To Thy Own Character Be True

Good POV requires good characterization. It’s hard to stay in point of view if you don’t know how your character thinks and perceives the world. So in this exercise we’re going to examine our character’s personality development.

Some of us are intutives and develop characters’ personalities by the seat of our pants and may have difficulty describing how we “discover” who our characters are. The rest will probably need systematic methods to develop their characters. Either way, this exercise will help you see if you have created a human being or a cardboard cut out.

So first, determine your own personality type by taking one or more of the following free Myers-Brigs inventories: (simplest)

Or you may want to simply read the sixteen types and decide which one closest fits you. Please pay special attention to where you deviate from the cookie cutter. It is these deviations that make you an individual.

Next, do the same thing for the major characters in your work in progress.  Look for places where your character deviates from the mold. Having a personality type that generally fits indicates your character actually has a distinct personality, but the deviations,  and competing values especially,  are what make your character human.  The main character’s need to resolve the internal conflict of such self-contradiction will oftentimes prove integral to your plot, too.  So the important thing is that your character has an internally-consistent personality that changes only as a result of their personal growth and life experiences.

Please do take the step of taking inventories for more than one character in your book. I hope you find each or most of them have different results from each other. If you discover all or most of them have the same personality as you, you may want to branch out more.

If you’d like to practice writing from the perspective of  a different personality, pick the personality type least like you, borrow a scene from an existing WIP, and rewrite it so the POV character’s actions, thoughts,  dialogue, and her ways of describing everything, including people, more closely align with the profile. This will probably be a tough assignment. The more different a personality is from ours, the harder it is to write in their perspective. The exception to this is if you happen to be a personality type that easily sees through others’ eyes, in which case you probably already have a healthy cast of individuals rather than clones of you.

If you prefer, there are other personality type systems you can choose from to do this assignment with, and you can use the system of your preference if you have one. I just prefer the Myers-Briggs/Kiersey systems because they offer  sixteen cookie cutters to choose from rather than a mere four.

Incidentally, you may also want to try this with your supporting cast. While they keep their thoughts to themselves, their behaviors and the things they say should still be indicative of a distinct, individual personality.