Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Exploring Charisma


Today is sort of a holiday for me. It would be my Grandma Alyse's birthday—88--and anyone who had been here for any length of time knows my grandma was probably my favorite person ever. I think grandparents and grandchildren have the best relationship, because it has all of the love, but none of the pressure of those parent child relationships.

But I wasn't the only person to think my grandma was fabulous. My grandma had that tricky-to-identify thing... charisma... that just made people want to be near her.

What is it that makes some people so absolutely appealing? Why do we want to be near them? Just yearning for some of... whatever it is to... rub off? Are we basking in their glow?

THAT is what I thought might be fun to explore.



Physical Attractiveness

This doesn't hurt, I gotta be honest. Many leaders in the Cult of Personality are quite attractive, yet... there are a lot of great looking people who miss the boat, and there are ENOUGH not-particularly-attractive folks who manage.

My grandma was darling... cute as a button... but NOT a classic beauty. She had high apple cheeks and a round face and curly hair... she wore very thick glasses by her teens... maybe younger... none of the classic traits of, say... Sophia Lauren. She might have given Vivian Leigh a run for her money on that mischievous smirk, but she was no lady in the classic sense. I know for a fact she played basketball in high school (if you only have 23 people in your high school class, they want you to play, even at 5'3”) and my most strong recurrent memory is her looking at my grandpa (with the mischievous look) and saying, “Clay, go to hell!”

Yet she had FOUR male pen pals away at war (World War 2), all trying to woo her from afar... My grandpa was only her favorite of her hopeful suitors.



Breeding

I think this really only matters to climbers. I mean I get that it is only freaks like me who see it as a recommendation AGAINST somebody, but I think the only people who give a damn are the people who give a damn, if you know what I mean. I don't know... I haven't run across many, growing up in the west where everybody comes from lines of exiled mutts. There are some posers, but the rest of us sort of had a sixth sense for sniffing out that nonsense. [my apologies to any well bred bloggers who may have stumbled in here by accident. I would never hold it against you for BEING well-bred, only for CARING about being well-bred].

Whatever the case, my grandma was one of seven from a farming family in Iowa, outside a town that, as hinted above was VERY small (Seneca, maybe? *snickers* just looked that up and the population in 2000 was 649 and the location, not too far south of the Minnesota border is right, so yeah... Seneca.)



Personality

I think this is key, but I don't think it is the class clowns or (necessarily) the politicians, leaders, or star athletes. I think we are looking for something more subtle. I don't think charisma very often comes humor free, but I think the 'performers' have a contrary trait... as do a lot of the political sorts and leaders... the star athletes...

All those SORTS are attention centers. They draw all eyes to them.

I think charisma is entirely more subtle.

Charisma is a REFLECTION that makes people who come near the person feel important... it is true interest in conversations. It is remembering what people have said. It is making everybody encountered come away feeling like THEY are better. And this is no superficial complimenting thing... this is... well... it's charisma.


Writers

Yeahno... we don't have this. Well, maybe a couple *cough*Leigh*cough* but mostly we are too introverted. We are too lost in our tales to remember people with corporeal form.

But that doesn't mean this isn't useful... KNOWING this can help us with characters... you want a magnificent, charismatic lead? I suggest you show this NOT by the characteristics you bestow on your MC (other than an apparent sincere interest in others), but by the response others have... we don't want to inspire admiration or lust or envy, but a sense of BEING IMPORTANT, INTERESTING, SMART OR BEAUTIFUL because the admiration of our MC makes it so.

See, grandma, you didn't just help me. You're helping all my writer buddies! I love you!

29 comments:

Misha said...

Nice post!

I think there is another aspect to it though. Charisma is something that is just there.

Some people don't have to talk or do anything to draw attention. People just find them interesting...

Who knows why...

:-)

Her highness, Samantha Vérant said...

That is one funny picture of Charles! I think Charisma/Personality is important. It's like "voice" when writing. You either got it, or you don't! Hi! I'm doing the crusades too! Nice to meet you. ***waves*** Dare to Follow Your Heart

Ted Cross said...

