You’re Just My (Personality) Type

Rorschach testBasing characters on living, breathing human beings is a great way to make them realistic, but using personality types can work too. Some really smart people have already gone to the trouble of analyzing human behavior and coming up with some clever labels for it, so why not take advantage of all their hard work? It’s a cheat sheet for creating lifelike characters.

  • Nowadays, I don’t think anyone buys into the theory that bodily fluids determine our personality, but the four temperaments Hippocrates associated with the “humors” still apply. He called them Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholy, and Phlegmatic.
  • The Keirsey Temperament Sorter looks at two areas (communication and action) to determine whether someone is a Guardian, an Idealist, an Artisan, or a Rational. Each temperament is broken down into four character types, so you get a total of sixteen different personalities to work with.
  • Gary Smalley’s personality test uses animals to characterize the different temperaments: Golden Retriever, Lion, Otter, and Beaver.
  • The Personality Compass takes more of a global look at personality, associating each direction of the compass with a culture. For north, think Vikings—driven and ready to conquer the world.
  • The ancient Enneagram philosophy has been updated with the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator. The nine types of individuals are Reformer, Helper, Achiever, Individualist, Investigator, Loyalist, Enthusiast, Challenger, and Peacemaker.

I don’t rely on one system in particular because I like being able to look at my characters from different perspectives. I don’t necessarily use the same system for all of my characters either. One might be a Choleric and another a Viking. The two personality types are essentially the same, but I go with whatever system helps me understand the character best.

I also don’t religiously adhere to the inherent traits of a certain personality type because I don’t want to end up with rigid characters. People are complex. Characters need room to change or do unexpected things, just like real people.

Personality types are a great tool for developing characters, and I try to keep it that way—a tool, not the focus. I’d rather not have someone psychoanalyzing everything I say or do, and I figure my characters don’t want that either.

©2013 Kim Vandel

Related post: I’ve Lost Control of My Characters

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