Those who know my various writings and works know that everything I create has a character-based origin. That is to say, I let characters be the driving factor of my stories… they are what designs my worlds, cultures and even my plot. Because character is the pillar on which my creative works stand, it’s very important for my characters to be able to stand on their own. I’d like to hope that they’re likeable (or dislikeable), strong, vibrant and alive to my readers. No matter how fictitious the circumstances they are put into, I want my characters to remain
true and alive… acting and reacting like real people would.
When I create a character (on purpose or by accident), I do it from the inside out. Rarely do I know what a character looks like until after I have discovered their motivations, desires, dreams and personality. To me, the saying “It’s what’s inside that counts” is 100% true. You can design a character that looks totally awesome… but if they are nothing but a flat, 2D character, there will be nothing there to keep readers feeling and connecting to that character.
I view character personality as two aspects:
- Major Personality
- Minor Personality Traits
This is the TYPE of person your character is — the rules by which your character always acts, reacts and views his/her world. These are the foundational laws of the character’s soul, things that you must abide by at all times as an Author. Once you have established these rules, if you break them, your readers may feel as if you’re “writing out of character.”
In old tabletop games, sometimes this was considered a character’s alignment. But it goes a little deeper than Good/Evil/Neutral. What are your character’s major motivations? How did the environment and community (or lack of) during childhood develop them? Did any major events in their life impress something upon them that has changed how they view the world? Etc…
These are the big questions.
Don’t know how to define your character’s Major Personality? Here’s a place to start for some basic ideas: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality questionnaire designed to identify certain psychological differences according to the typological theories of Carl Gustav Jung as published in his 1921 book Psychological Types (English edition, 1923). The original developers of the indicator were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, who initially created the indicator during World War II, believing that a knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time identify the sort of war-time jobs where they would be “most comfortable and effective.”
At the site below, it lists 16 different personality types as an overview… and links to more in-depth explanations about each type. Though I wouldn’t hold fast to all the rules of these definitions, this is a good place to start thinking about who your character is or will be and why they are the way they are.
High-Level Description of the Sixteen Personality Types
Minor Personality Traits
These are the little quirks that add to the Major Personality type that help to flesh your character out and make him/her human. For me, these sometimes develop as I get to know the character better – just like you start to learn about all the cool and annoying things about people around you the longer you spend near them. And just like real people, characters should have their share of both cool and annoying traits.
There are so many different things that can make up the minor traits:
- Do they have a special laugh?
- A craving for a certain food?
- An unnatural fear?
- An overwhelming desire triggered by something in everyday life?
- A favorite childhood hero?
- A silly hobby they wish to keep secret?
- A musical instrument they like to play?
- A favorite song, TV show or game they annoy everyone else to tears about?
- Is there something they seriously just suck at doing?
- Is there someone they wish they could be like but are not?
- Is there something they think they are good at but fall short at?
It’s a list of both the good and bad things that make them more human. Look at people around you… or even yourself. You can see these traits, borrow and change them and mesh them into the overall personality of your character to give them so much more depth than just knowing that someone is cheerful and responsible, shy and manipulative or angry and reckless.
If you’re coming up short handed, here’s a neat forum post that can give you some quirky ideas. I’m sure there’s more out there somewhere!
Do you have a character that you feel is flat and uninteresting? Give them a personality quirk and delve back to find out why it’s there.
Even if the character cannot express why they feel angry every time they see yellow curtains… something in their life happened to create this quirky response. And it’s up to you as the Author to explore to get to the root of the quirk. Doing this allows your character to tell you his/her story and may help you discover layers of personality you didn’t even know exist!
It’s a fun thing to try to jump-start some details of your character’s personality.