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A well rounded, developed character feels real. They feel like someone you would meet at school, at work, or at the coffee shop. They could be your family member or part of your circle of friends. But how do you develop such a realistic character? How do you go beyond basic characteristics such as hair and eye color, job preference, and favorite color?
Non-modifiable features such as ethnicity, age, and physical characteristics are important, but they are not the only things that define your character. A well-developed personality is key to creating a believable and relatable character. Personality determines how a character will react to their environment and relate to their culture. Once you have the character's personality down, certain things such as job preference, favorite color, favorite tv show, will flow together naturally. So how does one come up with a character's personality that is believable and consistent?
When I have a character in mind, I will often take an online personality test to see where they line up. There are several out there to choose from. Myers-Briggs is probably the most famous personality tests, but I don’t usually start there. I use the Big 5.
The Big 5 tests a person in the following 5 areas: conscientiousness, neuroticism (or negative emotion), openness, extroversion, and agreeableness. Now, when you look at this list, there are certain negative or positive connotations associated with each of these characteristics, but problems can arise on either end of the spectrum. For example, people extremely high in conscientiousness (characterized by people who are always busy or are very orderly) can become too orderly. This can give rise to certain conditions such as anorexia.
This is, of course, not to say that all people suffering from anorexia are high in conscientiousness or vice versa, but the personality type that is common among people with this disease is conscientiousness. In highly conscientious people, things are often black and white, geometrical in shape, and everything has its place. If something is perceived to be wrong or flawed, it must be removed or eradicated—or starved. Now, of course, if a person is low in conscientiousness, then things are often messy or left undone.
All of the big 5 personality traits are like this. They are on a spectrum with each having its own set of pros and cons. If you can figure out where your character is on this spectrum, you might be able to link certain traits together.
For example, my character Jared, is low in agreeableness, high in conscientiousness, high in neuroticism, medium in extraversion, and high in openness. Therefore, his room is clean, he’s always busy, but most of his work is based off of fear or his nervousness. He has a job to do, and he doesn’t take well to people who stand in his way—that’s the disagreeableness. This makes him a very efficient worker, but he can get under people’s skin.
Then, I take my other characters and develop their personality using the same method. Usually—in order to spice things up—I give them personally traits that might grate on the first character’s nerves just for drama. After that, stick them in a room together and watch them duke it out. If you’ve been thorough, the dialogue will often write itself.
After that, just to well round my character, I throw them into the Myers-Briggs and see what comes out.
The more you learn about personality traits and variations, the more it will assist you in your writing and the more realistic your characters will become.
You can find multiple sites that offer a questionnaire for your character, but in my experience, this has been the most efficient way of developing characters.
RW Hague is a registered nurse with over eight years of experience within the medical field. Using her medical expertise, she writes stories that are gritty and compelling.