity sneaks in there when you don’t mean it to, and you’re not actually saying what you intended to say.
Enter the word seemed.
Seemed isn’t always what it seems. Sometimes it reads like an opinion the POV character is making, and others it reads like the author explaining what they know about the situation. And there’s a wide gray area where those two overlap, due to narrative distance and point of view.
In general, the tighter the POV and the closer the narrative distance, the more the word seemed feels like an assumption or an opinion. The more distant the POV and narrative distance, the more told it feels.
Let’s look a little closer.
Say you want to show the POV character making an assumption. You night write it like:
Bob seemed happy, but his smile never wavered.
Seemed in this case implies that Bob is faking being happy. The POV character senses something feels off to them, and they’re not sure they can take what they see at face value. Bob seems happy, but they don’t think he is happy, because his smile doesn’t look right to them.
The “seemed happy” is offset by the “but his smile never wavered.” There’s visual evidence to back up the assumption.
Compare that to:
Bob seemed happy, laughing and joking with all the kids.
The only thing in this sentence that hints that Bob may not actually be happy is the word seemed. If Bob really is happy, and his laughing and joking isn’t an act, then it inadvertently misleads the reader. There’s nothing to suggest why the character is making this assumption, which makes the POV character feel a little shifty. Are they hiding information from the reader? Did the reader miss something? Is the author telling readers something the POV doesn’t know?
In a tight POV, this could be the character’s opinion.Bob seemed happy, (becausehe) was laughing and joking with all the kids.
The because in this case is implied, not stated (because that would be telling). The “laughing and joking with all the kids” could be the evidence presented to backup why the POV character thinks Bob seems happy. But readers can’t tell for sure.
This is a good example of how context matters. The next sentence would confirm if this was the POV character’s assumption or the author butting in to tell readers Bob isn’t really happy.
Bob seemed happy, laughing and joking with all the kids. But his smile never wavered.
Bob seemed happy, laughing and joking with all the kids. He smiled as he chased them around the yard.
See the difference? That “but” shows readers why the POV character is making that assumption. Bob seems happy, but his smile is a clue he’s really not.
In sentence two, the smile supports that Bob is happy, and contradicts the seemed. The POV character would think Bob was happy, because there’s no evidence to suggest he isn’t, and they wouldn’t use the word seemed. Seemed is unnecessary at best, telling at worst.
The Enneagram personality theory is a wonderful tool for writers. Beneath the surface of the system’s nine types, you can find development guides that include all the working parts of solid transformational character arcs. Last week, we discussed the positive character arcs in the Enneagram. Today, we’re going to look at the flipside: nine negative character arcs in the Enneagram system.
As a personal-development tool, the Enneagram can help us identify, first, which of the nine types best suits our own tendencies. From there, we can use it to bring awareness to any number of our own pain points, growth factors, and potential blind spots.
But there’s much more to the Enneagram than just that. Particularly as presented by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson in their groundbreaking book Personality Types, the Enneagram also offers several vertical maps of progression and regression within each type. In short, it can offer hints as to where someone (ourselves or our characters) may be sitting within a spectrum of mental and emotional health.
For our personal use, the Enneagram can help us move higher up the ladder toward optimal health—to achieve positive character arcs. That’s what we looked at last week. As authors, however, we also sometimes need to write about characters who are headed in the opposite direction—away from health. In character-arc speak, the thematic movements of a positively arcing character will be away from a Lie or limiting belief and toward a more expansive and liberating Truth. Meanwhile, a negatively arcing character will be moving away from the story’s posited thematic Truth.
. . . .
As I discussed in the last post, the Enneagram system is a deep well to dive into, full of many complexities. What’s in this post is the barest ripple on its surface, based on my years’ long personal study and growth within the system and particularly on the type comparisons and descriptors found in Riso and Hudson’s book The Wisdom of the Enneagram.
In that book, they introduce the Enneagram like this:
The core truth that the Enneagram conveys to us is that we are much more than our personality. Our personalities are no more than the familiar, conditioned parts of a much wider range of potentials that we all possess.
PG continues to lead a sheltered life and must admit he had never heard of Eneagrams before.
He did a little quick and dirty online research and discovered the following:
Definition and Meaning
The Enneagram is a system of personality which describes people in terms of nine types, each with their own motivations, fears, and internal dynamics.
