Monday, May 5, 2014

May Monday Motivation - Character "Analysis"

Sometimes creating deeper characters requires the writer to practically become an amateur psychologist
when they study the different kinds of people there are in the world. While we often seek to understand those we love for the sake of relationship, we need to examine our characters in their environment for authenticity. Where can you find some tools?

A task-oriented leader.
A Greek physician and philosopher in the Roman Empire, Galen, used the four humors, or bodily fluids, to categorize temperaments, or personalities. To simplify greatly, the four were: choleric – tightly wound, type A and task-oriented; melancholy – introverted, deep thinker, focused; sanguine – playful, extroverted and enjoys being with people, giving energy to those around them; phlegmatic – laid back, slower to make decisions, steadfast and patient. Again, this is greatly simplified. Gary Smalley refers to the choleric as a “lion”, the sanguine as an “otter”, the melancholy as a “beaver” and the phlegmatic as a “golden retriever”.
Fun loving and friendly!
Steadfast and loyal friend.
While this is based on an older system, which developed over time, newer ways of discovering personality strengths and weaknesses, such as the Meyers-Briggs assessments, score four basic categories. However these are combined to make sixteen different types, depending on the scores in each category. This method is more exacting and can perhaps tell you more about a person.  They are based on these groups: 1) Extroversion or Introversion (E or I), 2) Sensing or Intuition (S or N), 3) Thinking or Feeling (T or F), 4) Judging or Perceiving (J or P).  Description summaries of all sixteen personality types can be found on the Meyer and Brigg Foundation website.
Focused worker.

If you have trouble bringing depth to your characters, you may find that understanding these different types may help you better decide how your character may think or act in a given situation. How will your characters relate to one another? Some more character-driven writers will perhaps have a natural intuition for this, but hard-core plotters may find help with analyzing characters by personality types, thus adding another layer to characterization.

For example, your social butterfly heroine, Gigi, is out shopping for an outfit. She’s wearing a fuchsia sweater with leopard print leggings and high-heeled boots. She wants to get the attention of your hero at an upcoming dinner party. Will she likely: a) Find a neutral colored business suit then go for coffee with a friend to discuss the merits of such a purchase? b) Find an outlandishly expensive, short red taffeta dress embellished with sequins, buy it impulsively and call her best friend on the way home to tell her about it? c) Put a smart, conservative black dress on lay away and tell her cat, Mr. Piddles, about it when she comes home, before she writes in her diary? d) None of the above.

Okay, if you chose b, this is what I had in mind for the quintessential fun loving otter, who in this case is perhaps a bit artsy and flighty. Her loud every day outfit, her desire to get the guy’s attention and “why not be the talk of the party while she’s at it?” attitude hopefully bring this out. And of course, she must call her best friend immediately. The other two choices are, well, probably too tame and unlikely for Gigi. You want to keep things consistent and authentic. Think what is my character like and what would she choose or do in each situation? This helps build the layers of an authentic, three dimensional character, a person your reader will want to know better.

If you’re in a pinch to match a hero and heroine you may find the book 45 Master Characters, Revised Edition: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters helpful.  This book does a lot of groundwork for you by revealing basic male and female character archetypes. With learning more about the kinds of characters who have become classics throughout the ages, you can have a foundation for building your protagonist, antagonist and even supporting roles.

The Writer’s Journey, which I discussed in another post, is also helpful for building authentic characters and understanding the journey you want to set out for them in your story. How will your characters be influenced and affected by the world around them?

Just remember, if you’re going to be an amateur, armchair psychologist, please keep your practice to the people in your head!

Writing Prompt: I love Victorian or Edwardian settings! Take a few minutes, using this photograph of a parlor in a lighthouse to write about the people who may have sat upon this sofa together. Have fun!


  1. Great ways to help give a character depth.

    1. Hi Linda! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment today.

  2. I've never seen that book before. Definitely going to check it out and the other ones that go with it. Thanks!