We all want characters that are complex, relatable and realistic. It’s a tall order but definitely achievable, although it does take a little time and thought. Getting to know your protagonist, antagonist and all those secondary characters that are a person-in-their-own-right-but-strategically-complement-some-key-point means acknowledging that human personality is multi-faceted and intricate. But also fascinating.
In the world of psychology personality refers to the pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we consistently exhibit over time. These attributes strongly influence our expectations, self-perceptions and values, and predict our reactions to other people, problems, and stress. Which is why you need to know your characters personality type. Knowing how they’re going to react to all the small thing and all the big things that you’ll put them through in the name of an emotional character arc or a humorous scene or saving the world means you’ll nail one of the pillars of a great book. Characterisation.
The psychology of personality embodies the challenge of every psychologist. We love to put people in neat little boxes but conversely, we celebrate and nurture humanity’s infinite individualism. So nailing your characters personality is about the broad brush strokes – like where they are on the extraversion/introversion continuum – but also the little details, the unique idiosyncrasies that make your character unforgettable and real. Which is where personality tests can be part of your arsenal of tools in creating a character deserving of your creative sweat and tears. Simply slip on their shoes, get in their head, and fill in the questionnaire as they are answering the questions. I use these when I’m stuck, when I’m not sure what the best occupation for my character’s father is, or when I want to add that third dimension to their rather cardboard personality.
This one is my favourite. I’ve used it just as much for my secondary characters as the primary character who leaps into my mind whether I like it or not. Based on the Myers-Briggs theory of personality, the 60-question 16 Personalities test asks you to indicate how much you agree with statements like “You cannot stand chaos.” Your answers determine where you fall on four spectrums: extroverted/introverted, sensing/intuitive, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving.
You can put yourself in your characters shoes and complete the questionnaire, but I’ve also simply gone to their summary of the personality types, found the one that fitted my character the most, and then dove into the fabulous information on their strengths and weaknesses, how they behave in romantic relationships, and their likely career paths and work habits.
This one is interesting and would be appeal to all those that have an abstract/artistic personality type (no, I don’t score high on those measures…). This test is predicated on the assumption that your favourite colour can reveal a lot about your personality. It’s quick and straightforward, you simply rank 36 colour blocks from most to least preferred and vice versa. Depending on whether you feel your character would fill this out quickly and impulsively, or slowly and thoughtfully, within a few or several minutes you’ll reveal profile details that indicate the strength of their creativity, intelligence, and organisation and decision-making skills.
This is one good if your short on time and you want a quick snap shot. I like this one because it’s based on the Big 5 Personality Traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience, which in the pscyh world, has a lot of science behind it and (if you’re qualified AND willing to pay) far more exhaustive psychometric tests based on it. In a total of 10 multiple choice questions you’ll learn where your character sits on the above five evidence-based personality traits and what that means for them.
I’d love to hear how you went. Did you put one of your characters through one of these tests (after you did yourself of course…)? Comments and feedback are always appreciated. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.
Have a wonderful week,