Copyright © 2007 by Garry E. Ward, All Rights Reserved
There are many guidelines for creating
characters. They ask about the character's height, hair color, eye
color, hobbies, work, politics, and religion. Obviously they ask about
the character's role in the story. All of these questions have simple
and specific answers.
Jack is six foot two, has dark hair,
brown eyes, does woodworking in his free time, is a police detective, is
conservative in his politics, belongs to a mainstream religion, and has
a goal: try to jail as many street gang members as he can.
Jane is five foot two, blonde, has blue
eyed, likes to travel in her free time, is a professional social worker,
is politically liberal, formerly belonged to mainstream religion but is
now uncertain, and has a goal: try to reform as many street gang members
as she can without jailing them.
We have a lot of information, but not
much about their actual personalities. At least not much beyond the
traditional, cardboard tough cop vs. softhearted social worker.
Most character questionnaires will have
an entry for personality, but unlike the clear cut responses to the
other questions, this one isn't so easy to fill out. Friendly? Morose?
Curmudgeonly? How do you describe their personalities so that you'll
know how they act, react and interact?
The answer I found to that question
wasn't in a book on writing, but in a self help book called Type Talk.
This book is about improving your life by understanding the
Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator for personalities, but I have found it
useful for designing character personalities.
The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator uses
four BI-valued attributes to describe 16 general personality types.
The attributes are:
Extravert / Introvert. Represented
as E or I
Sensing / Intuitive. Represented as
S or N
Thinking / Feeling. Represented as
T or F
Judging / Perceiving. Represented
as J or P
Each of these attributes gives a clue
as to how a person, or in our case, a character will behave and react.
Extravert / Introvert
We're all familiar with the people who
are comfortable in crowds, thrive on attention, and charge full tilt
into public view. We're also all familiar with the people who gravitate
to the edges and corners of crowds, shrivel under attention and avoid
the public view like a vampire avoids sunlight.
This attribute reflects how the
character will interact with the world around him or her. This attribute
also isn't a one or the other; just as real people aren't. Some
Introverts move towards Extravert behavior as the size of the group
shrinks. Some Extraverts begin to be more introverted as the size of the
group goes up.
What else can the Extravert / Introvert
attribute tell us about a character? For one it will affect what the
character likes to do when not working at their primary job. Extraverts
will have hobbies that involve others. Introverts will have hobbies that
they can do by themselves. In the two characters I mentioned earlier,
Jack is into woodworking, Jane is into travel. Even if Jane travels by
herself, she will still be going to new places and meeting new people.
She may travel with a tour group of strangers. Jane obviously is an
Extravert. Woodworking, unless we're talking about barn raising, is
generally something done by one person in the privacy of their workshop.
No crowds, no distractions. Jack is an Introvert.
What else can we glean from this for
Jack, as an introvert, hates
distractions and interruptions. They derail his thought processes and
make him lose focus. He retreats to his workshop to think. He may carry
a small knife with him so that he can 'think and whittle' every once in
a while. His whittling knife may prove useful in the story later, since
it is common knowledge that a cop will carry a main and backup gun, but
not many will also carry a knife. He hates being in court and testifying
because it focuses attention on him.
Jane, as an extrovert, can focus on
things easily and isn't distracted by background noise and
interruptions. She does some of her best thinking in the coffee shop or
even a bar. She loves being on the street and interacting with the
people there. She hates being stifled alone in her office with just
piles of paperwork. She comes alive in court on the witness stand.
Sensor / Intuitive
This attribute describes how characters
Sensors deal in the precise and clear
cut. Sensors observe that it is 2:57, not just before three. They deduct
not infer: a person has been in a bar, a person has been drinking beer,
therefore, that person will have a measurable blood alcohol level. Sgt.
Joe Friday's "Just the facts, ma'am." is an example of a Sensor's
attitude. Sensors deal with one thing at a time.
Intuitives won't be as concerned about
precision; gaps can be filled it. Asked the time, they'll tend to give
it relatively, like "mid afternoon" or "close to supper time". They
infer rather than deduct: a person has been in a bar, a person has been
drinking beer, so a person might catch hell from their spouse upon
arriving home. It isn't so much the exact words that people say but what
meaning can be found in the words, the intent of the words. Intuitives
see possibilities more than realities.
For our two characters, Jack is a
Sensor. He, like Sgt. Friday, deals with the facts. He sees blood on the
ground, the broken window and knows that a burglar cut himself breaking
in. The person standing over a body with a bloody tire iron in hand is
obviously the killer.
Jane is an Intuitive. She will also see
blood on the ground and a broken window, but can see someone tripping
and falling into the window. She can see someone being pushed into the
window. Sure, maybe a burglar cut himself breaking in, but there are
lots of other ways for the window to have gotten broken and blood having
gotten on the ground.
Thinking / Feeling
The Thinking / Feeling attribute guides
you determining how your character makes decisions. The Thinkers are
the ones who keep their heads when everyone else is losing it. They're
more interested in truth and fairness than in making everyone happy.
They'll even focus on clarifying a point before moving on to the next
issue. Feelers can't see a decision as fair and truthful if it hurts
anyone's feelings, they consider some points as beyond clarification,
will always be concerned about how a decision will affect others, and
are more concerned about getting people to work together than
determining which person is right and which is wrong.
Jack is a Thinker; his decisions are
clear and precise. He gathers the information and makes a decision based
on it. The chips will fall where they fall. Break the law, pay the
price. Obeying the law isn't optional.
Jane is a Feeler; her decisions are
based on the consequences she perceives of those decisions. A kid that
made a poor choice doesn't deserve jail but needs help. If she decides
to turn someone in, then no one on the street will trust her in the
future which will compromise her ability to do her job, so she doesn't.
She may keep trying to get the criminal to turn himself in, but she
won't turn him in.
How does this affect them in our story?
Obviously, Jack would expect her to turn in someone she knows has
committed a crime and when she doesn't, they're going to be at odds.
Judging / Perceiving
The Judging / Perceiving attribute
guides us in determining how our characters will orient themselves in
Judgers are structured; the everything
has a place and it damn well better be in that place, make lists, pay
attention to the list and perhaps even make a list of lists to organize
their lists. They proceed through life in a direct, orderly fashion.
Distraction and delay are more than just frustrations, they're down
right painful to them.
Perceivers are spontaneous and
adaptive. Even if they start out with a plan, that plan is likely to
sketchy and ambiguous. The unknown fascinates them; doing something the
same way a second time borders on unbearable boredom. When reality
throws a wrench into the works, they're the first ones to recover from
the surprise. If one goal is unreachable, they'll move on to another
Jack is a Judger. Like his woodworking,
he follows the plans, he gets the result he wants. Same for his police
work; he follows the procedure and he'll get the criminal off the street
and into jail, which should make society safe.
Jane is a Perceiver. Some people just
get crushed in the machinery of society; sometimes you have to save the
person even if it means the gears of social order end up slipping once
in a while.
Again, for our story, because Jack and
Jane have different Judging / Perceiving attributes, they'll come to
exactly the same plot point, but each will react to it differently and
that difference will drive their interaction on to the next plot point.
An interesting aspect of this is
neither Jack nor Jane end up being 'evil' in the classic bad guy sense,
yet one of them will be the protagonist and the other will be the
antagonist. The same story can be written in two ways, one with Jack as
the protagonist and Jane the antagonist then again with the roles
Not sure why a character is doing what
they're doing? Not sure how a character should response to some
situation? Consider these four attributes for the character and you'll
understand them better.
(Dell, ISBN 0-440-50704-9, Kroeger and Thusen, paperback).