Understand Personality to Connect with Audience & Write Strong Fiction Characters
Who are your readers of fiction? Who are your characters in fiction?
How do you connect them?
In essence, this is the challenge of the fiction writer — replacing real people with believable ones, and then somehow making them real for the real ones.
The connections? Personality.
(Not even “humanity” because even non-human characters need to have a personality.)
Personality Is Not Persona
Let me distinguish here between personality and persona. The personality is the inside — the character’s core and true self. The persona is the outside — the reflection and projection of who the personality is in the exterior world.
The personality may drive the fictional character to have an entirely different persona, and as the writer you must have a clear understanding of both. What’s even better is when you can give the reader the same clear connection. The same dual perspective. This is especially cool when executed well with a villain.
Real life personality inventories are often inaccurately called “tests.” Let’s distinguish here: tests are things you can pass and fail; they’re a scale of knowledge. There’s no such thing as a personality test, because no one can fail to have a personality, even characters in fiction.
Psychologists who study personality use inventories, which simply categorize and group types of people according to certain traits. Much like how, if you were the grocery store manager, you would organize your inventory according to food types — produce, meat and seafood, dairy, etc.
There are many theories of personality, its development, and how to understand people according to their basic types. Each of these has its flaws, and each can be useful for fiction writers in their own ways
Pace Pallette Personality Inventory
For more than 20 years, the Pace Palette Personality Inventory method of categorizing people by their communication styles has been used by sales and marketing companies, along with professionals in other industries, to better connect with their clientele.
For full details, order the kit, but the questionnaire reveals personality traits that group people into one of four color types/palettes: red, yellow, blue, and green.
Red people are high-energy, type-A, bottom-line-first, and action-oriented.
Yellow people value rules, structure, and routine. They are often community-oriented and generous, while also being highly regulated and strict with themselves.
Blue people are intuitive, free-spirited, and can be incredibly creative.
Green people are curious, analytical, and puzzle lovers.
While everyone has traits of one “type” or another, one color tends to dominate the palette and “color” the person’s understanding of the world. Use this as a general guideline for how your fiction world might be colored by different people.
Sally Hogshead "How to Fascinate" Personality Test
Writer and motivator Sally Hogshead has developed a questionnaire called “How to Fascinate” that helps reveal to the taker what his or her personality “archetype” is, out of nearly 30 options. In particular, this system is touted as “understand how the world sees you” so that you can capitalize on your strengths through your interactions with other people.
As a self-promoting writer, you can use this to get your readers “fascinated” with you — help them understand your unique strengths, appeal across different personality types, and explore how to connect with others who are like and unlike you.
As a creative writer, you can use this to enhance your characters and their interactions. What makes your protagonist uniquely special? Why do you want your readers to be sucked into this or that character?
Understanding the unique fascinating aspects of different personality types can bring readers back to their favorite characters again and again — storylines and scenes they can’t get out of their heads. That’s what you want, isn’t it?
The Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory
The classic, yet somewhat controversial, Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory has gone through multiple iterations over the past 50 years. Based on a series of questions and scenarios, a person is rated across 4 personality categories, and the unique combination can reveal insight into how someone processes information and makes decisions, which is invaluable when building your fiction characters.
Extroversion vs. Introversion
This scale describes someone’s “attitudes” and how much time they prefer to spend “inward facing” or “outward facing.” How much importance does someone place on their relationships with others vs. their relationship with themselves? Extroverted people draw energy from action, and introverted people draw energy from reflection and the internal world of ideas.
Sensing vs. Intuition
This scale describes how someone gathers information, how new information is understood and interpreted. Does the person seek out information about the world and other people in a logical, empirical sense, or by an intuitive gut instinct? How much emphasis does the person place on the importance of the source of information?
Thinking vs. Feeling
This scale describes how a person makes decisions. Does a person prefer to make decisions from a logical standpoint, or do they come to a decision by empathizing with the situation, looking at it “from the inside,” and considering the harmony of all involved?
Judgments vs. Perception
This scale describes how the person combines and applies their other personality traits to the outside world and toward everyday life. People who have a “judging type” tend to show the world their preferences for judging, thinking, or feeling. They can come across as experts who “have matters settled.” It is important to them that others see them as knowledgeable and informed.
People with a “perception type” show the world their sensing or intuition and prefer to “keep decisions open” or leave opinions as “TBD,” dependent on more information. It is important to them that others see that they are open to learning about the world.
Fun fact: I’m an INTJ! It’s one of the rarest personality types, making up only about 2% of the population!
Connecting with Fiction Readers
If you’re an established fiction writer who has a fan base already, you want to know who they are. Not just the age and location demographics — although that helps — but understanding their motivations and emotional reactions allows you to write in a way to connect with them on deep levels.
If you actively engage with your audience on social media, run a social psych experiment with them.
Look at the various inventories and think of creative ways to find out more about which categories your readers fall into.
For example, on the Pace inventory, blue types are commonly animal lovers. Run a poll to ask your readers if they own a pet. Green personality types are highly curious, so ask your readers on a scale of 1-10 how bad it bothers them if they can’t find the answer to a question. Or, think of a character in literature who represents each personality type and poll your audience to find out which they love most. (Hint: Sherlock Holmes is green.)
Not only can you use these personality inventories to create characters in your own fiction, you can use the information within them to connect better with your readers, reaching them in deeply personal ways with characters and plot lines custom-tailored to their enjoyment.