Monday, November 12, 2012

Giving Your Character a Personality

On October 10 and October 29, we talked about building your character’s background and giving him a unique voice. Now he needs a psychological make-up.

Knowledge of the character’s composite personality indicates how he will behave in different situations within the story. The writer should know the environments in which the character will feel comfortable and what circumstances are easy or a struggle for him. With this in mind, it is the writer’s job to reveal the character’s depth of personality as the story unfolds. By contrasting his inner life and his public life and giving him traits that contrast and collide with one another, an interesting, multi-faceted person emerges.

Jung identified two primary personality types, the Extrovert (E) and the Introvert (I). These designations have to do with the world in which one lives. The extrovert’s life is directed outward. He is out-going, assertive, energetic. His interests are in, and he receives gratification from, the outer world. He gets bored when alone. The introvert is reserved, quiet, shy. His interests lie in reflection and the inner self. He enjoys time alone and likes solitary activities.

There are also subcategories. Sensing (S) and Intuitive (N) describe how one gathers information. One who is sensing relies on the concrete and the practical. The intuitive person thinks of abstract possibilities, trusting intuition without facts. Thinking (T) and Feeling (F) have to do with decision making. The thinker is rational, logical, impartial, and fair in accordance with predefined rules. The feeler decides things case by case and is subjective based on his value system. Judging (J) and Perceiving (P) have to do with how we live. The judging person is neat, orderly, settled. The perceiving person is flexible, open-ended, and spontaneous.

Each individual personality consists of one of sixteen possible combinations of the secondary traits coupled with either introversion or extroversion. In various circumstances, one of the traits will be dominant, more proficient, and more conscious. It is supported by a second function then to a lesser degree a third. The fourth one is opposite to the dominant resulting in repression and unconscious behavior. Though uncomfortable with the fourth function, an individual can develop that trait.

In my novel Echoes, there is a character called Misty McKenna. When informed that her grandparents and her sister are ill, she immediately takes a leave of absence from her teaching position in another state and returns home to help her widowed mother cope. She takes over the household duties, the nurturing of her youngest brother, and is a fierce defender of the family. Analysis reveals that her personality type matches with the ISFJ combination, the Nurturer. People in this category are kind, quiet, conscientious, dependable, stable, practical, observant of others, perceptive of other’s feelings. They value security and tradition and are interested in serving others. They’re exactly like Misty.

I decided to analyze myself. I thought I matched best with the INTJ combination. People with this personality are independent, original, analytical, determined, turn theories into plans of action, value knowledge, competence, and structure. They are long-range thinkers and have high standards of performance for themselves and others (ask my long-suffering family.) They are natural leaders but will follow trusted people. This combination is called the Scientist. Interesting. My background is in chemistry.—Quinn

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