I’m studying Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon and passing along the good stuff to you. I began in my last post with the first sections of the book. The chapters aren’t numbered, which makes it difficult to let you know where I’m at in the book (if you care about such things), but I’ll do my best. Today I want to start on Part 2 of the Character Thesaurus: Personality/Identify. There’s so much good stuff in here, I may have to use several posts to cover it all.
(These personality traits courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)
It begins with the words PERSONALITY TRAITS INVENTORY, then jumps right into the difference between introverts and extroverts. I’ve covered this before, but I will re-state it here because it’s important.
An introvert is not necessary a shy person. I’m an introvert, and I am completely comfortable performing in front of massive crowds. Meeting a stranger is a different beast altogether. I can get nervous speaking to a person I don’t know. The key to introverts is they need alone time to recharge. When an introvert is stressed out, they will retreat to a quiet place, usually home, and do something solitary: read a book, listen to music with the headphones on and eyes closed, play a musical instrument, crochet/knit, that type of stuff. Introverts get their energy from being alone, and being with others sucks energy out of them.
An extrovert, in contrast, needs to be around people to re-charge and de-stress. When life gets rough, they need to be with people, any people, even complete strangers will do. My teenage son is an extrovert, and he craves the mall when it’s crowded. A crowded mall sends me into a full-blown panic attack. County fairs, rock concerts, loud parties, these are the go-to venues of the extrovert. They don’t always crave crowds, though. Sometimes extroverts like quiet time with their best friend, or spouse, or mom. The key is that they don’t want to be alone. They get their energy from others, and being alone drains energy from an extrovert.
Keep these differences in mind when you create your character, because you will definitely be putting them into one or more stressful situations. How do they want to deal with it? Do they want to find a quiet corner, or do they crave their best friend’s company? You can also use this personality trait to create more stress: your introvert is desperate for some alone time, so don’t let her have it. Push her beyond her comfort zones, stress her out to her utter limits, and you’ll have an exciting story to tell, even if she’s just trying to get out of a folk music concert that’s gotten wild.
The next personality trait covered is simply labeled COLD. This person is undemonstrative, doesn’t like to be touched, seems remote or distant, maybe rude or grim, needs plenty of personal space, and may seem to be uncompassionate. This character could be either introverted or extroverted, although a cold extrovert would definitely be a challenge to create. You could also mix and match from this list and create a character who hates to be touched and needs plenty of personal space, but is otherwise caring and polite. The key is answering the question What Made Her Like This? There will be something in her past that has shaped her personality this way. It could be as simple as having non-demonstrative parents, or it could be as devastating as an assault.
DOMINEERING/OVERBEARING is up next. This character interrupts frequently in conversations, tries to finish other’s sentences, gets loud and bossy, is seen as willful and pig-headed, likes to take over, is always right, and enjoys making others feel uncomfortable or unworthy. This isn’t a nice person, and if you make your hero a domineering guy, you’ve got to find a way to make him sympathetic immediately, or the reader won’t stick around to see if he becomes a better person by the end of the story. What could make him sympathetic? A domineering mother he cowers to; he was bullied as a child; he has such a low sense of self-worth that he’s in danger of committing suicide. Whatever you come up with, make sure it comes out in the story eventually (probably early on) so the reader can bond with this character.
I’m calling it quits today. I’ll continue in my next post. Comments? Questions? Observations?