October 26, 2020, 01:14:04 AM

Author Topic: Using personality frameworks (e.g. the Enneagram) to help build your characters?  (Read 285 times)

Offline Rincewind

Just wondering if anyone else, like me, likes to use various “personality frameworks” to help understand the characters you write and their wants, goals and fears.

I tend to use the Enneagram, mainly. This website explains it all pretty well, and there are other resources online specifically geared toward writers. Essentially, there are nine different “types”, each with a “basic desire” and “basic fear”. I generally have a good idea of what my character is like first and then assign a type to them, so I'm not relying on it like a cookie-cutter character template, but I've found it incredibly useful.

I also sometimes take into consideration the Myers-Briggs types, and the Four Tendencies. Anyone else use these, or other frameworks, when writing?

Offline cupiscent

I don't usually go into that sort of detail, but I do like to think about Hogwarts sorting for my characters (ala the Sorting Hat Chats). Sometimes a DnD alignment might be more pertinent.

Offline Magnus Hedén

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I might on occasion use tools like that as a springboard for ideas, but I also recognise that there's no such framework that fully captures human diversity. So I think abiding to them strictly in creative writing will leave the resulting characters wanting. I think these frameworks fulfil two human needs: the first is our need categorise and sort things into boxes; we have to name things in order to understand them. But in creating frameworks of things that don't actually have discrete values, like personality, we end up with reductionist ideas of what that thing can be. The second is our most deep-seated need to be part of a tribe; we feel better if we can say we're part of a group to which others belong and share traits (I'm INTP-T and a Reformer/Enthusiast by my guess). These frameworks can certainly useful in a variety of contexts, but I think it's a mistake to assume they represent the whole picture.

When writing characters I think the most important part is bringing our own emotional experiences into it. I say emotional experiences because that's what's story is about at the core. It doesn't matter if you haven't experienced a battle between orcs and elves or watched the remnants of a supernova from a space station. It matters if you can believably evoke emotions in your characters (and therefore, your readers) that are suitable to the context. And we all have the capacity to experience the same emotions, so I think a big part of writing realistic characters is tapping into your sense of awe, your fears, your love, happiness, and loss, and so on and then moulding them to fit the given character and context.

Offline Peat

The thing for me about the various tests and what not is, personally, that I'd go through all that work and still not really have a better idea of how my character will react to certain situations and how they'll go on and so forth. Which means basically that I've done a lot of work for nothing.

Increasingly I go for trying to build my characters by either writing or planning the story. I'll have a rough idea and I'll start seeing how they react here - how they react here. I do have a template to fill out for each character containing useful info, but I frequently don't use it.

However, what I do use in that template which is kind of similar to this, is I try to put one Specific Thing - one very specific, defining part of their personality that affects almost all of their interactions for better or worse (it's something that should be both strength and flaw, although mainly flaw). I got the idea from this interview - https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2020/05/25/character-flaws-will-storr/ -  and the author talking about how he does it and how he got inspired by reading a book politics and this part - "And somebody who knew her said, Theresa May's problem is ‘she always thinks she's the only adult in every room she goes into.'"

That will impact everything. That sort of very specific core thing does help me decide how their interactions go time and time again. Knowing they're a Gryffindor or a INJP or an Individualist/Investigator doesn't because there's a lot of them and still a lot of ways it can go.
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline cupiscent

Knowing they're a Gryffindor or a INJP or an Individualist/Investigator doesn't because there's a lot of them and still a lot of ways it can go.

Definitely! That's a part of thinking about it, for mine. Because the Hogwarts houses are so broad, thinking about how and why a character might fit where serves as a basis for thinking about what they're like, and how it manifests. (Also, the Sorting Hat Chats system is a bit more complex and thoughtful than "hey kid, you're brave!" :D)

I mean, the bottom line is that I just write varying sorts of Slytherins, though the fun thing about Slytherins is that the precise nature of their ambition and who/what they're loyal to or willing to fight for provides amazing range. In my newest project I think the main character might actually be a Gryffindor, it's just that the world has smacked her in the face so many times that she now doubts her instincts and priorities, and that's what gets her in trouble.

Offline Ned Marcus

I think they can be a good start, but they can distract from creating a deep character.

The forces of antagonism help create characters more than sets of personality traits. They do this by shaping the character's goals and motivations, and showing how they react when faced with very tough choices.

Offline Peat

Knowing they're a Gryffindor or a INJP or an Individualist/Investigator doesn't because there's a lot of them and still a lot of ways it can go.

Definitely! That's a part of thinking about it, for mine. Because the Hogwarts houses are so broad, thinking about how and why a character might fit where serves as a basis for thinking about what they're like, and how it manifests. (Also, the Sorting Hat Chats system is a bit more complex and thoughtful than "hey kid, you're brave!" :D)

I mean, the bottom line is that I just write varying sorts of Slytherins, though the fun thing about Slytherins is that the precise nature of their ambition and who/what they're loyal to or willing to fight for provides amazing range. In my newest project I think the main character might actually be a Gryffindor, it's just that the world has smacked her in the face so many times that she now doubts her instincts and priorities, and that's what gets her in trouble.

I know that feeling kid.

And yes. This is just me, and just what works for me. I'm constantly in search for how to get the most background material done with the least work - anyone who finds that these classifications helps them get there quicker is doing it right :)
This is the blog of Peat - http://peatlong.blogspot.co.uk/

Offline Neveesandeh

I've tried writing out lists of traits and core values, and I still do, but it's not something I really tend to focus on when writing. I feel like I don't usually know a character that well until the second draft when I've had some more time to think about who I want them to be.

Offline Alex Hormann

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I've never gone deep into the psychology of my characters, largely because it's not necessary for the stories I write. When I'm writing a first draft, my main concern is that the plot holds together. Once I've seen how the characters fall into that, then I can start developing them. Along the way, I give them tics and traits and whatnot, making notes as I go, but I've never been the sort to fully flesh out characters beforehand.
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