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If you are a regular patron of my blog, chances are you are high in openness, which is the next of our big five personality traits we are talking about today. This is part three of a five-part series on the Big Five Personality Traits. As a refresher, the Big 5 are a scientifically tried and true way of mapping one’s personality. When I write, I use each of these five personality traits to craft a character that is real to life as possible. Once I have their personalities down, I can map out with ease how each of my characters would react to various situations.
Each of the five personality traits are part of a spectrum, so what does a person high in openness look like compared to a person who is low in openness?
First, let's look at the term 'openness.' This is not someone who is necessary open to discussing their feelings or emotions as some might use the term. This is someone who is mentally open to ideas, people, or things.
A person high in trait openness are usually interested in learning all about the world -- or things outside of this world. They are creative and spontaneous. Open people are often more willing to be flexible and react well to change. While openness is linked to IQ, it is not determined by it. Generally, though, people with a higher level of IQ can imagine, create, or abstract faster than their peers.
So what is a closed minded person like?
Generally, they are the opposite. They are not as open to change, are less interested in learning new ideas, and like to keep things the same. They are less creative and like routines.
Whenever I talk about these two categories, I immediately think of two different types of people that I know. The 9 to 5 business man or factory worker who likes their life to be exactly a certain way, and a person like Elon Musk who dabbles into just about everything and is very open to a wide plethora of ideas.
Of all the Big 5 personalities, this is probably the least modifiable in your characters. Now, that’s not to say that factory person above can’t be an open person stuck in a rut who finally breaks free. That's basically the premise of the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. (If you haven’t seen this movie and want to, be warned as I'm going to mention some spoilers).
In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Ben Stiller plays a guy with a dull job and is constantly daydreaming adventures for his life. Then when his job is on the line, he goes on his own adventure and gets to live the life of his dreams. As you can see, throughout the story, his level of openness remains the same, but he's just now getting a chance to live his life by it. If anything, the story arc is about a change in his level of conscientiousness. He had spent his life being responsible and safe doing a job that was boring while his high level of openness was calling him to freedom. Once he learned to say 'screw it,' he became essentially a different person.
Consider this story in contrast to Flowers for Algernon. In this story, they take a gentleman with a low IQ who is also low in trait openness. He receives a treatment that increases his IQ, and his interest in topics and various pursuits increases rapidly. Things he would never have hoped to dream of learning come to him, enriching his life.
This story is a change in trait openness. It did not come about through normal means of a story arc, but rather through the intervention of scientists. It is relatively easy to lower a person’s trait openness through disease or injury, but it is not easy to raise it.
I mentioned earlier that each personality trait comes with pros and cons, but what con could possibly be linked to having trait openness? There are a few.
Consider a person who is extremely creative — every thought is free and unique. The ability to categorize and quantify their ideas becomes impossible. Their ideas can be revolutionary. They could ease the lives of thousands of people with their thoughts, but they first have to be able to explain what said thing is. Then you have to convince someone else to agree to it.
Many novelists run into this problem. They write a unique work of fiction that is a little bit sci-fi, romance, part-heroes journey, and a murder mystery. Then they try to sell it to a publisher, but the publisher doesn’t know where to set it on the bookshelf. It’s too many things. Many creatives live in anonymity with loads of talent but no financial gains. Risk averse publishers would much rather create a better mouse trap than take a risk on a truly creative venture.
Unfortunately, there is also an illness associated with people high in trait openness—Bipolar Disorder. This is because during a manic state, a person can become very fluid with their creativity and create all sorts of things. Ideas flow like water, but they come so fast and with so much chaos that it can be nearly impossible for a person in a manic state to hold onto one in order to turn it into something useful.
A creative person might also have higher levels of anxiety. What better way to freak yourself out than to imagine every horrible situation?
Here's the kicker though: Being creative and having a high IQ does track well for success. Life is full of variable, so being able to think on your feet is a skill worth having.
How open are your characters? Are they creative? Or do they prefer things to be the same? Do they think outside the box? You can create a large range of colorful characters with this one trait.
My character, Jared, in my story SURVIVING MIDAS is a child genius and very high in openness. As a slave, he stands out among his peers as being clever. This also makes him dangerous as he is more likely than the others to escape. Most of the conflict surrounding the story rides on this one personality trait. In a normal society, Jared would thrive, but here it’s likely to bring about his doom.
So, now we have covered 3 personality traits and already, you have a pretty good view of my character Jared. He’s very intelligent, high in openness, conscientious, but also a disagreeable survivor. Can you visualize such a character? You could take him out of his current setting and put him in several other roles: surgeon, CEO, entrepreneur, you name it, so it’s only one part of the story, but it is a key component. His backstory irons out the details of his personality, but these are great building blocks for you as a writer to start with.
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.