Yeah, charisma is one of those things that can be hard to pin down, but we all know it when we see it. A person can walk into a room and light it right up. My wife is one of them. Everyone loves her. I've heard people say many times that a beautiful woman will naturally attract a lot of resentment from other women, but it doesn't seem to happen to my wife. She even started a Yahoo group in Beijing that ended up having more than two thousand members in less than two years. I'm not sure how I deserve her sometimes!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Good post on an interesting topic! I've never been able to pin down charisma, but I think you've done a good job here. There may also be an element of mystery to charismatic people--something that makes people want to try to figure out what makes them tick. Of course I *would* say that, considering how much I love mystery. :)

Hart Johnson said...

Misha-there are people like that, I think, and I'm not sure what that is...

Samantha-Welcome! Yeah... that pic of Charles sort of personifies my feelings on breeding... I will drop over to see you in a bit!

Ted-so your wife pulls it off both live and online? How interesting, but OF COURSE you deserve her!

Elizabeth-mystery, eh? I never would have thought of that. I think some have that and others, not really. The people I've known well aren't mysterious but I think you're right--some are.

Jessica Bell said...

Love this post. Charisma really is part of the 'it' factor people talk about. SOme people have it, some people don't! :o)

Old Kitty said...

Awww your lovely grandma! What a personality!! What a great tribute to her!!!! Take care
x

Hannah Kincade said...

You are so sweet. I love this post. I created a character once that someone just loved and I had no idea why, he was very ordinary. Maybe he had a little charisma? I do think that everyone gives off an energy of sorts. Some positive. Some negative. It can go both ways. Great post!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Charisma is possessing passion and pursuing your dream - inspiring others along the way.
And it's just a fun word to say!

Tara said...

I love this! I tried to show this with my MC - they way she is introverted, yet others really see something in her that she doesn't. Not sure it came across, but it wasn't overly important to this story. It will be in the next book, however. Great post.

Cheeseboy said...

You are so right on. I used to think I had charisma, but then my mom came downstairs and yelled at me for leaving the milk out. I was 25. It was a difficult realization.

February Grace said...

*hugs* thinking of you and your amazing Grandma!!!

xoxo
bru

Hart Johnson said...

Jessica-You got IT, baby!

Jenny-she really was fabulous! Thank you!

Hannah- energy is a good way to put it. I have a couple, too, that I think sort of have it.

Diane-that passion and pulling people into their dreams is a good one--definitely a side of it for people in the public arena who have it.

Tara-it's so hard to tell, isn't it? What have your readers said?

Abe *snicker* I think you've definitely got some of it, but suspect you got a bigger dose of that Class Clown thing...

Bur-THANK YOU!

Holly Ruggiero said...

I agree with the reflection. I was going to say it’s that they are genuine and you can see them listening to what you are saying.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Charisma - you got it!

Talli Roland said...

Big UGH on Charles. He doesn't have charisma, for sure!

Hart Johnson said...

Holly-totally agree with that listening bit--and ASKING, like they think you are the most interesting person in the world!

Alex-back atcha!

Talli-no, he doesn't. Diana did. She oozed it. I think that is why the world fell in love, even though she was just passably pretty and shy.

Ciara said...

This fascinates me because I have three sons, all with different charisma or lack-there-of. My eldest was born craving attention and I'm afraid to say he still longs for popularity and stardom. My middle will "tell" some one they like him and if they don't that is their problem (He is the one on the autistic spectrum. His way is the only way to live.) My youngest has this charisma thing. An unidentifiable trait that make people flock to him. My best friend has told me this for years. If we are ever late for preschool the entire class starts yelling when he comes in. They all want to sit with him at lunch, and his teacher pulled me aside to say "I shouldn't have favorites, but your son is the sweetest most precious child." ( I beg to differ, but that's another story. :) So, yes, my little monster seems to have this trait. Who knew I'd produce one. LOL

Cold As Heaven said...

