Posted in Blog Post Museum

Character Development Tips for Fiction Writing: Personality

musemThis post is part of a blog museum, archiving old writing from a previous blog.

 

An Array of My Characters' Personalities
An Array of My Characters’ Personalities

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

Major Personality

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.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

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!

http://www.geekculture.com/ultimatebb/Forum9/HTML/000170.html

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.

Author:

I'm a technical writer by day, gaming gal by night. I have a wide array of gaming interests, though I most often blog about MMOs, RPGs, and Nintendo fanstuffs. Like what you just read? Check out my Webcomic and Fantasy Fiction projects! https://aywren.com/fantasy-fiction-webcomics/

21 thoughts on “Character Development Tips for Fiction Writing: Personality

  1. Nice post!

    The funny thing is, I tend to get a picture in my head first. I know, probably weird. But I usually take that picture and, like you said, delve back and figure out why it’s there. Why they look that way, why they wear the expression they have, why they are so striking in my mind . . . that kind of thing. I thought it was interesting how you don’t get a picture until AFTER your character’s made, and how I seem to be the opposite usually for some reason 😄

    I like seeing different ways to do writing, because I’m still learning, and I’ve been LOOKING for a good character building thing, so this post was fun! Thanks!

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Stormcloud! And welcome to my blog. I have a whole line of character creation articles waiting in the wings (no pun intended) that I’ll be posting up over time.

    You’re not the first person to mention getting a visual image of their character first. Every now and then, visual comes first for me, too. But often, it’s a quirk or personality trait. Sometimes it’s an intense emotional feeling or even a personality trait attached to a situation that the character has been through. After getting the feeling for the character, I usually have to scrabble to figure out what they would look like visually.

    One character that I drew before I knew (poet and don’t know it) was Kudako from Dreigiau. I’ll admit that he was a character developed out of plot necessity… and the poor guy, it really showed. It took me 3 or so years to really get a feel for who he was and where he was developing. As much as I love Kudako, I don’t think I’ll ever force-create a character’s design before personality again.

    Is it easier for you to start out visually?

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  3. Oooooooh yeah. Much easier for me to start out visually. That’s how I get a feel for things, really. Visual details . . .

    I think a lot of it is that I’m never NOT thinking about how they look, so it’s impossible for me to think up their personality first. When I write, it’s mostly me explaining the actions that I see in my head. And that sort of requires knowing what my characters look like. The good ones anyway.

    How does it work for you? Do you see the action, or make up the action?

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  4. Sorry, I think I missaid my last sentence. I meant do you see the action in your head first, then write about it, or do you make up the action, then see it, then write about it, or something else?

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  5. Well, I usually have a very strong image in my mind of a character by the time I go to write for them. I have either drawn and colored profile pictures or at least created a basic sketch for what that character looks like. After being inspired by personality, the very first thing I do is sit down and start attributing physical traits to those feelings.

    As for visualizing action, that’s pretty situational. Sometimes, I have pre-designed action that I know is going to happen in a piece of writing. For example, I generally know what the last blows of a one-on-one battle I’m going to write will be. So I know ahead of time what that will look like.

    But I don’t always know all the actions that will lead up to that final blow — battles aren’t made up of just one blow (usually). When it comes to the unknown action, and I’m writing well, generally I don’t pre-visualize… but I do “see” them as I write them. Very much like a movie. Often I’ll be just as surprised as the reader to see how characters act and react. For me, the more emotion tied to an action, the easier it is for me to visual the body language, poster and action of that character (and to write these things).

    Needless to say, emotional connection to my characters is a very big part of my writing.

    How about for you?

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  6. Ah, I think your right that it’s situational. There are times, lots of times, when my writing surprises me. But everything seems to play out in my head while I write, or right before I write it down, even when it does surprise me. That’s how my brain works. Does this make any sense?

    Yay for beginning sketches! I have to do that sometimes, or the character won’t write for me (much to my frustration.)

    I definitely agree on the emotion aspect. No emotion, dead book. In my opinion. Usually. There could be exceptions. I’m sounding kind of weird. But, writing is weird sometimes.

    AHEM. And I must say, emotion is obvious in your characters. I love Ben 😄 I love all the others, too, but especially Ben. Ben! 😄

    I’m still confused about how I do my characters, so I can’t really say much when it comes to my connection with them. I do know that when I write, they have emotion, and I know that they seem real to me, but I don’t know how I get there, or if they just pop up . . . or what.

