The Joy of Lists

I want to finish my overview Marc McCutcheon’s book  Building Believable Characters today, despite the fact that there’s still a lot to cover. The entire second half of the book is lists. Lots of lists. I love lists, so this is a great book for me. Here’s what you’d find if you bought the book:

Need a Society or Association for your protagonist to belong to, but you can’t think of one? McCutcheon has 3.5 pages of them for you to choose from. Does your protagonist need a college degree, but you don’t know which one? There’s a list of them in the book, along with their appropriate abbreviation. 
(this barista courtesy of
The next list is an Occupations Inventory. Does one of your characters need a job, but you want something uncommon? You’ll find it on this list. Along with the standard accountant, bank teller, and waitress, you’ll also find gems like these: allergist, antique dealer, bagel maker, B&B owner, cartoonist, diver, grifter, hypnotist, loanshark, midwife, panhandler, radio deejay, septic tank cleaner, and tree surgeon. There are 11 pages to thumb through, so chances are, you’ll find the perfect occupation for your character.
Chapter 3 is all about Facial Expressions, Body and Vocal Language. Need to show your character is angry without saying “he’s angry?” Look at the list in this book. Need great body language to convey pain? There’s a list in this book. Need a facial expression for someone who’s in love? You get the point. This chapter is full of stuff that you might not need every day, but when you need a different way of showing someone’s facial expression when they’re drunk, this book can help. Then there’s a list of all the ways to show Smiles and Grins. I’m not kidding. It also covers laughs, movements and gestures.
Chapter 4 is simply called Dress. Need the word for that contraption women wore in the late 1800’s that made their butts look massive? That word is in this book. Need to know the name of a short evening dress with a low neckline? This book’s got it. I didn’t realize there were so many ways to name skirts, pants, shorts, jackets, undergarments, foot gear, head gear, and eye wear, but this book has got a ton of great words related to anything you could put on your body AND the description. It’s kind of fun to browse for new words.
Chapter 5 is Dialects and Foreign Speech. If you’ve got a character from the southern US, there’s a short list of useful words and their pronunciations. Need a Brit in your story? There’s a list of uniquely British words and what they mean in American English, as well as a handy pronunciation guide. There’s also a small sample of words in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian, but there isn’t a pronunciation guide to go with those. 
Chapter 6 is a dandy list of Given Names and Surnames from Around the World. There are 25 pages of names to choose from, both last names and first names. I’ve seen entire books devoted simply to names, so this is pretty slim. It doesn’t give the meanings of the names, either. It’s just a list for you to mix and match, and it could help if you need a quick something for a secondary character.
The last chapter (7, if you’re following along) is a 2-page list of Homes and their descriptions. Need to know the name of a clay and straw brick home common in the American Southwest? It’s adobe, and it’s on the list. Need to know the slang term for a saltbox? It’s a catslide house. Need to know what a saltbox is? Now you know where to find it.
I love having this book in my resource library. I don’t need it often, but when I do need it, I find my answers. 

2 thoughts on “The Joy of Lists

  1. BUSTLE!!! 🙂

    Sounds like a great resource to have, either for finding something specific or for skimming through to see if something jumps out and sticks to your forehead. Thanks for the recommendation!

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