Writing good characters is an essential part of a well-developed story. They are the heart and soul of a story, and it is from their point of view that the readers are able to witness a plot unfold. The impression they make on your audience often comes from a mixture of their backstories, their personality traits, and their current quest.
In order to write a character that leaves a lasting impression on your audience, it is essential to create your character’s personality properly and have it remain fairly consistent throughout the story (what you want to avoid is a character that doesn’t have any defining traits or is very inconsistent with their personality). However, although you want your character to have a strong presence & character traits, you still want them to be able to grow and show flexibility in the way humans naturally do.
Developing a strong personality from scratch is often a daunting task and can be difficult for many. This article is here to serve as a step-by-step guide to writing detailed characters with strong personalities.
Table of Contents
What is Personality?
First, let’s define what personality is. Personality can be defined as a series of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that are characteristic and unique to a person. These thoughts and behaviors are consistent across time and situations.
Step 1 – Defining his/her core traits using the big 5
The big five personality traits is a personality scale used by psychologists. It is said to be one of the most reliable personality tests at the moment and I found that it is the best and simplest way to determine your character’s core traits with little effort. The big five traits are conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience & extraversion. Let’s define each of these traits in depth.
Let us start by exploring the first trait which is extraversion. This trait, as you may have already guessed, relates to your level of sociability and how you react in social settings. If your character has a high level of extraversion, they most likely have an extroverted personality.
Hence, they’ll enjoy social gatherings and feel energized by them. They’ll also be more assertive and outgoing. Scoring high in this category also means your character is more comfortable expressing themselves to others and is the opposite of reserved.
However, If you decide to write a more introverted character (someone who would score poorly in the extraversion category) they should feel drained from social events and prefer to stay home most days. They would also have a tendency to hate small talk and not be socially dominant, especially in large groups.
Next, you should think about your character’s level of neuroticism. Is your character emotionally unstable? Do they have high levels of anxiety and tend to overthink? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then your character most likely has a high level of neuroticism (which can be used as an interchangeable term for emotional stability). Neuroticism is the second trait measured in the big five personality scale and it defines whether you are more prone to mood swings and are highly irritable and/or anxious.
On the other side of the spectrum, a character with a very low level of neuroticism will be viewed as emotionally resistant and/or calm-tempered.
Openness to experience
Next on our list is openness, a category that describes one’s level of curiosity, imagination, and artistry. A character with a high score of openness will have most likely have multiples interests and be driven to learn and experience new things. They would also be described as someone who is open-minded.
On the other hand, a character who has low levels of openness will tend to be described as closed-minded. This type of person is uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. They would rather stick to what they know, and they rarely like to experience new things. Those who score low in this category will also tend to lack creativity.
This is generally the category that determines a person’s likelihood of success. If your character is someone with a high level of conscientiousness, they’ll be highly motivated, goal-orientated, and very organized. This type of person also tends to be very reliable.
A character who is on the other side is impulsive and less meticulous, tends to be disorganized, and is irresponsible.
Last but not least is agreeableness, the category that, as the name suggests, measures one’s level of friendliness and trustworthiness. A high level of agreeableness means that your character is polite, positive, and cooperates nicely with others. Your character will also tend to be very empathetic and sensitive.
A character with low levels of agreeableness will be viewed as less friendly, less empathetic, and is more inclined to create conflict around them because they have little regard for what others think and/or feel.
Determining where you what your characters to fit on the big five scales will give you a general layout of your character’s main traits.
Step 2 – Go a little deeper
Now that you’ve determined your character’s core traits. It’s time to go a little deeper and determine what are their goals, motivations, habits, faults & interests. Although the big five traits are an important aspect of determining one’s personality, they’re not what makes your character unique and memorable.
Their hobbies, their backstory & their weird little quirks are truly what will bring your character’s unique personality to life.
First, start by determining what they’re interested in. Do they like art and music or Science and nature? Then ask yourself what motivates your character? What do they want to accomplish in life and who do they want to be? Keep in mind that your character’s motivations can and should be related to their backstory and the environment they grew up in.
Step 3 – General impression
Step 3 is where you determine your character’s physical appearance and the general impression they have on others. Do they look mean? Do they intimidate others? Do they have a baby face and naturally look trustworthy? Imagine your character and think about what meeting them for the first time would feel like.
Then, you need to decide whether the first impression of your character embodies a true reflection of their personality. Are people’s first impressions of your character accurate? For example, your character might come off as mean and intimidating at first but may actually be a kind-hearted and loving person.
Your character’s overall “look”, the general impression they embody, and their personality are all important aspects that make your characters unique and memorable.
If you want more tips on how to create intriguing main characters, you can read the following article.