Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Giving Your Characters Personalities

One challenge authors face is making their characters believable and three-dimensional. After all, characters represent people. And people are complex.

So the challenge is to get a character from an idea on paper to be a 'real life' individual. Authors do this through several methods.

Sphere of Contact:
Friends, relatives, Frenemies, enemies, associates and coworkers. Customers and business contacts that you know well can become characters in your books. However, be warned that they can and do read, and might read your novels, recognize themselves (though twisted jammed and pounded to fit in a pear-shaped hole) and express their anger that they've been defamed in some slight way. Especially if they are made into the 'villain'.

Head to the mall or other public venue. Observe closely the people around you. How they act and behave, what they look like and how they relate to the others around them. You don't know these people, so they won't get angry that you used them in your book, they will have no idea. But they certainly won't be any more real than your 30 second exposure plus your amazing imagination as to what they are like.
Watch Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies
Public Figures and Other Creative Sources:
An author might base a character from a movie they've seen, or a book they've read. Or a public figure like a past President. (Abe Lincoln, Zombie Hunter, anyone??)

Personality Types:
My family has been spending a bit of time reading up on Personality Types and throwing around four letter words like INTP, ESFJ, ISFP, and IMHO... and I was so confused. I mean, I think I know ADHD now, and ROFL, but all these were something new. And they would ROFL when I would try to figure out what they were up to. But I saw the site 16Personalities on the iPad, so now I have some idea, and so will you, if you follow the link.

The site has a very good quiz and description of the 16 standard personality types that are the product of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators. And it's a pretty good way to identify the strengths and weaknesses of characters in your books, without having to resort to 'using friends and coworkers'. These strengths and weaknesses, of course, mainly just give base flaws and strengths, and they bridge the types, but they are a starting point. Also, there are examples, real and fictional, on each type, as well as how common the types are.

So, in a nutshell, there are 16 of these, mostly opposites in four categories:
(I)ntrovert vs (E)xtrovert. - should be obvious, do you feel recharged in a crowd, or alone?
I(N)tuitive vs (S)ensing - how do you obtain data to make decisions
(T)hinking vs (F)eeling - how do you respond to the data?
(P)erceiving vs (J)udging - how do you make decisions based on the data?

That's probably all wrong, but their website has a wealth of information on it, under the heading link 'Read About Our Theory'.

I'm not a psychologist, nor do I agree with many of the methods or theories driven by Pavlov and Freud, but I certainly consider character development and believability a plus, and pigeonholing my characters into these 16 types probably won't insult them, and might make for a better read.

I'll probably have my characters take the quiz, to find out who they really are. What about your characters? Have they taken personality quizzes? Or have you posted a quiz for your readers to find out which character they are most like?