How to Give Your Characters More Personality

If you are a fellow NaNo, you may have bumped into a few new characters this week.  Or maybe you realized that you didn’t know your protagonist as well as you thought you did.  Either way, I have a tool  that will help you discover more about your characters in less time than the average character sketch.

Before I changed my concentration to English, I was a psychology major.  I spent a lot of time researching the great psychologists and trying to understand their tests and theories.  To be honest, I thought most of what I was learning was pointless.  I could apply very little to what I wanted to do with my life.  However, I did stumble across one tool that made six semesters of grueling psych classes completely worth it.

During my third semester, I had to write a paper on Jung’s typology.  Carl G. Jung (pronounced “young”) wrote the book Psychological Types, which explores different personality types.  Others used his work to produce various personality tests.  My favorite of these – and, perhaps, the most popular – is the Myers-Brigs Type Indicator (MBTI).  This test determines how people perceive the world and make decisions.

 But, why should a writer care about this?

 Because our characters need to be as human as possible, and the MBTI, if used correctly, will give you a much better understanding of your character.

This is my favorite test, because it is fast, and it has a lot of great information about each personality.

Personality Pathways

The test has four sets of questions that help users determine whether they are an extrovert/introvert, sensor/intuitive, thinker/feeler, or judger/perceiver.  I suggest you take the test for each of your major characters and for most of your supporting characters (it only takes five to ten minutes).  At the end of the test, you will have a four letter personality code that will tell you what personality your character has.  Then, you will be directed to a profile that will give your character a title – such as the Director or the Strong/Silent – and you will also find a biography for your character with very useful information, such as which occupation would be most suitable, which people he/she may be attracted to, etc.

After discovering the MBTI, I printed the questionnaire and all of the biographies associated with each personality type.  Whenever I start to create a character, I just pull my binder and open it to the personality test.  I collect my code and flip back to the bios and other information (like strengths/weaknesses, relationships, etc.).  It is by far the quickest way for me to create a well-rounded character.

This test, though useful, does not give your character traits, fears, goals, etc.  For those, you will have to dig deeper.  But, it will help you determine more about what kinds of fears and goals your character might have.  For example, the ENTJ personality type is enthusiastic about learning.  They may fear losing a scholarship or having dementia later in life.  They may aspire to be a scholar.  The ISFP, on the other hand, is very private, warm, and loving.  ISFPs may depend more on their mate than the other personality types, so they may fear losing their mate or never gaining one to begin with.  They also need more personal space than other types, and may aspire to have their own studio one day.

I highly suggest you give this tool a try.  It has helped me tremendously.

It is also fun to see what personality type you are.  I’m an ISFJ.  What are you?

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