    Like I said, I’m still beginning, so I’m still figuring all this stuff out. So sometimes people say a certain way that works for them, and at first I disagree, then I realize I DO do it, just in a different perspective. So, sometimes when I explain it sounds weird or disrespectful (I’ve had a few people get mad at me, heh <:D)

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  7. Aww… I’m happy there are folks that love Ben — seeing he’s my oldest figment in terms of development and I’ve had a lot of new characters come along since then that tend to take the fore-front. He’s somewhat quieter than the others… but you know what they say: Still waters run deep.

    Creation is a very fickle thing when you give it free reign to do as it pleases. What you describe makes perfect sense to me — when I’m writing well, it is as if I’m a spectator to the story, and the characters are the ones living and breathing the scene in reality. I’m just following behind them, tapping away at the keyboard and trying to get everything down as it comes. That’s when I know I’ve hit a streak of inspiration. Writing is no longer work or struggle — it flows and comes as it should.

    Some of the most amazing realizations in my stories come to me when I’m not looking for them, as the characters stand their ground or choose to take a tangent I didn’t foresee. That’s why I make it a habit to leave any outlining I do very very loose. I find that all I need to do is give my characters a basic direction to move… I have learned to trust them to show me the best way to get there.

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  8. You don’t do strict, detailed outlines?! YAY! FINALLY! Every person I’ve talked to, even the writing professors, tell me I have to have a detailed outline before I can begin. I’ve always ignored them, and been better for it as far as I can tell, but it’s so nice to know somebody else out there does what I do! Because constricting characters . . . doesn’t really work. I just have the general idea of what they’re doing, or going to do, and let them play it out.

    I love when the writing flows. It’s so much fun! I have gotten to that spectator stage a few times, and I usually struggle to keep up! That’s also when the characters are most real.

    Yes, I love Ben (Have I made it too obvious yet? Haha.) I think it’s because he tries so hard, and never gives up, and because he deals with so much and NEVER gives up. And he’s so cute and innocent about so many things, and it’s obvious he wants to be the best person he can be, even if he sometimes can’t believe that he will ever be that (yes you will Beeeeen!!!!!) I’ve enjoyed watching him grow from the mentality of a kid to a grownup (or . . . well, close to a grownup?) throughout Wayrift. I just reread it, and he grows quite a bit! And I love his hair. But that’s a material thing 😄

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  9. Nope… I really can’t say there’s one “way” I build a character. If I’m being forced to crank out short stories for class, the person and their story develop simultaneously as I just kick around ideas. (Even these one-shot characters stay in my head. It gets pretty crowded.)

    As for my longer projects, where my time-proven figments come from… Most of them have been in my head so long that I can’t say where they began. I have the original sketches for Joi and Telion somewhere, I know, and I remember that Tath wasn’t supposed to be a lasting character at all– but as soon as he appeared, I knew that he’d stay. He then became the inspirational catalyst for the ENTIRE story of KoH and RS, because his existence raised so many questions.

    Most of them start with a pretty basic nature that grows more complex the more time I spend with them. I’ve found that I never really know them, no matter how many years they’ve been spinning around in my head, until I sit down and write. That’s when I find out what’s really going on.

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  10. I guess I’m different again.
    When I was considerably younger, I had a figment I would drop into whatever story I was reading, and just see where it went. A little later, when I started dreaming up my own situations and roleplaying occasionally, it was the same character that would slowly metamorphose into something slightly different. Eventually, the original one would become different enough that they became a separate character – which left me with two figments.

    My characters, literally, bud.

    I’ve got to this present point with a fairly clear idea of seven archetypes. I can assign any character of mine to a melding of two or more of these archetypes, but that’s not to say they’re not different.

    When I begin, I tend to have very little idea of where a figment comes from. It’s simply a set of traits and reactions that, I will admit, are often a bit flat. I get a pretty solid image of what they look like at the same time. Background, quirks and even name are fluid for a very long time, and only start to develop when they interact with other characters. Two of my oldest characters – one of at least 10 years, the other about 8 – recently acquired a new name and a major change in background respectively.

    Back to the point… the other, much rarer way I get characters, is as complement or contrast to existing ones. This type appeared in my NaNo last year, when I didn’t have the luxury of several years to develop them. I had my two main characters, with a vague concept of one more, but no real way to develop them or even show what they’re like, beyond the facets they’d show each other.
    I was saved by the way that I tend to get brief images of characters saying phrases, or doing something. I ended up building the other two most significant figments by filling in the gaps to give me the outline I needed to take them further.

    I have run into the same issue as Wren with Kudako. Two of the characters in my longest-running storyline are… nothing more than shells still. And another, originally created simply as an opponent to the main character took a very long time to develop any significant personality. I love him to bits now, and he’s one of my most interesting figments, but it’s still rather harder for me to get into his head than most of the rest.

