I’m fascinated by personality tests, you know, the kind you run across all the time online or in magazines. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test twice (I’m an INFJ), the Keirsey Temperament Test (also an INFJ) and studied the Enneagram (I’m a 2). And while all of this is fodder for good cocktail party conversation and self-analysis, one of the biggest benefits of thinking about personality types is the way it’s helped me create characters in fiction.
My fiction is character driven. If I can get a handle on my characters and truly understand who they are—what they like and dislike, what loves and terrors drive them, what strengths and weaknesses define them—then the plot often flows naturally from the choices these characters make. But one of the biggest challenges in creating believable characters is making sure they are themselves, not me. And this is where personality typing can be very useful.
There’s plenty of science to back up the idea that we are born with certain temperaments. For example, the New York Longitudinal Study (Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess) followed infants from age six months into their early forties, identifying 9 temperament characteristics that remained constant throughout the decades. Our characters, too, are born with certain temperaments. The story lies in how those inborn personality traits lead characters to make choices that shape the events of their lives and, in turn, how events work with temperament to shape character. It’s an intricate dance, and when executed well in fiction it creates characters that linger in our minds (and readers’ minds) long after a book ends.
A few tips on creating characters: [Read more…]