Characters are a part of their author. They come from just a spark of thought, an original spin on a deep-seated fear, or a half-recalled image of their childhood. Certain character types can appear frequently for authors, not just as a habit but also as a function of their time and place. Jane Austin is an example, with her very similar heroines and repeated character tropes.
It would seem natural to have characters similar to the author, but in these days of diversity, the adage “write what you know” can bring a writer under fire. This isn’t a push to write in diverse lifestyles per se, but is instead a push to increase diversity of personality within an author’s characters.
Having diverse characters is more than representing minorities. Diversity in people means including variety in personality, interests, values, social skill, etc. Those intangible qualities enrich character creation, turning even minor characters into glittering ornaments in an engaging narrative.
Some authors master this early, and their books are peopled by quiet souls, loud people, artists, engineers, craftspeople, masters, novices, and all types in between. When reading a work in which characters are richly diverse, it begs the question, how can this one writer be so many people on the page? Some of the more romantic explanations people give include method research or loads of colorful friends who provide real-life inspiration.
Create a Character from the Inside Out
There are, however, two more accessible sources from which to draw diverse personalities. Old cultures have attempted to explain and organize the intense variety of human preferences and behavior. Zodiac profiles, whether or not they’re accepted as accurate, are designed to describe a strong variety of human traits. They are both positive and negative, often rich with layers of traits that influence how those people approach, or handle, conflict. Included below are links to major western and eastern zodiac profiles.
Another option, less superstitious and based on decades of documented study, is available through psychology’s personality models. They begin with some simple motivation theory (like Freud), which offers a simple internal character profile. Over the years, accepted methods of personality study have shifted to show 16 different personality types. Carl Jung developed this method with four categories, each with dichotomous traits. The combinations in these psychological tests turn out excellent character guides for what will upset, please, or terrify a person/character. Guides for the various personality theories are included in the Links/Resources section below.
Ideas for Application
To apply these to practical use, first examine what traits you are already using. For those who are just beginning to write, profile traits of characters you enjoy, those you have used, and your own traits. These are the typical sources of character inspiration, and the start for any later patterns. See what traits are common between these, or are well-represented.
Also, profile characters you either dislike, or find difficult to understand. As an example, you might find (as many do) Katherine in Wuthering Heights irrational, selfish, short-sighted, and attention-seeking. Articulating what you dislike about a character furnishes material for writing antagonists or conflict-producing side characters. This exercise can also help identify which traits aren’t actually “bad” but can be used to enhance and expand options for future protagonists.
The evaluation technique is more useful for prolific writers. In this case, examine and compare main characters, narrators, even narrative voice in a number of different works. What are the strengths and vices of these individuals (including your own different writing voices)? How similar are they to one another, and what are these specific similarities?
Once these repeated uses are identified, consider what stands opposite to those traits. Treating opposing personalities as negative or undesirable is common, but not very helpful in creating internal diversity. Instead, make an exercise from highlighting the positive in these opposite types of characters. What would this trait look like in a hero? How would an opposite character approach your story premise? How would the story differ when driven by a person with a more analytical vs. emotional nature?
It takes all kinds to make a world, as the saying goes. Draw on these other kinds to enrich your world.
Color Personality Test – https://www.colorcode.com/about/
Chinese Zodiac (with Birth Date, Time, and Place) – https://senn.cocoloni.com/chinese-zodiac/
Western Astrology (with associated stones, elements, and symbols) – http://psychiclibrary.com/beyondBooks/zodiac-signs/
Psychology Personality Theories (a rough generalization of major theories) – http://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-theories.html
Myers & Briggs (Jungian personality theory and types) – http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/c-g-jungs-theory.htm
Myers & Briggs simplified: http://www.16personalities.com/
HumanMetrics tests for different purposes: http://www.humanmetrics.com/
A collection of character generators: http://www.springhole.net/writing_roleplaying_randomators/charactergens.htm
Story Forge Cards (this is a review with their Character Quick Pick) function: http://www.gnomestew.com/reviews/story-forge-test-drive/