Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Building a Character—One Trait at a Time


In the midst of edits for book two of my Gulf Coast Rescue series, I’m revisiting some of my secondary characters with a critical eye. Is that character trait realistic? Is it the right trait?
With each book I write, my character development process is as varied as my plots. What worked for the last book doesn’t resonate for this one. I can’t decide if that is a good thing or not, but I have discovered a lot of ways to explore personalities and traits until I find the right combination for that particular character.
My villain, hero, and heroine receive the most attention since they tend to have the most “page” time. They also tend to be created from a combination of sources. I’ve melded traits from Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests, archetypes (The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines by Cowden, LaFever, and Viders), personality types (Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Edelstein), birth signs and numerology (The Power of Birthdays, Stars, & Numbers by Crawford and Sullivan), and of course psychological studies (50 Psychology Classics by Butler-Bowdon) to name a few of my most common go to books. Another fun source is Enneagrams (from the Enneagram Institute). I attended a workshop on Enneagrams and have these very handy cards and decoder to help me pull together character traits. I especially like how they include healthy, average, and unhealthy traits for each personality. Because we all know, even our heroes have flaws, just as a villain can have a redeeming quality.
Enneagram Decoder
Enneagram Cards

 

 











One of my concerns when creating a character is how realistic those traits are. Some traits are simply incompatible. You can’t be a true extrovert one moment and an introvert in another. You could only share some traits in the middle (since they are a continuum), but if you are on one end or the other, you won’t. I also don’t want to create a character that looks and sounds like a dozen others. I may see similarities in the people I meet, but they are always unique—and I want all of my characters to be unique too. Even my secondary ones.

So, do you have any favorite characters? What characteristics make them memorable to you?

6 comments:

Anne Marie Becker said...

Great resources, Sharon. I loved taking these tests in psychology and counseling classes. So much fun to discover things about oneself and others. I definitely use these things as I layer my characters' personalities.

jean harrington said...

Sharon, my favorite character--other than any in my own books, which is another story--are, hands down, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. The heroine and the "villain." Now why that is so might make for an interesting blog post. Hmm.

Sharon Calvin said...

Jean, that would be a great post. Knowing why something strikes a chord in us is always worth investigating--and can yield surprising results!

Rita said...

I have a long list of questions to ask the characters and myself. It ends up with me knowing everything about them so it's easier for me to know what they will do in a situation I put them in. I want to feel what the characters does.

Cathy Perkins said...

Great resource suggestions Sharon!

Sandy Parks said...

I'm writing all those resources down. I have a box of archetype cards I get out once in while to aid in character building. I need all the help I can get.