When you’re writing a character, you’re essentially creating a person out of thin air. A person based on others, perhaps, but you are responsible for everything that character is or will become either consciously or unconsciously.
There are a ridiculous amount of layers within people, and these layers are developed as a result of experiences, genetics, upbringing, relationships, appearance, and aspirations.
When you’re creating a character, you are responsible for giving him this background which is a daunting task to say the least, and for each character trait you think through and plan, there are a whole lot more that will never cross your mind.
How do I get to know my characters?
As you’re developing a character, one really interesting way to get to know him is to put him through a personality test.
In doing so, you’ll delve much deeper into his psyche than you could if you just give him blond hair and blue eyes and move on with the novel.
Types of personality tests:
While I’m sure there are more, the few that I’ve been researching lately are The Big Five, The Personality Type Test (Myers-Briggs), Enneagram, and Human Design.
The Big Five Personality Test
The Big Five Personality Test evaluates personality based on, you guessed it, five different factors:
- Openness-People high in this trait are open to new experiences and are more comfortable with abstract thought whereas people who are low in openness tend to stick to tradition and what they know and prefer to avoid abstract or theoretical concepts in favor of the concrete.
- Conscientiousness-Those high in conscientiousness are detail and deadline oriented. Organized and aware of their effect on others, they are in contrast to those low in this trait who are more scattered, less concerned about details, dislike schedules, and tend to procrastinate.
- Extraversion-This essentially rates the extent to which a person desires to be social. Those high in this trait are uplifted by social interaction and seek out opportunities to engage with others. Those low in extraversion tend to avoid social situations and will need some quiet time to decompress after being around large groups.
- Agreeableness-People high in agreeableness have a high level of concern for others. They are focused on helping people and are sensitive to the feelings of others. People low in agreeableness lack concern for others and may manipulate them, using them as a tool for their own benefit.
- Neuroticism-This trait measures the degree to which someone experiences stress and worry. Emotional instability is characteristic of those high in neuroticism. Those low in this trait are more emotionally stable, bounce back quickly after stressful situations, and are more relaxed.
If you’ve seen the rash of people on Instagram adding letters to their profiles such as INFP or ENFJ, you’ve already seen the results of a Myers-Briggs personality test. This test, based on the research of early 20th century psychologist Carl Jung, is used to show that “much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment” (Source).
The Myers-Briggs test breaks people down as follows:
- Extraversion vs. Introversion- Someone either leans towards socializing and being outgoing or avoiding social situations and preferring to be alone or with a small group of well known people, whether their focus is on the outer world or their own inner world.
- Sensing vs. Intuition- While some tend to focus on just taking in information from the outside world at face value, others add their own meaning and interpretation.
- Thinking vs. Feeling- Logic is paramount to some while others focus on the emotion in a given situation. The degree to which you focus on logic and reason over emotions and the feelings of others determines whether your personality falls into thinking or feeling.
- Judging vs. Perceiving- Those with judging personalities prefer to evaluate information and make decisions while those with perceiving personalities take in information and stay open to new ideas and options.
While we’re on the topic of Instagram, a bunch of enneagram accounts have been popping up. This test is another great resource when it comes to writing characters. Answering the questions as the character can determine if he is:
- A Reformer
- A Helper
- An Achiever
- An Individualist
- An Investigator
- A Loyalist
- An Enthusiast
- A Challenger
- A Peacemaker
Digging into the Enneagram would take hours, but a basic overview is that everyone is born with a dominant personality type and understanding and working with this orientation can aid in how you view and interact with the world and others.
Understanding the characters’ dominant personality types will help you guide them through your novel while deepening and fully rounding out their personalities regardless of how much they actually show up in the story.
Your Human Design is calculated by entering your date and time of birth into a Human Design calculator such as mybodygraph.com. Human Design was a system that Ra Uru Hu (originally Alan Krakower) developed after hearing “the Voice” that inspired him to combine principles of The I Ching, astrology, Kabbalah, Hindu-Brahmin chakra system, and quantum physics to form a system that shows your genetic design.
The four types are:
This one is a little trickier since your character likely doesn’t have a birthday, but it could be a useful tool in character development. But, you could dig into the four different types, decide which one most reflects your character and then decide his birthday based on his Human Design.
I’m not sure that it would be necessary, but looking into the characteristics and traits along with tips for working with a person’s Human Design might help you get ideas for your character.
How does a personality test help me build my characters?
Each personality test asks a wide range of questions geared towards evaluating a person’s core personality. Taking a personality test from the perspective of your characters will force you to give them life experiences that you may not have otherwise thought of.
You’ll have to decide if they draw attention to themselves, follow a schedule, question the wisdom of their elders, and have a vivid imagination. And with each decision you make (or they make for you), you’re getting a better understanding of the people they are.
Whether or not you actually use the personality type in the story or do any additional research doesn’t really matter. The point is that as you answer questions from his perspective, you’ll get to understand this person you’ve created on a deeper level that will allow you to write them with more depth and purpose.
Links for Further Research
If you’re like me and end up with 236345 tabs open on your computer as you go down the rabbit hole of…anything, really, here are some articles I used while writing this article. Follow that rabbit!
Truity-This is a great place to take the Big Five and Myers-Briggs tests
The Big Five Personality Traits
How the Enneagram System Works
The Four Types-Strategy & Aura