In the previous instalments of this series, we looked at tools to help you create characters. This week, I want to shift gears and discuss how to develop characters that have already sparked. This exercise is ideal for when you know a few things about a character, or maybe you just have their vibe, and you’re looking for ways to bring them into a story.
This week, we’re all about personality…and more specifically, testing that personality. There are tons of personality tests out there, such as Myers-Briggs, IQ, and EQ tests. Some have image-based questions, where you choose your favorite image, and this reveals something innate about who you are. Others ask you questions that you answer on a sliding scale, for example.
For the purposes of this week’s discussion, I’m going to use 16 Personalities. When it comes to personality tests for characters, this is my personal favorite. I’m going to guide you through how I took this test for my protagonist, and what was revealed about him. It’ll be a treat for us all to see if the results match up with what I wrote for his character profile/study.
I’ve not used this tool for him yet. Let’s see what happens!
For questions that aren’t historically appropriate to a 17th-century fella, I either chose the neutral position or imagined the historically-accurate version of the question if possible.
As you can see, I filled out every page of the 16 Personalities test. I tried to free James from my input and go with my first instinct for him. I didn’t want to shape the results of the test at all, especially as this is a character I have already developed.
James came out with an ISTJ-T personality type. According to 16 Personalities, he is:
I’m not sure if I’d consider him turbulent over assertive, but he was pretty close to a 50/50 on that. As for the other key traits, I’d say they’re spot on with how I’ve already developed him.
What follows this result is eight pages of in-detail reading. I’m only going to show and discuss two of those pages. Mostly, this is because this blog post would be about thirty pages long if I got into some of the other results pages—but if you use 16 Personalities for your character (or yourself), I recommend reading each results page because there’s plenty of insightful information available there.
I’d say of these strengths, the only one I’m not so sure my character has in spades is calmness. He’s not a total loose cannon but he does have a short fuse.
16 Personalities really hit the mark with James’s weaknesses. These aren’t his only weaknesses, but they certainly encompass the most important ones—especially his stubbornness early in the book and his insensitivity later in the book.
The nice thing about having these tests available on the internet for free is that I don’t have to hunt down my old college psychology textbook. I hope you’ll take the chance to poke through some of the tests available out there and see which ones can help you develop your characters.
Also, sometimes I get ideas for ways I can challenge my characters just from reading through the results.
Check in next week for one more character development exercise to help you prepare for next month’s challenge!
Margaret McNellis has been volunteering with JuNoWriMo for years. She holds an MA in English & Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction. Her WIP is a historical novel set in the 17th century. Margaret’s short fiction has appeared in Fictitious Magazine, See Spot Run, The Penman Review, The Copperfield Review, and Dual Coast Magazine. To check out some of her fiction and poetry, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter.