Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 9, 2024

Ways to Know Your Characters, Part 2- Personality

by Ellen Buikema

Words have power. As a writer, you can create characters you loathe or love, sometimes a bit of both. 

It’s essential to know your main characters’ backgrounds, strengths, flaws, and personalities. These fictional folks will evolve as you create their stories. In Part 1, we explored the character’s background.

Let’s take a look at:

Personality

Personality helps to determine a character's actions, motivations, and relationships.

A character's personality is a combination of behaviors, attitudes, and traits that make them unique individuals. A well-developed personality makes for relatable, believable characters.

Starting a new story, you usually have a general idea of who your characters are or will be. Start with the basics: age, gender, hair, eye, and skin color.

To create memorable characters that pull you into the story:

Try a Personality Test

Giving your creation a personality test is a fun way to explore your character’s ideas. The Myers-Briggs and Enneagram tests are the most common. These tests can be helpful tools for fleshing out your characters’ personalities.

The Myers-Briggs Test

The four fundamental aspects of the Myers-Briggs are:

  • Favorite world: Focus on the outer world, Extroverts (E) versus the inner world, Introverts (I)
  • Information: Take in information as Sensing (S) versus interpret and add meaning to information as Intuitive (N)
  • Decisions: Make decisions by first looking at logic and consistency as Thinkers (T) versus considering people and circumstances involved using Feeling (F)
  • Structure: Make firm decisions, Judging (J), versus remaining open to new information and options, Perceiving (P)

The Myers-Briggs test costs about $60, but there are free options available.

Enneagrams

The Enneagram is a personality theory, based on the idea that everyone has a unique “essence” or personality structure. Ennea means nine, and gram means figure.

Here are the nine different types:

  1. The Strict Perfectionists is all about doing the “right” thing. They are idealistic, principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and seek perfection. Molly Gray from The Maid by Nita Prose.
  2. The Considerate Helpers may over-involve themselves and risk being manipulated. They are caring, demonstrative, generous, people-pleasers, and possessive. Nicholas “Nick” Andros from Stephen King’s The Stand.
  3. The Competitive Achievers: risk becoming overstretched and may cheat to win, are success-oriented, pragmatic, adaptive, driven, and image-conscious. Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. 
  4. The Intense Creatives: emotionally attuned to their environment and focused on their needs. They are sensitive, withdrawn, expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental. Agatha Christie’s, Hercule Poirot.
  5. The Quiet Specialists seem socially awkward and defend their isolation. They are intense, cerebral, perceptive, innovative, and secretive. Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Canan Doyle.
  6. The Loyal Skeptics: have a deep need to feel safe, running the gamut from self-reliant and grounded to paranoid. They are committed, security-driven, engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious. Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.
  7. The Enthusiastic Visionaries: seek joyful variety and tend toward impulsive pleasure-seeking. They’re busy, spontaneous, versatile, and scattered. Holly Golightly from Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
  8. The Active Controllers: are forces of nature who mask their insecurities with a tough exterior. They are powerful, self-confident, decisive, confrontational, and want to serve a greater good. Indiana Jones from Campbell Black’s Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  9. The Adaptive Peacemakers: diplomatic group mediators who are easygoing, self-respecting, receptive, reassuring, and agreeable, and have a hard time saying “no.” Samwise Gamgee from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Resources:

Personality Path has a free Enneagram Type test to use to help develop your characters’ personalities.

Don Riso’s Personality Types: Using Enneagram for Self-Discovery is highly rated and digs deep into each type’s mindset and behavior.

Working with character’s test results

Consider what you already know about your characters. Will your romantic lead be dark and brooding like Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff? Is their love interest sociable but stuck-up? Use these personality basics as the start for your assessment, answering the questions that best match the traits planned for the character.

After completing the test, note your character's personality type and insights in a separate document or whatever you use for easy reference.

When developing a character's personality, keep these points in mind:

The fictional person’s personality must be consistent with their background and experiences. A character who grew up in a strict household may have a more “stiff” and disciplined personality than someone who grew up in a more easy-going home.

A character's personality should be easily distinguishable from that of other characters in the story. Each fictional person needs his or her own traits and quirks.

Like the walking, talking people in the real world, characters should be complex, multifaceted beings. No one is totally good or evil, so a character should have both positive and negative traits. Even a living horror may feel comfortable petting animals.

The character's personality should be capable of emotional growth. Fictional people should be able to evolve over the telling of the story.

Finally, a fictional person's personality must be important to the plot. A character's behaviors and traits should move the story forward and influence their decisions. Their personalities are core to the plot.

Get to know your fictional people, and you’ll create a story with multifaceted characters that readers will love or love to hate.  

What personality types do you enjoy creating for your characters? How do you decide on personality characteristics for your fictional people? What characters would you add to the enneagrams?

* * * * * *

About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon chapter book series with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works in Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and The Crystal Key, MG Magical Realism/ Sci-Fi, a glaze of time travel.

Find her at https://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Top Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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6 comments on “Ways to Know Your Characters, Part 2- Personality”

  1. Great piece, Ellen! Although I've administered countless personality tests as a former school psychologist, I never heard of the Enneagram before now. I especially liked the literary examples you provided for the nine personality types. Now I have some new books to add to my list.

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