The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible - Vladimir Nabokov

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you - Zora Neale Hurston

29 May 2010

Facets of Character

My weekly blog post is a bit late for several reasons (such as preparing for my husband's art exhibition), but the biggest setback was having two days eaten up by a lab retreat at Umina beach. Normally, driving one and a half hours out of the city to stay in a cabin by the beach would be a great thing, but winter is closing in (so no snorkeling) and this was a work get together--which means no free time and no fun.

I spent both days listening to talks, giving one of my own, and engaging in scientific discussions. I was forced to eat too much food, but that's another story. Afternoons were spent in group bonding, which, with icy rain pelting the tennis court, meant board games in the boss's cabin.

There's nothing like the fish out of water scenario to reveal whole new facets of people's character. Most of the group banded together for a game of "Cranium", similar to charades, except people can draw, sculpt, act, or sing the clues. It was a surprise to learn who could sing well and who couldn't even hum. One girl had a talent for guessing, getting "James Bond 'Goldeneye'" from an abstract line sketched on paper. And apparently everyone has seen the dead-body-being-dragged-around episode of "Fawlty Towers". There was lots of laughter, and the fun sides of people (who are normally severe and composed in lab) were revealed.

I was not in the "Cranium" group. Somehow, I ended up playing "Scrabble" with a bunch of Type A personalities, including my boss. I tried to tune out all the jokes and laughter behind me so I could focus on the serious business at hand--winning a game I'd never played before. Yes, odd that a writer has never played Scrabble, but I've seen it on TV, so I at least knew how to set up my tiles.

My boss is a kind and supportive person, and he helped me learn the rules and get going. Cranium is not the only game to bring out different facets in people, however. Once I did start winning, my boss's ruthless side emerged. He was constantly questioning the scorekeeper, making sure every point was properly credited to him, and he insisted that the oddest words were "in the dictionary". Whatever. I like to win, but I don't get crazy about it.

Still, luck was on my side, and I was the first to use up all my tiles, after composing "Zen" and "grout". The points were on my side too--I'd won! No, the boss quickly demanded a recount. Even upside down he could see the addition had an error. OK, he won by three points, and all was right with the world. Calm, friendly boss man was back. I had a hard time stifling my mirth but shared a few rolled eyeball looks with the scorekeeper.

I also saw a whole new side of our usually perky, resident chemist. He lost badly and refused to play again, preferring to sit cross-armed in a childish huff.  I smothered my grin and slipped away to my cabin at the earliest opportunity.

There's nothing like competition to bring out people's true character. When you're writing your next story and creating protagonists, ask yourself whether they're the Cranium or Scrabble type and how they react to winning or losing. You'll understand them a whole lot better.


  1. An interesting post and sounds like a interesting retreat. It is amazing to find out little things about people you work with you would never otherwise know - like the singing ability.

    Thoughts in Progress

  2. That's a really great point. Competition brings out different sides of people, especially if you have only ever seen one side of them before.

  3. Lorel, you've got a really good point here. I love the idea of putting our characters in a competitive situation and seeing what happens next! People sometimes behave really differently when they want to win.

  4. haha loved this post. People are such funny things. Pity about the icy rain. I didn't think Australia got icy rain :o)

  5. People are all so different.

    A huff over losing scrabble!
    The boss who has to win!

    I had to look up Umina Beach, I had no idea where it was. I've been nearby, I used to go to Killcare across by Box Head occasionally.

  6. Mason--I know, those interesting tidbits remind you that you never truly know everything about someone. I like being surprised.

    Sandy--I know competition brings out my worst side :)

    Elizabeth--Thanks! I'm really wondering what Myrtle would be like playing scrabble, but Cranium would be even more hilarious!

    Niki--The rain felt icy compared to summer, but it's not technically freezing. A Kiwi like you would just call it "rain" :)

    Al--The huff was the silliest thing. You'd think he was 4 and not 40!
    Umina was new to me too. I usually hang around Manly, Turrimetta (sp?), Clovelly and Watson's Bay.

  7. Is it any wonder you've had little time for blogging. I hate those sort of sessions. I'm not an antisocial person but it's always so unnatural putting people together like that. Well done for surviving it... and for almost winning at Scarbble. Anyway it's the playing not the winning and your boss should have been the first to acknowledge that.

  8. I love the idea of thinking about how your character would respond to losing a game. That really got me to thinking. Thank you!

  9. Cranium or Scrabble...Hmmm...I hope I'm the Cranium player--yeah, I think I am. But I'm married into an entire family of Scrabblers! Even when they play with my 4yo son, they are sticklers for those rules...Kills me!

    Love this post. Also loving the new painting up linking to your husband's website. Still planning to buy from him someday...Someday...

    Let us know how the show goes! Oh, and what is Australia in winter like?

    Southern City Mysteries

  10. Rosalind--You're so right, it does feel "unnatural" to force associations at work! But, as you say, I survived. I found my boss's competitiveness more amusing than annoying, so that part was fun. I'm an OK loser. I just shrug and move on.

    Heather--I'm glad I got you thinking!

    Michele--I definitely think you're the Cranium type. All that writing creativity and Southern class...A 4 yr old Scrabble-geek is so hilarious! But a whole family of them would be exhausting. I pity you :)

    Glad you liked the painting! Clayton has a whole slew of new ones I haven't had a chance to put up on the website. The opening night was great, and fingers-crossed he sells some stuff at the exhibition. That way we can keep him in paints :)

    As for Australian winter, it's mostly rainy. The thermometer rarely drops below zero, but few houses have central heating, so it feels colder than it really is. We caught the edge of a cyclone on the coast yesterday, and it made for rough seas and crazy wind.

  11. Ha! I love it :-) I'd also add Monopoly to the list. We could never get to the end of a game in my house without someone storming off in a huff.

  12. Yes, Monopoly! We're not even allowed to play that one--in order to foster marital stability. My husband cheats and I have to run the bank.

  13. ah, as much as we hate our bosses and think they are ruthless, materialistic, money and power thirsty monsters, it still is true that only such people can be successful bosses, because only such traits can help you move on in a rough business world. If you are overly emotional, sensitive or not competitive, you will never really be a leader :(

  14. An interesting post!

    I'm a bit Cranium AND a bit Scrabble. Right-brained and left-brained, shy but also spontaneous, bold but quiet, ordered but fantastically unorganized. :D

    Given the choice? I'd have probably played Scrabble because it would have amused me to see if I could get our group laughing louder than the Craniums.

    - Corra

    the victorian heroine