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Creating Interesting Characters: Part I

Characters

This weekend, I attended a writing workshop led by Mary Buckham, a USA bestselling author, who feels that having interesting characters is the key to writing books that readers can’t put down. Since I was already mulling over the main character’s role in eliciting emotional reactions from readers and viewers (see my latest blog post on my website), I paid close attention to what she said.

Initially, she had us take a personality test (similar to this one). The point of the exercise was that we needed to understand ourselves before we create characters. If we don’t do this, we run the risk of creating characters just like us. How many times have you read books by authors whose characters are essentially the same in every book? The likely problem is that the characters are just extensions of the authors.

My personality type came back as Helper/Giver (no surprise to me). And upon reflecting, I’ve found that there are pieces of myself in all my characters. Since they came out of my head, there is no getting around that. But, overall, I hope I’ve done a good job of separating my characters from myself. From the beginning I understood that they needed to be internally consistent and true to themselves. My emotionally scarred rock star heroine couldn’t react like I would under pressure. And my alpha male hero sure as hell couldn’t think like me during an intimate moment with that rock star.

I’ve used personality types in character creation since I first started writing. Understanding the different personality dimensions is an excellent way to flesh out protagonists and antagonists and make them interesting. Some good ones to check out include the Myers-Briggs and the Keirsey personality types. I’ve also gotten good ideas from going through the different characteristics associated with astrology signs.

You can mix and match personality characteristics to make fascinating characters. Maybe your Scorpio (INTJ) villain is a rational thinking perfectionist type whose idyllic vision of the future is a great one (if only she didn’t go about killing people to obtain it).

Once you’ve decided on your character’s personality, put them in situations designed to challenge them. For example, throw your Pisces (ISFP) Artist Type heroine into a war zone and hand them an M16.

Conflict is at the heart of good stories and what better way of stirring things up than throwing together two characters with diametrically opposing personality types. For example, toss your Pisces (ISFP) artist type into a life or death situation with a Leo (ENTJ) commander type and watch the sparks fly.

These are just some initial ways to create interesting characters. In my next post, I’ll go through a fun exercise I learned through Mary’s workshop on bucking character stereotypes.

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