Thursday, April 7, 2011

Schema’s and traits part 1

There is this idea called a schema. Schema makes up what we think and what we feel about the world around us and ourselves. It is like a filing cabinet with lots of different folders in it. When we were kids we only had a few folders with a few files in this cabinet. One day we are crawling around and we encounter a four legged furry thing which our mom/dad calls a dog. So we store that away in one of our folders and continue crawling. Within a few days we encounter another four legged furry thing and we say, “Dog.” Mom/dad say, “no, cat.” Now at this point our schema is being attacked or confronted. We think it is a dog but people we trust and love say it is a cat. Because we trust them we call the folder, where the dog was, animal and add a new sheet of information called cat.

So we add folders, and files to folders as we grow older. Each time our schema is challenged we either create a new file for the information or we change and add to old information. There is much more to this of course but this is schema in a nutshell (a very small nutshell). When we get older the more files and folders we have, which have been reinforced by experiences, good or bad. This means it is harder for us to change the schemas, they become more static. Remember the case above about the dog and cat think what happens to people who were given false or damaging information from people they loved.

When writing about our characters we can touch on these schemas. Schemas build personality traits that can be extreme but generally are not. Some stable temperamental traits that have been shown to remain stable over time are: Labile-nonreactive, Dysthimic-optimistic, anxious-calm, obsessive-distractible, passive-aggressive, irritable-cheerful, and shy-sociable. These all lie on a continuum meaning that labile – nonreactive is not one or the other it can be closer to nonreactive but still labile in certain situations. This is a lot of information but if you can place your characters on the continuum of these 7 traits you will better understand him/her. Make a scale from 1-10 and place each word on either end then mark where your character is on each scale.

Anyone dare put their own rating scale up? 


  1. I think this is important even for understanding ourselves better. To understand why I react to certain stimuli or certain people. Very interesting...

  2. Wow. That is so interesting!

    My own rating scale? Oh heck, why not.

    Labile ------x--- nonreactive,
    Dysthimic -------x-- optimistic
    Anxious -----x---- calm
    Obsessive ----x----- distractible
    Passive --x------- aggressive
    Irritable --------x-- cheerful
    Shy --x------- sociable

  3. Fascinating post. I'm going to try this at the weekend!

    Ellie Garratt

  4. Thanks everyone for the feedback here is mine.
    Labile ------x---nonreactive
    Dysthimic -----x---- optimistic
    anxious -------x-- calm
    obsessive ---x------ distractible
    passive --x------- aggressive
    irritable -------x-- cheerful
    Shy --x------- sociable

  5. Intersting.I'll be sure to come back for part 2.

  6. So interesting. I had heard of schema before in my child development classes. Never occurred to me to use the idea for my characters. Looking forward to part 2.

  7. You touched on a subject that I am struggling with. In my published book, I use the folders a lot. My main character wasn't abused, but his father expected more than he could give. The boy rebelled, then his father and mother were killed. You can imagine the unresolved issued. That's just one character. I don't know how I managed to do it right, without much prompting. It seemed easy because I built in character quirks. But with the book I'm writing now, I'm having trouble making my character three dimensional. I'll get there and this is more than you wanted to know, but it's going to be find.

  8. A great way to think about and get to know your character. This should help me in my stand still with my novel.

  9. Hmmm... This is quite a challenge! I'm totally up for it, though. :) Better late than never! ;)

    Labile ---x------nonreactive
    Dysthimic --------x- optimistic
    anxious ---x------ calm
    obsessive ---x------ distractible
    passive ----x----- aggressive
    irritable -------x-- cheerful
    Shy ---x------ sociable


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