There are a number of things about humans that add up together to create who we are. Family background, preferences, experiences, wealth or poverty, religious beliefs, etc. Some of these things we have control over. For example, you can teach yourself to appreciate something different (eating healthier, classical music, exercise). You can change your appearance easily and you can even choose to have certain experiences. Things that your parents taught you are also a bit more flexible. Just because you grew up a certain way, doesn’t mean you will necessarily act like that as an adult.
At our core though, there is something that never really changes: personality. Our personality is what causes us to react to certain situations the way we do, we can’t really ever change it. Sure we can improve on weaker areas or portray ourselves differently, but that doesn’t change it. By nature, I am an introvert. When I am with people I don’t know very well, I get exhausted quick and even miserable. I need time alone or just with my hubby to recharge. Family and really close friends don’t drain me quite as much, but even then I still will feel the need to get alone. Being an introvert never stopped me from putting myself out there though. It just meant that I also made time for me. I also tend to be a bit sarcastic at times, and these streaks happen without any thought on my part. Something can strike me as funny and I will laugh for 30 minutes and hardly be able to catch my breath. These things make up my personality. There isn’t much I can do about them.
The same is true for your characters. Think about who they are at their most basic level. I like to complete personality tests on my character’s behalf. You can find a number of tests on this website. One of the resources I posted about awhile back, A Writer’s Guide to Characterization, also contains a personality test, and aligns it with common archetypes.
This is the first step that I do when I start to really develop my characters. It takes time, but I find it quite helpful. Afterall, tests such as these will help determine how your character will act in certain situations. It might also tell you what other information you will need to know the answers for with your character. For example, if your character is an extrovert, why do they avoid large gatherings? There would have to be a reason for that, and it will come out in their experiences. Perhaps they were caught in a mob as a young child or they are trying to hide their identity and large crowds make it harder. One of these suggestions can exist in the background information while the other one might contribute to your plot.
My current project is about a mail-order bride. The main female character’s name is Margit Lindner, she is 22 and from Pittsburgh. I have some brief knowledge already about her family and personality, but I need to solidify what I know. I will share some of my results about her with you:
According to the Jung Typology Test, Margit is:
- You have moderate preference of Extraversion over Introversion (44%)
- You have moderate preference of Sensing over Intuition (38%)
- You have distinctive preference of Feeling over Thinking (62%)
- You have distinctive preference of Perceiving over Judging (67%)
While none of these are super strong traits, the questions themselves also helped me to understand more of her personality. Especially those I didn’t have to think much about, such as:
- You prefer to act immediately rather than speculate
about various options
- You trust reason rather than feelings
- You are inclined to rely more on improvisation
than on prior planning
I my novel, these responses are going to be noticed quite clearly in one of the scenes that really start the plot. Margit is going to make a quite impulsive decision and not think anything of it. These scene, without telling the reader, will demonstrate some of her personality here. Sometimes with these tests, the questions are just as helpful as the final results.