It's hard to say exactly what charisma is, but it's definitely more than just physical attraction >:)

Cold As Heaven

Missed Periods said...

Is it wrong that I want to inspire admiration, lust and envy in others?

Julie Musil said...

Your grandma sounds like she was a special lady. I do know a couple of people with charisma (not me, by a long shot). They do fill the room when they enter, and they don't even try. Plus, these people make the person they're speaking with feel like they're the most important person in the world. What a great skill.

The photo of Loren...gorgeous. Photo of the Prince...appropriate!

M Pax said...

That factor is really hard to define, isn't it?

Happy birthday to your grandma. Grandparents are great. Now you have me thinking of mine. Great post :)

Arlee Bird said...

You've stated several factors that have a bearing upon charisma. Sometimes it just seems hard to explain why some people seem to have such charisma, but I guess they just have something others what a part of in hopes some of it might rub off on them.
Oh, here's one--how about how they smell.

Lee
the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011

Simon C. Larter said...

A little attitude goes a long way when it comes to charisma too, ne?

That's what I'm hoping, anyway. 'Course, it could just be my Napoleon complex talking, there. *shrugs*

Oh, and I was born in the year of the Rabbit. Apropos of one of your posts last week. Not sure what that means, but since it's technically my year, I should get on that writing thing so I can sub to agents this year while my stars are all aligned or my chakra's doing good stuff and my panties aren't in a wad. Or something.

Yes.

*nods*

P.S. Also, what Missed Periods said. *nods again*

jennymilch said...

Charisma isn't usually a trait associated with grandparents, at least not in my experience. I bet your grandmother would be so...tickled by this, Hart. Her apple cheeks would blush.

I don't care much for breeding either. Do we eveb have that in America?

Hart Johnson said...

Ciara-so funny how our kids are so different, isn't it? Mine both have charisma, I think, but in different forms. Daughter inspires jealousy and meanness from time to time, where son seems to cruise easy, even when he isn't always nice (which worries me, but I hope we have in hand)

CaH--very definitely!

MP--did you do the Monty Python initials on purpose? Because if so, well done... and yeah... there is a part of me who would just like to inspire straight jealousy... but for cleverness, I think...

Julie, oh she was! And I think that not trying is a key to it. We can tell when people are trying and it is annoying (at least to people like me who frown on ambition for ambition's sake)

Mary--glad you're thinking about your grandparents. All mine were wonderful, but this one was extra special.

Lee-SMELL!? ACK... that is all that wacky pherimone stuff! I'm not sure I can jump on board!

Simon-Happy birthday, Thumper! *snort* I think attitude DOES help, but it needs to be a sort of... who needs them, I'm my own person thing... And I suggest you give up panties. They are ALWAYS bunching...

Jenny-if you knew my grandma! Though I've actually met a fair few charismatic geriatrics... If you hit the 90+ group, you will find a bunch. They are the ones who live longer! As for breeding in America--have you ever met a Daughter of the American Revolution? *rolls eyes* Oh yeah... it's here... the old money crowd, too... Ivy League Legacies *cough*Bush*cough*--you find money dating pre-1900 and you find people who THINK they are bred.

Ella said...

I love this post, the description of your grandmother. I totally can't stand the breeding pedigree thing, ugh! I felt it at the last Navy function, I so wanted to dance on the table or do some shocking act, didn't, but wanted to. Stuffy...ick! I think it has something to do with being comfortable in your own skin, not so worried about what others think. One also has to be respectful, no table dancing, lol! Unless everyone is... YOU Hart have IT!

Adina West said...

Great post Hart - and I think you're right about the best way to present a charismatic character to the reader - show how others react to them.

Your grandmother sounds like she was a very special lady.

LTM said...

crap. And here I missed all the love being up to my ears in revisions and family coming and sick kids and sick self...

I feel my charisma flagging. :p But dahling, you? ALWAYS charismatic~ and delightfully nekkid. xoxo (((hugs))) And happy belated birthday to dear Alyse~