    Though to be honest, however annoying or antagonistic I would find them in real life… I love all of my figments. It’s what lets them realise themselves in my head.

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  11. I dub thee Ven the Figment-Budder.

    No, really, that was fascinating… My sister’s had that happen with one character before, but I never imagined having them all spark off from each other!

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  12. That just goes to show you that creativity has many, many ways of manifesting.

    There’s no right or wrong, Stormcloud. It’s all about something that comes from within yourself. Therefore, what works for someone else might not work for you at all! If you write better with a very loose outline, go for it.

    Outlines, to me, are for essay papers. Outlines do help you to organize your thoughts and plot important points throughout the story. But if you worry so much about organization that your poor figments can’t breathe… well, that’s not good.

    It’s really about experimenting and finding what works best for you!

    Ven’s way of character development is vastly different from anything I would have thought (thanks so much for sharing your budding technique, Ven!). But hey, it works for her! It’s a neat idea to have archetypes as a structure for character creation.

    I usually start with personality and eventually develop that character towards an archetype. Very often, I do what I can to blur archetypes… ignore them… break them. It makes it a little more difficult to pin down exactly what “kind” of character they are sometimes, but that’s the fun of it!

    Thanks for stopping by, KJ! I don’t know that I could deal with short-story figments hanging around in my head. Most the characters I wrote about for my fiction classes were pretty superficial. I kinda put something out there just to get the grade… but I never risked writing about the sorts of things that I post on the net. Students back then didn’t quite get the fantasy-anime type movement… I was somewhat on the fringe back then. It’s changed a lot since I got my first degree.

    Stormcloud: Oh, and about Ben. I’m glad you feel like you see a lot of development for him through Wayrift. The truth is, that’s only just begun. The Ben you see in Wayrift is a reflection of Ben as he was years ago. My figments age in real time… so seven or so years back, Ben was a lot different from how he is now. He really did mature on me… and I’m proud of the person he’s become now.

    He still has his innocence and love of the child-like ways… but he’s learned how to love others and himself… and make the best of his bad experiences by helping other people. He’s become someone who often supports and offers advice to other people he sees struggling, some in situations that have been similar to him. He has a lot of hope in others, even those who are redeeming themselves, and tends to be a source of comfort when he can be.

    That’s not to say he’s perfect or he has all the answers. He’s smart enough not to call himself wise. But there is a wisdom about him that he didn’t have before. He’s found peace in who he is… found love in those around him… found family (that will soon be broadening again!)… I’d say he’s not at the end of his journey. But he’s come quite a long way.

    I used to say that Ben was the figment that mirrored myself the most. But now, I feel as if he’s the figment that I wish I could be most like. 🙂

    How about you guys? Do you have inspiring figments sometimes?

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  13. Inspiring… is a difficult term to interpret. Mine mostly tends to come from the odd little phrases that pop into my head and just won’t go away. They only seem to come from a few characters though, so you could call them inspiring.

    Closest, though, would probably be my ‘original main’ character, in that he has a habit of sparking off new storylines in different guises and personalities. It’s something that even as their author, I find confusing… something like a sense of deja vu. They’re very different in personality and outlook, but they’re still links in the chain.

    Or… I could say another character, again from my first real storyline. But that’s more because whenever rewriting pops into my head, I get the distinct impression of her standing there going, “I DIED to make sure that Rhys had a chance, the least YOU could do is keep writing…”
    (I don’t get inspiring figments, I get aggressive persistent ones? >>; )

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  14. Ven, I just realized something. When I’m just thinking of random stories, and the few times I do struggle with how people look in my head . . . I actually have default characters O.o

    I didn’t realize I had a character template. 😄

    Normally, those stories don’t go anywhere, until I change the characters from my default buddies to their real counterparts. I think that’s what I forgot.

    “I DIED to make sure that Rhys had a chance, the least YOU could do is keep writing…”

    LOL!!! 😄

    As for inspiring characters, I’m not sure. I think there’s one. Sort of. But, not many of my characters have really developed that far. I do often want to be friends with my characters, though 😀 I’d like to have Ben as a friend. He does have a knack of being the comforter, doesn’t he? I forgot about that. Well, whereever he is and whatever he does, he’s cool! And funny. “Neeeeeeeh!” Of course, he’s most funny when he gets into shenanigans, most often with Leona. I love his troublemaker face. It only appears a few times in Wayrift, but those times are some of my favorites!

    I’d like to find out what works for me, that’s why I love hearing about ideas and methods. THANKS EVERYBODY!!! It’s hard to be what you don’t know, so I like to find puzzle pieces in the methods of other writers, and base my own puzzle pieces of writing on the ones that work for me. After I change it to more fit my needs, of course.

