Creating Characters: Resources

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/12/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

Odd… I think I’ve never written a post on Creating Realistic Characters. I taught a seminar on the subject [in May 2013] in Bisbee, and I taught the same seminar in Tucson in February. Attendance was low on that one—meaning the market’s saturated—so I probably won’t teach it again for a couple years.

After the seminar in Bisbee was over, I realized it might be a good idea to bounce at least major characters—the protagonist and the antagonist—against Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Doing so will help the author not only understand the character better, but it might also help the author assign particular character traits, quirks and eccentricities.

Certainly a character who still hasn’t mastered and moved beyond the Physiological level (his needs are only air, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion) would have different personality traits than one who had achieved any of the higher levels. The former character also would express those traits through different personality quirks and eccentricities than would the latter. Not really heady stuff, but something to think about.

After I shared the above bit of information with the folks at Bisbee via email, I received a response from one of my friends there (Thanks Lucinda!) who suggested a visit to the Human Metrics website.

At Human Metrics this particular link will open on the Jung Typology Test. Lucinda mentioned that her acting and communication students use it and find it interesting. I can add that it’s also a bit eye-opening, or it was for me. I recommend it.

Of course, if you answer the questions as your protagonist or antagonist would answer them, it will help inform (and form) those characters. It will help assign or explain character traits, personality quirks and eccentricities, and even  help the author initiate or resolve character arcs.

Why do I believe it will help? Because according to the site itself, having taken the test, you will

  • Obtain your 4-letter type formula according to Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typology, along with the strengths of preferences and the description of your personality type
  • Discover careers and occupations most suitable for your personality type along with examples of educational institutions where you can get a relevant degree or training
  • See which famous personalities share your type
  • Access free career development resources and learn about premium ones
  • Be able to use the results of this test as an input into the Jung Marriage Test™ … to assess your compatibility with your long-term romantic partner

How could that not be a good tool for creating a well-rounded protagonist or antagonist?

I don’t doubt that there are other online personality assessment tests out there. If you have discovered any that you found useful, please share those in a comment in the form below. That way anyone who chooses to check back will see the information as well.

That’s it for this time. Until later, happy writing!


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4 thoughts on “Creating Characters: Resources”

  1. Hi Harvey,
    I’ll address your initial comment that the market might be “saturated” when it comes to classes teaching how to create realistic characters. The opposite is true, but even if there were enough classes around to do the job, many writers would not acknowledge that they need the skill. When I’m working with a writer or writers, that is one of my most frequent comments: “Your main character/s don’t seem real.”

    Mentioning Maslow to most students today (unfortunately) brings a blank stare. Yet I think that is the most basic of frameworks to work with. If a writer gets that part right and really sticks to it, the rest will follow.

    Consider book reviewers’ comments: “Flat characters” or “Unbelievable characters.” Motivation is the crux of Maslow’s hierarchy, what motivates people at different stages of life or psychological development. This is where many writers, famous and not so famous, often get it all wrong.

    Your character must want something badly. Why? The writer’s job is to clarify why the particular character/s want/need what they do at a point in time, and to make it impossible for the reader not to believe that scenario. The reader must want/need these exact same things. The writer must set up realistic obstacles to that particular need to involve the reader. What is stake?

    Too many writers do not carry their characters past an initial development (we call them “cardboard” or “stereotypes”). Perhaps this stems from a superficial curiosity about the world around them as well as not reading widely and “actively” (seeing how the masters work their magic). Just because current popular authors get away with shallow character development is no excuse to give it a pass in your own writing.

    Michaele Lockhart

    • Hi Michaele, A strong and lucid comment as always. Thanks.

      I agree with you that the “writers in Tucson” or “writers in southeast Arizona” market is not used up. However, on the extremely limited list from which I can draw students (about 200), roughly 50 have attended every seminar I teach, often more than once, and the rest haven’t and, I suspect, won’t. I was offering each of my “core” seminars once per year. The last time I offered Creating Realistic Characters in Tucson, from that list of around 200 folks, three or four registered and showed up. So I won’t offer it again until I’ve added 20 or so “new” folks to my list. Writing Realistic Dialogue, the seminar that started it all, was about the same way. A lot of folks appreciate what I have to offer, but a lot of them are on the list only because they believe dropping off will hurt my feelings or they just want the bit of writerly information I occasionally send out. Of course, it doesn’t cost me any more to send a note to 200 people than it does to send to 50, so I try not to worry about it. 🙂
      As for your note re Maslow, that’s precisely why I inserted the Wiki link. 🙂

  2. Harvey, excellent input. As a writer I enjoy creating someone with depth such as Yancey Quarterman in Desert Kill. It makes it more interesting for the reader and the author.

    • Thanks Ron. And anyone else out there who’s reading this, if you like mysteries, pick up a copy of Desert Kill. It’s excellent. In fact, if you aren’t a current mystery reader, this one might well get you hooked.

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