Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Prevent Cut-out Characters

There’s more to making your characters unique than giving them mint green eyes or a bald head. You’ve assigned external and internal goals to advance the plotline but how will Mr. or Miss Mint-Green-Eyes-and-Bald-Head behave? This can be a challenge especially when a character is dissimilar to its creator.

There are many programs which test for and explain personality types. A few are MyersBriggs, Strength Deployment Inventory, Keirsey Temperament Sorter, Whole Brain, DiSC assessment, and Gary Smalley’s Animal Personality Test.

One that I was introduced to at ACFW conference is Wired that Way, based on the teachings of Dr. Marita & Florence Littauer. This program explains the strengths, weaknesses, emotional needs, fears, spiritual bents, and addictive natures of the four personalities. It lays out which types blend within a person naturally and which combine only in extreme situations such as the result of abuse. If you know your character’s personality, you can maintain consistency regardless of the situation or stressors.

You wouldn’t write on page two that Brad’s blue eyes gleamed and on page sixty-two that his brown eyes were as large as pancakes without an explanation for the inconsistency, such as colored contacts or replacement eye surgery.

In the same way, consistency within the character’s personality can prevent behaviors that readers will sense are unnatural. A quiet person who avoids contact with people isn’t going to become a party animal unless there is a good reason. Has she been masking who she really is? Is she schizophrenic? Is she role-playing?

This is the fun of creating characters. Pressures and adversity in back story cause complex and interesting reactions during the course of the story. However, you need to know why they behave as they do even if you only hint at it to the reader.

Is your character most likely to batter down doors or hide under the bed? Will she want to know the how, why, when of events or is she so laid back she doesn’t seem to care and shows no reaction?

That last type would be difficult to cast as the heroine but could make an exasperating secondary character. Incorporating different types can add depth to your writing.

No one is 100% of any one personality type and neither should be your characters. The guidelines of a personality profile are one more tool to help create interesting characters that come alive on the page.


  1. MyersBriggs is the tool I like to use to keep my characters consistent. With a mix of the entagram since there are some writing books and programs that use this tool.

  2. Thanks for making us think more in depth when it comes to our characters!

  3. I've never worked with the MyersBriggs although I know several tests are based on it. I'm having a fantastic time with the Wired That Way! Thanks for the comments.
    Stumped me Sharon on the "entagram" What is that?