The Enneagram is an emotionally focused system of understanding people — honing in on one’s core emotional motivations and fears. Each of the nine personality types has its own driving force, which is centered around a particular emotion.
Some Enneagram types experience strong emotions, while other types aim to avoid emotions in one form or another. However, whether running from emotions or diving into them, each type describes some aspect of emotional experience.
. . . .
The nine types of the Enneagram are divided among Heart Types, Head Types, and Body Types.
Heart types depend on their emotional intelligence to understand their own reactions and connect with others.
Head types depend on their intellectual intelligence to make sense of things and navigate the world around them.
Body types depend on their instinctual intelligence to follow their “gut” and respond to threats and opportunities.
The Heart Types of the Enneagram
Heart types react with emotions first. They connect with other people on an empathetic level, and make sense of the world by understanding their feelings about it. These types are guided by the feelings connected to their emotional relationships with other people. They value things such as emotional support, recognition, and inclusion. Types Two, Three and Four are the heart, or feeling, centered Enneagram types.
Twos want to be liked and find ways that they can be helpful to others so that they belong. This type fears being unlovable. Read more about Twos.
Threes want to be successful and admired by other people, and are very conscious of their public image. Type Threes fear failure and not being seen as valuable by other people. Read more about Threes.
Fours want to be unique and to experience deep, authentic emotions. Type Fours fear they are flawed and are overly focused on how they are different from other people. Read more about Fours.
The Head Types of the Enneagram
Head types react with analysis first. They connect with other people on an intellectual level, and make sense of the world by understanding the systems and theories that underlie what they observe. These types are primarily focused on control, which they gain by maintaining stability, security, and competence. Types Five, Six, and Seven are the head-centered Enneagram types.`
Fives seek understanding and knowledge, and are more comfortable with data than other people. The biggest fear of the Type Five is being overwhelmed by their own needs or the needs of other people. Read more about Fives.
Sixes are preoccupied with security, seek safety, and like to be prepared for problems. For the Type Six, the greatest fear is being unprepared and unable to defend themselves from danger. Read more about Sixes.
Sevens want to have as much fun and adventure as possible and are easily bored. Type Sevens fear experiencing emotional pain, especially sadness, and actively seek to avoid it by staying busy. Read more about Sevens.
The Body Types of the Enneagram
Body types react with an instinctive, gut feeling. They connect with other people based on their physical sense of comfort, and make sense of the world by sensing their body’s reaction to what is happening. The primary drive for this triad is to maintain their independence and limit control from outside influences. They respond by being either overly controlling, overly passive, or overly perfectionistic. Types Eight, Nine, and One are the body, or gut, centered Enneagram types.
Eights see themselves as strong and powerful and seek to stand up for what they believe in. The greatest fear of the Type Eight is to be powerless, so they focus on controlling their environment. Read more about Eights.
Nines like to go with the flow and let the people around them set the agenda. Type Nines fear pushing people away by prioritizing their own needs, and they tend to be passive. Read more about Nines.
Ones place a lot of emphasis on following the rules and doing things correctly. Type Ones fear being imperfect and can be extremely strict with themselves and others. Read more about Ones.
PG is not certain he entirely understands (or even vaguely understands) Enneagrams. However he found another article on Truity titled Myers and Briggs vs Enneagram.
PG had heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. However, he doesn’t understand that one very well either, but when he took what was supposedly a short Myers-Briggs-like test a long time ago, he was classified as an extraversion something something, something. (PG isn’t quite certain how may somethings there were.)
During his wander through online personality tests, he discovered The 5 Best Free Online Personality Tests which evidently gives you options in case you don’t like the results of a single personality test.
At any rate, he does think that the various character features mentioned in this sort of thing may help an author with the task of constructing fictional characters that aren’t all the same.
Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.
In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.
This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.
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Fear of Losing Autonomy
Notes Autonomy fluctuates throughout life but will decrease with certain changes, such as getting married, having a baby, and growing old. A character who fears the loss of their independence will look for ways to maintain their freedom, sometimes at a cost to their own happiness or satisfaction.
What It Looks Like
The character moving out of their parent’s home as soon as possible Living alone Setting clear goals for autonomy within relationships Maintaining superficial romantic relationships so they don’t infringe on the character’s independence Avoiding family members who exert too much influence Hiding signs of illness or mental struggles from loved ones
Changing the topic when the subject of assistance comes up Refusing to use tools that are meant to help, such as a cane, hearing aid, or glasses Refusing to move in with a relative, even if doing so makes sense The character dismissing concerns for their safety or well-being Being deliberately cantankerous or rude to caregivers Continuing to engage in activities that have become dangerous (driving, drinking alcohol, running, etc.)
