Building Characters from Personality Types

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Coming up with unique characters becomes a problem when you’re on a roll. You want someone fresh to sit and chat in your head, but you’ve already trolled through friends, enemies, and loved ones for personalities. Where do you turn? When writers need names, they go to the baby name websites. When we need personalities, we turn to personality tests, zodiacs, and more.

Finding Personalities

Classic personality tests have a set number of outcomes. The Myers-Briggs test, DiSC assessment, and TestColor exams are all fun and provide different kinds of results. They even rely on different questions. If your story is aesthetically driven, TestColor may be especially useful as it defines character traits based on perception of colors.

Zodiacs provide a great foundation for character types and personalities. The Greco-Roman zodiac isn’t the only one writers can call upon, either. Consider using the Chinese zodiac or the Celtic zodiac. You may even try borrowing character bases from all three. Each provides a different suite of personalities shaped by cultural views, environment, and history.

Although most often used in fortune telling, tarot cards tell stories with a set cast of characters, the Major Arcana in particular. The character traits expressed by each card make fantastic bases for your own, unique creations, especially if you take the characteristics but strip away the role. For example, the Empress is a creator associated with life, romance, art, and business, but you can give that cocktail of interests and aspirations to a soldier, gardener, etc.

Building Tension

How do you pick from this plethora of options? The trick lies in conflict. Which personality types do not get on well? Setting up troops of characters that are not designed to play well builds a beautiful plot.

Throw the Empress and the Fool together. Pit an oak from the Celtic zodiac (insightful, driven, responsible, strong-willed) against the Devil card (attachment, addiction, restriction, sexuality). Simply understanding your character’s strengths and weaknesses may help you develop the nuances of your story.

Don’t Forget the Team

The variety of personalities provided by different tests, zodiacs, and cards gives you the groundwork for better side characters, too. When casting supporting roles, it’s all too easy to fall into writing traps. Secondary characters fall flat so often because their development is – well – secondary. Launching these characters onto the page with more than “This is so-and-so, the primary character’s friend/brother/teacher” gives you an advantage.

Adding Twists

Great characters are kind of like soup. Everyone starts with simple bases, but it’s what you add that makes it tasty. If you add green onions and miso to your chicken stock, you’ll have a wildly different experience than you would after adding carrots, zucchini noodles, and several bulbs of garlic. Treat personality quiz types like chicken stock. Throw in bad habits, good habits, and aspirations. If you want a really zesty experience, blend personality types from multiple sources into a single character. The internal conflict should develop faster than instant ramen.

Have you ever used personality test results to make a new character? From what strange places have you plucked new ideas? Share with other writers in the comments!

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