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  15. Here I am, walking in late into the conversation.

    I don’t really have much of a template for creating characters. They just kinda happen? Or rather, my original ones just happened; all my other figments evolved from the mass of secondary characters with little no to personality that I put in my stories.

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  16. Don’t think I’ve been clear… I don’t really have a ‘template’ as such. The mixing of archtypes isn’t a conscious thing, it’s something I notice after the fact.
    Well, with one exception – since I’m sketching out ideas for a graphic novel/webcomicky thing where 7 of the characters ARE the aspects of various intangibles – order, dominion, display. It’s being by far the most challenging project I’ve ever undertaken because the majority of the characters are, by nature, one-sided. Trying to make them human enough to relate to without losing the fact that they’re avatars… is the sort of thing that makes Ven twitch x.x

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  17. Ven, I wasn’t really saying you have character templates, just saying that reading your first post made me realize ‘I’ do. Sorry about the miscommunication <:D

    And I guess they’re really not ‘templates’ so much as ‘fill-ins.’ Oh, the horrors I’ve put them through . . . but they do a good job 😀

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  18. This is a year and half later than everyone else, but here’s my two cents… Usually characters come to me either in dreams as labels (“Zela has four extra children? That’s news!”) to be fleshed out (Marteth, Bayn, Gullac, and Mathaning, the four extra, have been awesome. I wouldn’t give them up for anything) or else they just drift in while I’m playing around with the story and suddenly become interesting. Like the red-head on this page: http://www.adhemlenei.com/2010/02/21/the-totally-not-canon-adventures-of-flaire-creepy-bishounen/
    Originally, Captain Red-head was just there to be the boss of the assassins. Now he’s infiltrated my Script Frenzy scripts and become quite sympathetic, even as an enemy – despite his somewhat alarming appearance on this page. I think part of it is because I find him attractive… so physical appearance does matter. I try to have plain looking characters in with the cool looking characters, because real life has a lot of plain people, me included! (Just for kicks, here’s a cool looking character who appeared and caused mayhem from the word GO: http://www.adhemlenei.com/2009/11/09/new-character-tam/ – originally there to fulfill a role, now is firmly entrenched in my head)

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  19. …The figments I know the best started out as characters I developed for Daydreaming with.
    I mean, I will get obsessions with something… A show, or book, maybe. And while I’m sitting in class, pretending to pay attention, I’ll sketch them out. And then I’ll place them in the thing I am obsessing over.
    A good example would be Raine. She came about while I was obsessed with The Legend of Zelda. Amidst (that’s a word, right?) many Katethegrat19 songs, she became a girl living in a temple, deep in the Mystery Woods, with a headband inhabited by seven Spirits. Link and Rasuka (form the comic book by Ataru Cagiva) had to go and get an Amethyst she was guarding to heal Zelda. [Example end]
    ….. Now she’s one of the Goddesses in The Goddess Apprentices.
    Other figments of mine like this are Ruby and Mitche Hitiki, AshaiKaLu, aaannnd… Wait. No. I think that’s it. *checks registry* yes. It is. I’ve just used Ru and Ash alot. But I dare you to figure out what they came from.
    TGA and SS are my main stories…. And Ru and Ash are (one of)the main figments in their respective (respected? I dunno.) stories. The others came mostly because I got to thinking “What’s the plot? So I’ve got a girl with an enchanted necklace… What does she do with it? How did she get it?” Oddly enough, this fits in pretty well with both my stories…. And it makes me wonder what that says about me as a person. I do so love enchanted relics. And I no longer know where I’m going with this. Darn. *insert finger snap here*

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  20. I love seeing how writers use MBTI to shape characters. When I first learned it I immediately thought of that use and now I see more and more bloggers talk about that. I also think Enneagram could be very useful for writers. In some cases, even more than MBTI.
    .-= Personality Types´s last blog ..Publicizing The Threat of Personality Disorders Among Those in Positions of Power =-.

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  21. My creative process is, to be honest, more like Wren’s. Unless one of my figments “is” a canon character, they don’t have an appearance until after they have a personality. Even G!Cecil looks different from the current canon Cecil, though, so I think that they develop their own sense of self pretty quickly.

    Everything about my writing is character based, and I usually start out by developing the chracters. Sometimes it’s hard to disconnect my worlds from my figments to the point where its a chicken or the egg conundrum.

    They usually all have different roots, though. Lazarus, from one of my more recent stories (I wouldn’t give him figment status… yet), started life as a Meister OC for the anime Soul Eater. Lusiel srated life as a sort of imaginary friend, Kali Monore started life as a self-insert character into Final Fatasy IV, and Caleum Darurous started out as a Dn’D character.

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