I haven’t really been thinking as much about the writing process lately (and perhaps this is a bad thing…), but I have, for various reasons, been thinking about ways of understanding people.
Sometimes I like to analyze things, or study different ways of interpreting and making sense of the world–especially when it comes to people’s personalities. It’s not that I place 100% stock in any one way; I just like to sift through them all and see how they make sense when considered holistically. It’s kind of like I create this mental collage with information from different perspectives to in order to “see” the bigger picture, I suppose…
Potentially Helpful Writing Tools
In certain books about creating characters many authors will mention tools such as using character archetypes (such as The Shapeshifter, The Mentor, The Threshold Guardian, etc.) to help a writer determine what roles their characters will play in their novels. Sometimes characters will fulfill just one role; others times they might fulfill several. It’s not that a character has to follow these archetypes, just that it can make understanding his/her purpose in a story a bit easier.
But such archetypes are not the only tools at a writer’s disposal.
Over the years I’ve looked at a lot of other ways to interpret people’s personalities. The astrological zodiac is probably one of the most popular tools Westerners, at least, use to identify themselves (especially when dating, it seems). I’m not into reading and believing horoscopes and all of that, though I always find it interesting to read up on various personality types. I’ve certainly used astrology to help me better understand some of the characters in my writing project. It’s been particularly useful to me because I’ve been playing with the idea of the elements (earth, water, air, fire, etc.), so assigning each character a dominant element then reading about how this would affect their personality has been endlessly fascinating and useful for exploring the idea of the elements more deeply–both psychologically and in terms of magic. There’s also Chinese astrology and its five elements, which I find equally interesting.
Getting away from astrology, there’s also numerology, which is based on a system of assigning numbers to letters and deriving meaning from people’s names and birth dates. Personally I haven’t read up extensively on how all of that works, precisely, but I do find the resulting analysis of different names to be particularly enlightening. Another interesting tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which may sometimes be used by employers to learn how their employees might fit into the workplace and also to facilitate better communication between everyone.
Now, any of these tools can be used on an individual character basis, though they can also be used to explore compatibility (or lack thereof) between characters. Say you’re writing an interaction with two characters but the dialogue just feels stifled, or unnatural. If you already know their general individual traits then you can use one of (or some of) these tools to read up on personality types, which could give you pointers on how these characters might behave around one another.
I think of all of these methods more as guidelines than ironclad rules–because, at the end of the day, people (and some characters) are just too darn complex to map out on paper.
Say, I Think You’re Going a Bit Overboard, There…
Hey, I don’t actually recommend using all of these things when coming up with characters. Not only can it be time-consuming but unnecessary, once explored to a certain point. (For me, though, it’s just something that really interests me outside of writing and so I just can’t resist!) However, these tools can be useful if you’re having trouble fleshing out a character or deciding what kind of role they should play in your story. In fact, I probably wouldn’t start out with archetypes and whatnot at all before I’ve attempted to put a character together myself and write about them a bit (I haven’t so far), but once you’ve gotten the ball rolling a bit exploration-wise it might not hurt to look into one of these tools for further development; they could provide great pointers and inspiration!
Do you use any of these tools when creating characters?
If so, which is(are) your favorite(s), or which do you find most useful? If not, what else do you tend to use?