What’s in Character – Core Personality

18 Feb

This is the first in a series of posts devoted to character creation. I will go deeper than just physical appearance and how a character speaks. During the series, I will tear apart the main character from my short story, “Good Night’s Sleep”.  I will show you how Yursi Sonal was developed.

I do not go through the entire process that follows, for every character in every story. However, all of my major characters are created using this process.

According to modern psychologists, which I am not, each of us has a core personality. It is part of our DNA and is the base line for who we are. Everything that we experience whether it is physical, mental, or emotional is processed by and layered to this core personality.

There are a multitude of tests to determine which core type we fit into. Each will provide slightly differing results. I started using one such famous test in particular, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. The results of this test indicate four important areas that make up a character’s personality:

Introvert(I) vs. Extrovert(E)

Sensing(S) vs. Intuition(N)

Thinking(T) vs. Feeling(F)

Judgement(J) vs. Perception)P)

This yields sixteen potential combinations of letters. E.g. INTJ, ESFP, or ENTP. Each combination describes a basic temperament for the individual.

As an example, let’s take my character Yursi Sonal. When the chromosomes that created this character came together, the result was a ISTP. That means Introvert, Sensing, Thinking, Perception. The full description would take several pages to list. But, the full description is important to refer back to, so I keep it close to my computer at all times.  For now, we’ll shorten the description to: 

Impulsive and sometimes naive, generous, tactical, ignores rules and can be insubordinate to authority, takes risks and loves to play, subject to boredom outside of the job, requires a long leash.

So, this is the core personality that all of Yursi’s experiences will be processed by and layered onto. The way the character views their gender, birth order, physical appearance, their family status, geographic location, external environment, education, life experiences, employment, financial values, etc. will all be affected by this core set of traits. In upcoming posts, we will begin to add these “layers” to the core. Each layer will add to the character’s personality

If you are creating a main character, I recommend you consider this as your first step. An invaluable reference book for writer’s who want to use this method to create characters is, “Please Understand Me II” by David Keirsey. Even if you don’t go to this much effort to create your characters, it’s a good reference for character behavior.

As a side note, take an established character and ask them the Myers-Briggs questions to see what core type the character is. If they are honest with their answers, you might be very surprised at the results!

There are other, easier ways come up with a character. However, as you will see, when we build a character using this type of baseline and layering life experiences on top, we will end up with a living, breathing character that can and will respond to any challenge that comes their way in a real and believable way. Isn’t that what we want from or characters?


Posted by on February 18, 2013 in What's in Character


Tags: , , , ,

12 responses to “What’s in Character – Core Personality

  1. byjhmae

    February 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Very interesting method. May have to try this.

    • Dennis Langley

      February 18, 2013 at 10:38 am

      I have used many different methods and depending on what I need or expect from a character, I may not go to this much effort. I’m glad you find this interesting.

  2. byjhmae

    February 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I have had trouble developing characters, and I’ve been looking for methods to help me improve. I like this one because it’s based in psychology, and I think if your method is rooted in fact, the characters you create based on that fact will behave in more believable ways. I’ve just recently discovered the character sketch, and find that to be an amazing tool as well.

    • Dennis Langley

      February 18, 2013 at 11:10 am

      There are numerous, questionnaires available on the internet to help flesh out a character. I’ll talk about them towards the end of the series, once we get the first 5 or 6 layers on the personality.

  3. scottweberwriter

    February 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I use this at times for secondary characters – ones I don’t want to derail myself with long character bios, yet I want them to remain consistant. It is a nice shorthand for quick character viewpoint. My main charcters generall have enough background that I dont need this. A nice quick useful tool

    • Dennis Langley

      February 18, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      Some characters are easier to keep track of, that is for sure. Also, once they get established, I go back to my notes less often.

  4. SJ Main

    February 18, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Great idea. I never thought to use those psychological groupings to develop my characters. Going to try it out.

    • Dennis Langley

      February 18, 2013 at 1:33 pm

      I’m glad this gives you another tool. Stay tuned. There’s more fun to follow. 🙂

  5. 4amWriter

    February 20, 2013 at 5:55 am

    This would be fun to try, a great game to play when we don’t want to actually write but need to feel like we’re working on our project anyway. 😉

    • Dennis Langley

      February 20, 2013 at 8:50 am

      The trick is to answer as the character and not the writer. Be careful not to argue with yourself over the answers. 😉 Can you say straight jacket and rubber room?

  6. Kimberly Packard

    February 20, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Great post, Dennis!


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