Common Internal Struggles
Feeling pressured to let others help despite a desire to remain independent Fearing that a loss of autonomy will result in a loss of identity The character wondering if they’re being selfish or stubborn for declining help Living in denial about their need for assistance Seeking to justify any loss of cognitive or physical abilities The character feeling as if they’re a burden for needing any kind help Feeling worthless Becoming paranoid about signs of further decline Resenting the people who are trying to help, then feeling guilty about it Feeling as if life is no longer worth living
Many of us will have experienced some unexpected honesty from the older people in our lives. Whether it’s grandma telling you your outfit is unflattering or grandpa saying he doesn’t like the meal you’ve prepared, we often explain it away by saying “Oh, don’t mind grandpa, he’s just lost his filter”.
But do we really have a “filter”, and do we lose it as we get older?
What do we mean when we say ‘filter’?
When someone has no “filter”, it means they say things without thinking about their audience. They may blurt out something rude, inappropriate, or unkind, without considering the likely consequences.
“Filters” are an important part of our everyday social interactions. A brief Monday morning chat with your boss is more complex than it may seem. For example, you might stop yourself from telling them they smell awful after their morning bike ride into the office and should’ve showered before your meeting. You might consider telling them about the fungal infection you discovered on your toenail over the weekend but decide against it. Of course, what you do or do not say also depends on how well you know them and what’s considered socially acceptable in your workplace.
Your “filter” relies on cognitive processes such as inhibitory control, which stops you from saying the first thing that pops into your mind. It also relies on social cognition, which refers to the ability to understand and predict other people’s behaviours, thoughts, and intentions. This helps us to recognise what behaviour is appropriate in a particular social setting and to adapt our behaviour based on this.
The prefrontal cortex, which is located within the frontal lobes of our brains, acts as our “filter”, helping us say and do things in a socially appropriate way. When this part of the brain isn’t functioning properly, we might act as though we’ve lost our “filter”.
What happens to our ‘filter’ as we age?
As we get older, our brains start to shrink. This is a normal part of the aging process known as brain atrophy. It affects how well our brain cells can communicate with one another. Importantly, brain atrophy doesn’t happen to all areas of the brain at once. It is particularly noticeable in the frontal lobes.
Researchers have linked age-related shrinking in the frontal lobes with declines in inhibitory control and social cognition. Studies have also found older adults respond differently to socially awkward situations than younger adults.
For example, older adults have more difficulty recognising when someone’s said something embarrassing or tactless, and show poorer understanding of sarcasm.
So as we get older, normal aging processes in our brains may make it much easier for things to slip out through our “filters”.
PG thought this item might be useful for character-building.
“Oh, boy. This time I messed up.”
That’s what I was thinking when some years ago, I let my emotions get the best of me. I believed a colleague had stolen something of mine. Not literally; I thought he stole an idea. At least, that’s how I felt.
I knew the way I should handle it. I knew I should approach him calmly, state my concern without any type of accusation, and give him the chance to explain the situation.
But that’s not what I did.
Instead, I went in like a ticking time bomb, asking emotionally charged questions before …
I went off.
In the end, it turned out to be a huge misunderstanding. I felt horrible, because the colleague was a nice guy, and up until that moment we had a pretty good relationship. Of course, I apologized profusely, and he said it was OK and we’d consider it water under the bridge.
But to this day, every time I think of that moment, I cringe.
If you’ve ever had a moment like this one, maybe you can relate. In emotional intelligence terms, we refer to this as an emotional hijack.
In an emotional hijack, a small part of your brain known as the amygdala, which serves as a type of emotional processor, “hijacks” your brain and causes you to react without thinking. In my case, some built-up tension and various other factors caused me to see a situation unclearly, jump to conclusions, and hurl harsh accusations at a colleague.
It’d be great if we could identify the circumstances that lead up to emotional hijacks before they happen, but that’s not usually how it works. But learning to analyze an emotional hijack after it happens can be almost as valuable.
I like to call this process the “emotional postmortem.”
Just like a medical or project postmortem, the goal of an emotional postmortem is to determine the cause of “death,” or failure. When you identify the cause for a hijack, you can devise a plan to help you avoid repeat episodes in the future.