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Character Personality Traits, Emotions & Psychology

PERSONALITY
Welcome to the mind, and a characters mind is the most important part about any story. You can have great world building, and great plots, but if you don’t have great characters then your story won’t interest readers.

Readers love diverse characters. They need specialist personalities. Nobody acts quite the same as anyone else in day-to-day life.

Readers are also looking for reliability. They enjoy having attachments to characters. It helps people become more engaged in the plot by connecting to characters.

PSYCHOLOGY & TRAIT THEORY
Historical psychology made use of the four temperaments, an idea created by Hippocrates. They are sanguine (social), melancholic (thoughtful), and phlegmatic (relaxed) and choleric (ambitious). They played against each other as opposing forces. Greek theatrics used them as stock characters, up until Shakespearian use and beyond.

We have developed our knowledge since Shakespearian times though. The current view in psychology is there are five major varying factors called the big-five-trait theory. The facets of the big-five-trait theory give further definition of the traits, but some overlap.

To create believable characters you need to give them personality. Achieve this by varying each role within stories.

Opposites attract, except in fiction. You want characters conflicting constantly. This gives you easy successful endings, when characters agree to disagree.

Having opposing traits adds more scope for conflict. This could be between allies or enemies. Others ways to add conflict is if two characters had the same goal, but only one can achieve it.

You can use conflicting traits to give characters vastly varying personalities to clash against each other. My personal preference is to sway characters to one side of each of the big-five traits. Then I give three positive and two negative traits to heroic characters, and vice versa for villains.

When you have their base personality, you can give opposing traits to other characters. After adding conflicting traits, you can look to see which side characters sway towards for all the trait suggestions. Some can be antagonistic because they are so similar.

Write characters trait ideas down. Every idea is useful when planning and the process of writing will lead you to more ideas. You can change character personalities as often as you like, but it is good getting them formed prior to first drafts.

Another conflict technique is making characters have opportunities to show their traits, and explore both sides of the spectrum. If you have a meek character, then force them into situations where they have to be adventurous.

Even if characters are normally introverted, maybe they are extraverted in another area of their life. People are capable of being every trait at some point in their life. Humanity is complex. Yet, some will override others the majority of times.

This lists personality traits using the big-five-psychology model. If you think the big five model is too general, then I listed their relevant facets too. It helps create hundreds of different, complex characters.

It is good making characters traits contradict each other. That is why I have assigned them into relevant pairs. This is my view of the theory. I have tried to place positives on the left, and negatives on the right, but this isn’t an exact science.

A.   RATIONAL vs. NEUROTIC
1.   CALM vs. ANXIOUS
2.   FRIENDLY vs. HOSTILE
3.   HAPPY vs. SAD
4.   AWARE vs. IGNORANT
5.   CAUTIOUS vs. IMPULSIVE
6.   RESILIENT vs. VULNERABLE
B.   EXTRAVERTED vs. INTROVERTED
1.   WARM vs. COLD
2.   SOCIAL vs. SHY
3.   ASSERTIVE vs. WITHDRAWN
4.   ENERGETIC vs. LETHARGIC
5.   EXCITING vs. BORING
6.   POSITIVE vs. NEGATIVE
C.   AGREEABLE vs. DISAGREEABLE
1.   TRUSTING vs. SUSPICIOUS
2.   HONEST vs. FAKE
3.   ALTRUISTIC vs. SELFISH
4.   COMPLIANT vs. DEFIANT
5.   MODEST vs. EXCESSIVE
6.   SYMPATHETIC vs. CONTRARY
D.   CONSCIENTIOUS vs. CARELESS
1.   COMPETENT vs. INEPT
2.   ORDERLY vs. DISORDERLY
3.   OBEDIENT vs. DISOBEDIENT
4.   ENTHUSIASTIC vs. APATHETIC
5.   DISCIPLINED vs. CHAOTIC
6.   DELIBERATE vs. HASTY
E.   OPEN vs. CLOSED
1.   IMAGINATIVE vs. PRAGMATIC
2.   PUBLIC vs. PRIVATE
3.   EXPRESSIVE vs. REPRESSIVE
4.   ACTIVE vs. PASSIVE
5.   IDEALISTIC vs. REALISTIC
6.   MORAL vs. IMMORAL

EMOTIONS
Emotions are similar to traits, but change for each character throughout your story more frequently. When writing a scene, I assign each character an emotion, noting if it changes throughout the scene. A list of conflicting emotions includes the following: -
                                             
ANGER vs. FEAR
AGGRESSION vs. AWE
ANTICIPATION vs. SURPRISE
OPTIMISM vs. DISAPPROVAL
JOY vs. SADNESS
LOVE vs. REMORSE
TRUST vs. DISGUST

SUBMISSION vs. CONTEMPT

Happy Creations!

More Information: Character ChartAppearance, NamingConflict, Plot

Jim M