Often, when it comes to personality, psychologists talk about the Big 5 Personality traits. These are:
Each of these 'traits' has a scale, which your character will fall into. Either they will be high in a trait, or low in a trait, or maybe somewhere in the middle, which will define their personality.
Extraversion is a well known trait. Your character will either be generally outgoing or reserved. Of course, this may change given the circumstance, but overall, they'll be one or the other.
If your character is high on the extraversion scale, they'll generally be outgoing. They'll enjoy being the centre of attention, like to start conversations, like people and make friends easily.
If they're low on the scale, they'll be reserved, prefer solitude, find socialising exhausting, and generally not like small talk.
So ask yourself, is my character outgoing, or reserved?
Agreeableness is whether your character friendly or cold?
If they're high in the agreeableness trait, they'll be a friendly person, take interest in other people, care about and enjoy helping others and generally feel empathetic.
If they're low on this scale, they won't take much interest in other people, won't care about how other people feel, or maybe insult and belittle others. A cold person doesn't need to be mean, but they can just be a little more self-centered.
Conscientiousness is whether your character is organised or careless.
If they're high on this scale, they're people who make preparations, finish important tasks right away, and maybe even enjoy schedules.
If they're low on this scale, they may be a little more careless, even to go as far as disliking structure, making messes, failing to return things and procrastinate.
So ask yourself, is my character more organised or more careless in their life?
Neuroticism is how well your character reacts to conflict, which is an important question for writers to ask about their characters.
People high in this trait are generally more sensitive. They experience lots of stress, get upset easily, feel anxious and maybe worry about things.
If they're low on this scale, your character will be more emotionally stable, relaxed, not worry so much, and rarely feel sad or depressed.
So is your character sensitive about most things, or are they emotionally secure?
Openness is the scale of curiosity and caution.
If your character is high on this scale, they're more curious and ready to try new things, get creative, take on new challenges and happy to think outside the box.
Whereas if they're low on this scale, they dislike change, don't enjoy new things, resists new ideas, and may not be very imaginative.
So is your character curious? Or do they exercise with caution?
Asking yourself where your character falls on these scales not only will help you identify their personality traits, but help keep their personality consistent. You'll ask yourself, 'If my character doesn't like new things, then why is she trying this?" and may need to reconsider. Of course, characters will change and situations may change them, but in the end, people's personalities remain pretty consistent, and so your character's personalities must too.
Another task I like to do when creating characters is identify their signature character strengths. This is a tool used by psychologists to help people understand themselves in order to thrive in their lives and achieve their goals. So why should we not identify these for our characters? There are 24 Character Strengths, but even identifying your character's top five will help you, and your readers, define them.
The 24 Character Strengths fall into 6 main categories. These are as follows:
Creativity, curiosity, judgement, love of learning, perspective
Bravery, honesty perseverance, zest
Kindness, love, social intelligence
Fairness, leadership, teamwork
Forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
Appreciation for beauty, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality
When I create a character, I always consider what their signature strengths are. Are they strong in leadership and teamwork, making them just? Do they value kindness and love, giving them a more humanitarian soul? And what do they lack? Do they lack an appreciation of beauty in the world? If so, they're surely not going to marvel over a sunset or gardens. Are they brave, honest, and full of zest? Well, that character will be up for anything with that amount of courage running through their veins. Or is this what they fail to possess, making them timid and unable to embrace life?
More importantly, unlike the Big 5 Personality traits, these character strengths are more likely to change, which is what we want to see in a character. Bravery may be something they lacked, but at the end of the book they're ready to take on any new challenge. Did they exercise poor judgement and perspective, but now are more wise?
After identifying all other aspects of characters, their goals, hopes, dreams, setbacks, failures, history, favourite things, physical description, these character strengths are what I really like to dive into.
For further information, or to even take the test to identify your character's or your own signature strengths, visit VIA's website here.
Thank you for visiting this blog post and remember, everyone creates characters differently and has their own process, so the most important thing is to identify yours.
Until next time,
Rachel is an aspiring writer of romance fiction. She also has a degree in exercise physiology and at university studied subjects in sports psychology and how people's personalities affect their goals, motivations, and their ability to succeed. Professionally, Rachel assesses people's abilities to change their lifestyle habits and achieve their goals.
All Awards Characters Conference Crime Writing Festivals Foreshadowing Lifestyle Plotting Point Of View Popular Fiction Group Red Herrings Romance Writers Of Australia Setting Tropes TWPC Writers Life Writing