Utilizing Personality Tests To Create Well-Rounded Characters

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?

RW Hague
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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. 

I intend to post more information about the Big 5 Personalities in the future, but if you are interested in this topic and would like a sneak peek at what is to come, you can find more information on my website at: https://www.rwhague.com/blog

 

RW Hague is a registered nurse and author of Surviving Midas, a YA contemporary suspense, coming soon on August 24th courtesy of City Limits Publishing.  

10 Comments

Dougp

Nice idea! I like it. But I see that I must now be a shrink in addition to being a storyteller, grammar guru, spelling wiz, verbal visualizer, poet, project manager, and of course, a self-promoting Amazon marketing specialist!!

Oct-05 at 17:36

Rawrites

I like personality tests, they interest me. But honestly? I don’t buy into this, as regards writing.

Fiction isn’t about producing “well rounded” characters. It’s about characters that have interest for a reader. They can be as one sided or as multidimensional as you like - they just need to work in the story you put them in. You discover who they are by writing the story. If it doesn’t quite work, you go back and write again.

There’s no science to it. You just have to be able to get under the skin of who you’re writing about and the best way to do this is imagination.

Oct-12 at 06:30

Elsarmonie

I think understanding personalities is important, but there are too many variations to make a character “fit” into any one set of “rules”. The character who goes outside of the set characteristics is the character that draws my attention. But understanding the psychology of character does certainly help in writing.

Oct-14 at 14:09

Marisaw

I don’t buy into it either. I don’t manufacture characters, that would feel too artificial to me. They exist already and I discover more about them by writing their story.

Oct-15 at 02:49

Onalimb

I’ve tried this. I’ve probably tried most everything. I found the descriptions too general and too broad. They categorize a family of traits, but don’t do much to define an individual. They also come at it backward and don’t tie in to the needs of the story. For example, if I’m writing a story like HP, I might see Ron as a character who hates spiders. Because he hates spiders, I can have him display the traits of neuroticism toward spiders.

That works. Trying to decide, in a vacuum, that my character is neurotic about something, without knowing what that something might be, didn’t work for me.

Oct-16 at 15:16

James_dash

I’ve studied the ‘Big 5’, Enneagram, and the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator extensively a while back. Although they’re useful to get you thinking about personality, and how one may act and view the world similarly/differently, they’re basically nothing more than general archetypes and they do not account for the complexity, depth and apparent inconsistencies present in average human beings. They could be used as a starting point if necessary, but a character needs to be fleshed out further imho. Although I was a big proponent at first, I’d personally advise against putting people into neat little boxes–since reality is far too nuanced and messy to make any of that truly believable. My two cents.

Oct-17 at 21:13

Denisosu

I like this. I see some replies from people who are sceptical (skeptical maybe, if they’re Americans …). But maybe they’re reading this as if this were the ONLY thing you should do. It’s not. You do all the creative thinking, all the weird traits and so on … and THEN you do this personality test to see if that gives you more depth, more consistency, more credibility. The character can still needlessly wear an eyepatch and have an irrational fear of hamsters, but this helps you think about how she might react in line at the bank, or how she might handle a difficult conversation while in a car rushing to an important appointment for which she’s late. If you don’t think through stuff like that, you can give readers a jarring sensation, when the character they think they knew does something totally “out of character” - which is not intended by the author. Like the hippy conservationist who drives an SUV or the health freak who lunches every day at Burger King …

Thank you for sharing this idea!

Nov-03 at 22:09

Geoff

Well-rounded people may make good neighbors because they keep their lawns mowed and don’t play loud music, but they make lousy characters unless you’re writing for Phsycology Today. Readers of mainstream fiction want characters who are not like their neighbors,characters who deviate from the norm in one way or another, for example, by stealing, or murdering, or betraying their spouses. Ask yourself,How many “well-rounded” protgonists have there in classic novels?

Nov-04 at 08:11

1910orange

Well, I read realism or magical realism novels. And I don’t have to like characters who steal, murder, and do all sorts of things out of the ordinary. To me, what’s most important is that they are relatable, or have some sort of charisma in them.

If you take a look at some of the more compelling slice-of-life animes or mangas, it’s easy to see that great stories doesn’t have to come from people who do crazy things.

Some titles I’d suggest are:

Non-non biyori
Shirogane no Nina
Danshi koukosei no nichijou
Flying witch
Aria
Garden of words
5cm per second
Aquatope on white sands
Hanasaku iroha
Violet evergarden

In these stories well, things are really mundane. But they are really compelling because they show a side of the world where we are too familiar with.

Personality tests may help authors, but I feel that humans are too complex to be categorised into such personality traits. They serve as guides at best.

Great writers observe people and take in the world around them.

Nov-04 at 08:36

Denisosu

I totally agree, Geoff!

My point (badly made, sorry) was a different one. The word “well-rounded” was probably badly chosen, the concept is more “internally consistent”.

As an author, you want your characters to be memorable, unique, different - definitely not just the average person. And you will focus your narrative around their unique traits.

But some of their actions in the novel will not necessarily be about their unique traits. He’s a murderer betraying his spouse, let’s say - how does he react when stopped by police for speeding? What does the interior of his car look like? What car is it? As an author, this is not what you’re focusing on, you want to focus on the real action. But as a reader, if you see the protagonist behave in a way that seems “wrong” for the character you’ve created, it can seem fake. For example, if he cheats and murders, does he do it because he feels justified - the world has harmed him and he feels like a victim - or maybe because he’s a psychopath and doesn’t care? The latter would probably handle being stopped by police very well, the former might get angry, another case of being a victim, and might lose control.

It’s a stupid example, of course. But the point is: when you’re thinking about your character, you might not have considered all the different things that the traits you’ve given him imply about other things - he’s not going to be narcissistic in some things and not in others, he’s not going to be a neat-freak sometimes and disorganized other times.

Ultimately, it’s maybe down to your writing technique. It is perfectly possible that when you or some authors write a character, you really do fill it out well in your mind - in that case, this probably doesn’t help and might even make your character less interesting. When I write, sometimes my characters don’t work well because I’ve focused too much on the “interesting” traits, and left them rather one-dimensional otherwise. I know (and I’ve been told too) that I could make them more coherent and credible by describing more about their clothes, their mannerisms, their fears, their habits … rather than just focusing in on the one or two traits that are most interesting for me (for example, one is a cynical politician with a dark secret, and I write a lot about the machinations and dirty-tricks and so on - but I could make him more credible by adding in more.)

Sorry for the long answer - basically, this idea will be useful for me to make my characters better! They already are plenty unique and interesting, what they are missing is the traits that make them like real people rather than one-dimensional prototypes!

Nov-04 at 08:42
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