Designing Susie's Voice

by Ellen Birdwell

Designing Susie’s Voice

As we thought further about how Susie would “sound” when she interacted with writers, we also realized that we needed tutors to be able to successfully conduct chat sessions as Susie long after those who initially created her had graduated. We had already discovered that we had different tutorial styles: while some of us could do dry humor or puns very successfully, others could not. A distinct voice, then, needed markers that stood out, but were also easy to replicate.

Susie Walkarounds—Getting Physical

We felt it was important to create a personality that meshed with Susie’s physical appearance. My fellow tutor and collaborator, Britney, decided to take our life-sized version of Susie Queue around campus, asking those she met how they would describe her. Words like “cute,” “smart,” and “cheerful” frequently came up. There were also negative reactions, like “snobby,” and we wanted to make sure that perception wouldn’t last. This prompted one of the distinctive features of Susie’s voice—her cheerfulness.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator—Creating a Touchstone:

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a well-respected tool for helping individuals understand their own personalities and the personalities of others. Thus, it’s a perfect tool for creating the framework for a fictional character.

The MBTI posits 16 personality archetypes; an individual’s archetype can be arrived at through a personality test. Since we already had a general sense of who Susie was, we were able to take the quiz for her. Her result was that she was an ENFJ—a teacher.

Interestingly, almost everyone in our Center shared three or more of Susie’s letters, meaning that everyone could identify with Susie’s reactions. Without going into an in-depth discussion, some generalizations about an ENFJ personality explain why it fits Susie so well. ENFJs are typically outgoing, caring and people-oriented. A virtual tutor needs to quickly connect with writers; she must be friendly and caring. Also, ENFJs often use global patterns to guide details, similar to an online tutor finding a writer’s actual point of need; this pattern also matches writing center theory. Procedurally, an ENFJ’s highly structured nature fits well since tutors writing as Susie often follow set processes to answer basic types of questions.

The Internet hosts a great deal of content about the MBTI, so we were able to find a description we liked to use as a touchstone for her reactions.

Facebook Profile—Compiling Details

Creating Susie’s Facebook profile gave us another structured method for giving her life. The activity pushed us to answer all the specific questions people regularly use to define themselves, down to favorite musical groups and other interests. Most people have an intuitive sense of the difference between girls who like boy bands and women who like classic rock, and the Facebook profile gave us an opportunity to fill this out. Also, consideration of the medium in which Susie exists—the Internet—and the way people actually communicate there, gave rise to another voice distinction. Susie makes extensive use of emoticons, which constitute an important way to communicate emotional tone.

The Role of Intuition

Throughout the process, we grew in our intuitive understanding of what Susie was like. More and more, people separated their own preferences from the sorts of things Susie would prefer. Thus, even though we are all cat people, when the question was raised, we all knew that Susie had a dog. That he would be named Wilde, after Oscar Wilde, was also immediately obvious, as was the fact the he is small, fluffy, and white.

characteristics of susie's voice

being susie guide
revising susie

Chat with Susie Susie's Facebook PageEmail the Writing CenterReferencesA Virtual Tutor Implementation Guide