How To Discover More About Your Main Character

Once you’ve read this post, you may begin nodding your head and saying, ‘Oh yes, I use that process when outlining my character profiles.’ If this is the case, then I can only say one thing – I wish you’d told me!

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I discovered this method through a friend who works in Human Resources. She told me how her employees and clients fit into categories:

  • Extrovert or Introvert (E or I)
  • Sensory or Intuitive (S of N)
  • Thinking or Feeling (T or F)
  • Judging or Perceiving (J of P)

I listened with fascination as she broke my personality down into four letters and then told me exactly what I was like – she was incredibly spot on.

As I took this information on board, I wondered if I could use the same techniques on a fictional character. Getting to know my hero/heroine has always followed the same pattern. A notebook page per person with a list of details:

  • Physical appearance (hair colour/age/dress sense, etc.)
  • Interests (hobbies/favourite music, etc.)
  • Characteristics (strengths/weaknesses)
  • Background (family/home)

It’s handy to be able to go back and re-read this information when you are connecting with a particular role. A lot of the facts never makes it into the book, but to write a convincing protagonist, you need to be in their shoes.

Still reeling from the accuracy of my friend’s analysis of my personality, I decided to give it a go with my current young adult fantasy WIP.

Here’s what happened:

Mia is my main character. She is a sixteen-year-old girl who spent her young years trying to survive life with a violent father. Thanks to his actions she lost all trust in family values and adults in general. Her mission is to find her older brother who left home – and left her. She remembers everything and relies on memories to help her find Zak. Her uncle takes her in after her father is killed and places her in a training academy where she discovers she has an ability for hunting. She becomes a ruthless member of the elite team sent out to rid the world of shifters, but she can’t bond with the other girls on the team due to confrontations with another hunter.

I worked on the personality profile and assigned the appropriate letter to each aspect of Mia’s qualities. She came out as ISTJ

(Introvert – Sensing – Thinking – Judging)

Mia prefers to focus on her inner world; this is where she feels safe. She focuses on basic information rather than interpreting what is put in front of her. To survive, she uses logic and consistency and can make decisions quickly.

My friend told me that this style of personality profiling was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers. When I did a little more research, I found this website www.myersbriggs.org. There is a ton of information on this site about personality types. It includes training to be a consultant as well as using these techniques in a professional setting or for personal use. If you get a moment then work your way through the site, it’s really interesting. For my writing purposes, I was particularly excited to find a section where each personality profile is given a more in depth analysis.

Mia’s profile was:

ISTJ = quietly systematic, factual, organised, logical, detailed, conscientious, analytical, responsive, pragmatic, critical, conservative, decisive, stable, concrete and efficient.

As soon as I read this I could see Mia in my head clearer than I ever have before. Scenes began to unfold as she acted out those parts of her personality. The bad guys were in for a tough time!

I was eager to use this process for the other characters in my story. When I got to Felicity – our resident bad-girl and general pain-in-Mia’s-butt, I was surprised at the outcome. In my mind, Felicity is vile. She is a pure-breed hunter and despises Mia. Her role in life is to make Mia’s life a living hell and cause as much disruption as she can.

Felicity came out as ENFP

(Extrovert – Intuition – Feeling – Perceiving)

Felicity focuses on her outer world and maintaining her reputation at the top of the food chain. She interprets everything that goes on around her, adding her meaning to situations. Her ability to look at people individually helps her to keep her edge, and she is open to new information and options that can help her win.

All of a sudden, Felicity seems more dangerous than I first gave her credit for. Her full profile analysis was:

ENFP = enthusiastic, imaginative, energetic, creative, future-oriented, individualistic, insightful, possibility focused, novelty seeking and spontaneous.

Spot on!

Using this exercise has given me a much sharper focus on my character development. It was so simple to do and remarkably accurate. I’ll definitely be using it again.

Why not give it a go on one of your characters and let me know how you get on. Or maybe you use this or a similar process already.

6 thoughts on “How To Discover More About Your Main Character

  1. Janet O'Kane

    I’ve used this system ever since reading Jeff Gerke’s ‘Plot versus Character’ book which devotes a fair amount of time to using Myers Briggs for fiction and find it immensely useful. For example, it can suggest how a character will respond to a particular situation, which is useful for throwing up plot ideas.

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  2. Interesting, Shelley. I have also considered using the Myers Briggs for characters but I’m never that organised! However, I think it probably is a good strategy for remembering that not all characters are like ourselves (!). Glad it worked for you.

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