Friday, August 11, 2006

Using Psychology to Create Characters

Okay, finally on to my characterization ideas.

As most readers probably know, I love searching the internet for ways to improve my writing – in fact, it’s more like an addiction. In any case, I came across some interesting ways to help develop characters.

We all know that it takes some understanding of human psychology to create believable characters. That said, I know I don’t have the time to study psychology in order to improve my characters. I could use a little help. A cheat sheet maybe. Well, wouldn’t you know it, there are some wondrous resources out there on the internet.

I came across an article (based on a workshop) by romance
writer and speaker Laurie Schnebly Campbell called ‘The Psychology of Creating Characters.’ In it, she says there are basically four things that determine people's character: birth order, priorities, enneagrams, and personality scales. She says:
“Each one of these has the potential for conflict, and conflict is what we need for a great romance novel! And for the real emotional drama, there need to be conflicts of character...conflicts in the way these people approach life.”

Let’s briefly examine how each factor can help us create a better character.

Birth Order
Birth order may affect how your character sees life and how people treat him or her. It may also have a lot of influence on the profession they choose, and how they interact with other people. Knowing the affect of birth order on your character can help you determine her behavior but, you also don’t want to associate the incorrect personality types on your character based on her birth order. Campbell discusses a little bit about how this works in her article; but here are another few links:
Personality Traits Linked To Birth Order
Birth Order - Understand How It Affects Your Personality
How Birth Order can affect your Child's Behaviour and Personality
Wikipedia - Birth order
I know that for me, this technique will be very helpful in developing my characters.

Many character questionnaires encourage you to develop your characters’ priorities. However, knowing a little bit more about them can help you determine which priority is ranked highest for your character, whether or not he is even aware of it. And, this ranking will greatly affect his behavior and decisions and even perceptions of the world around him. Campbell says, “Everyone has individual priorities in addition to universal things like family, job, and world peace. These personal priorities influence every decision they make, and there are only four to choose from… Excellence, Comfort, Pleasing and Control. This choice is never a conscious one; it grows up with the character the same as it grows up with all of us.”
Here are some links:
Priority Test
Career Personality Test
Determine Your Priorities To Maximize Time Use
Your Priorities Exercise

Okay, I have to say, this is my favorite. If you know a little about your character, you can use enneagrams to develop that character further from what you know. The enneagram theory is based on 9 personality types. Campbell says, “Just the names of the nine types are intriguing.”
The Enneagram and Life Coaching
The Enneagram 9 Types
RHETI Test (to determine which type your character falls into)
The New Enneagram Test

Personality Scales
For personality scales – and there are loads upon loads of personality tests available online – Campbell discusses the Myers-Briggs character types. They measure four different traits — introvert/extrovert, intuition/sensation, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Each person ranks somewhere along each of those four scales.
What 'Type' Is Your Character?
MBTI® Basics
Wikipedia: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Personality test based on Jung - Myers-Briggs typology
Free Jung Personality Test
More tests

The handouts for Campbell’s workshop are available here.

And, just because, here are a few more links to help you discover your character’s motivations and personality.
Maslow Hierarchy of Needs
More Maslow Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Motivational Model

Character Mapping -

Character Building Workshop -

And a link to help SHOW your character’s personality rather than TELL:
The Nonverbal Dictionary -

Now, get to work.


Rene said...

Wow, you really put some thought into this. Great links.

Dana Pollard said...

Thanks for all the links!!! man... you rock.

Love the new pic of you too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a lot of useful info! I've put your post into my Favorites. It's like a free workshop!

Melissa Amateis said...

WOW! Tons of great stuff!

Tess said...

Ooooooh, more links!!! Thanks so much. And Laurie Campbell's stuff is great :-) I did one of her online workshops a couple of years back and she's really helpful.

Jen said...

I love the Nonverbal Dictionary--but had forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder! It was passed along to me during an awesome emotions workshop I took once that totally changed the way I write... and now I can't think of what it's called... Creating Character Emotions I think--by Margie Lawson--it was put on by the Kiss of Death RWA chapter and I refer back to it again and again.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

nienke, when I was writing a biography, I took my subjects info--birthdate, birthplace, death date--to an astrologer for a reading, which I taped. Now, I am not really into astrology and such, but I was astounded by some of the things she came up with--and used many of these insights in my characterization.

Thanks, too, for taking a look at my new grandson. I'm hoping they'll send some more pictures soon. My son sent a short recorded thing of his crying...(the baby's that is, not his!--tho' he said he hadn't slept for 3 says, so maybe it WAS his!)


Joyce Ellen Davis said...

PS Cool new Avatar you have. I like!

The Naked Novelist said...

Hey Nienke,

As a novelist, spending time on your blog is a great way to procrastinate (and much more productive than other stuff I usually do...such as stare at the wall, play chess on my computer, eat chocolate, drink gin and tonics for breakfast then watch reruns of Days of Our Lives etc etc.)

Keep up the good work. You've created a truly awesome resource.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to check out the links. A book that I've found to be useful if you haven't already looked at it is "The Writer's Guide to Character Traits" by Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D.

Anonymous said...

There are some really great links here! Thanks for taking the time to put them together.

Also, there's a great website on this topic about using psychology to create good fiction. It's run by a shrink who writes; I met her at a conference and she's pretty cool:

I haven't done it, but fiction writers can actually email her their psychology questions and she emails them back. If you look at the Q and A part of her site you can see people ask about characterization quite a bit.



Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this - really appreciate all these links.