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Creating personalities for characters

Characterisation1

I am creating personalities for fictional people in retrospect. I should have completed this a long time ago.

It is important to know what kind of personality each of your characters has. You need to know how your fictional people react differently to different situations, just like real people have different reactions.

Essentially this means that you need to get to know your characters. You could answer interview-type questions while pretending to be them. It’ll get you thinking the way that they think. There are some excellent questionnaires you could fill out to figure out your characters’ ins and outs. I like this one. It is very comprehensive and while you don’t need to write something in every box, it will certainly get you thinking.

But usually I just try to figure this out in terms of personality type. It is a simpler starting place and I don’t need to wonder what my character’s favourite colour is when I could be thinking about their moral code.

One of the best-known personality-type breakdowns is the Meyers-Briggs. Here is a infographic that breaks down the breakdown nicely, even though it focuses on income level.

Just keep in mind if you use this to create personalities, that, as with everything else psychology and gender and that kind of stuff, the Meyers-Briggs is a sliding-scale. No-one is ever going to fit perfectly into a type. There are only 16 boxes and humans are infinitely complicated. You can only determine which type you or your characters fit in best; in other words, the type that works better than all of the others.

So with that out of the way, how do you use these 16 boxes to create characters?

I usually do this, at least in rough, before I start writing. However, the draft I am working on now was the one I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2014, the one year I went into it without a single idea what I was going to write about. The characters emerged through the writing and I didn’t have time to plan their differences or quirks. That means many of them are rather bland at the moment and I have to go back and turn them into people.

When you plan properly you can have your characters and their personality types nicely outlined before you start writing. While you could just read type descriptions, pick one you like and write a character according to that, an easy way to figure out what the personality of the character you have already pictured in your head is, you can take a simple test while pretending to be your character and see what results you get.

However, if you already have characters, like me, and you want their personality types, you might have to reverse-engineer them. While I could also technically take a test and see what comes up, my ideas of many of my characters are so vague at the moment that I won’t be able to answer minute questions about their reactions to certain situations.

Here is how to reverse-engineer a character type: firstly, read the image below to see the pairs you need to determine.

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For 99% of characters the easiest pair to choose from is the Extraversion/Introversion pair. Most people know whether they are extroverts or introverts and it is the same for characters. Then you just do the same for the three remaining pairs and combine the four letters you will get to find out what type you ended up with. The last step is to read the description for that type to see if it is what you wanted.

So, I’ve been doing that to my characters. And this is the weird bit. After I spent all that time reverse-engineering my main character, I realised that I’d accidentally given her my own type: INTJ.

That is something that I have never done before for a main character in all the years I have been personality-analysing characters. Actually I have been purposely avoiding it, but, as I said, last year I didn’t plan properly. Why would I avoid this? Well, mostly because most fictional people with this type tend to be villains and I didn’t want to go that route. This article gives a very good description of this problem (and also mentions that the INTJ is one of the hardest characters to write, so that’s… worrying…)

Maybe it is a good thing that I’ve been avoiding this type until now. It is one of the rarer types (though a very common type among writers, according to Google) so I shouldn’t overuse it. But even though I share a personality type with my main character, we are still very different people. That’s important to remember. Just because you look at the world the same way, that does not mean you have the same morals or the same background. Personality type is only a starting point, it is not the be-all and end-all.

I hope this was helpful. Personality is what makes us… people. I wanted to say human, but of course it is not just humans who have personality. And it is the people who make stories memorable. Marvel Studios proved this last year with their Guardians of the Galaxy, when a walking tree with a vocabulary of three words managed to steal everybody’s heart. It was not the looks or the lack of speech that was memorable, it was the personality – the heart – that made him a person.

This becomes especially important when you are writing in genres where you have different fantasy races. Your fantasy race will be memorable because of personality, not looks.

Talk soon,

Signat

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2 responses

  1. Thanks for mentioning my INTJ character article, Elana. I like that you’re taking so much trouble to get your character right. Good luck! And happy writing 🙂

    March 20, 2015 at 07:29

    • Thank you so much and also for stopping by! 🙂

      March 21, 2015 at 00:10

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