Friday, March 29, 2013

Writing Tips: Building Better Characters - Testing your Characters


By Kayla Curry

I’ll be publishing an article on building stronger characters over the next few issues. In this series, I’ll tell you my secrets on how I build my characters. The first thing I want to tell you about is the use of tests to build diversified and believable characters.

Now, I did not go to school for psychology like my writing partner, Jacob Donley, but I’ve always had an interest in it.

In high school I took a psychology class to get a better understanding of the field and to see if it would lead to a possible career choice for me. Ultimately, I decided not to go to school for psychology. I didn’t think I could handle meeting people with huge problems. I’m too compassionate and I would likely end up wanting to help every single person I met, while simultaneously having meltdowns around why the world sucks so much.

The one thing I did walk out of that class with was a better understanding of why we are all different. I decided that I could use what I learned in my other interest--writing.

During the class we took tons of intelligence, aptitude and personality tests. Each one told us who we were on a piece of paper and you could easily see the differences between all the students in the class. I thought those tests would be a great way to make sure the characters I write about are who I say they are. So here is a list of tests I use and and how I use them:

The Hartman Color Code test. This test separates people into four main groups: reds, blues, whites and yellows. From these groups you will be able to see how your characters should interact with each other. Reds won’t get along with blues. There are also color combinations to describe people in the middle.
How I use it. I use it to make sure I have a range of colors for characters and to insure that the right colors are interacting how these colors normally would. The Hartman Color Code is also nice because it points out that everyone has good and bad qualities. I answer the questions the way my characters would answer them. This also lets me get to know them better. Here’s a site I found that will help you: http://www.colorcode.com/

The Jung Typology Test (TM). This test is actually four different tests I took in high school rolled into one. It classifies personalities into 16 different types according to four tests. These four tests are Extraverted vs. Introverted, Sensing - Intuition, Thinking - Feeling, and Judging - Perceiving. This test will tell you if your characters are who you say they are. Is your detective an ISTJ? Is your military general an ENTJ? Is your hero an ISFJ?
How I use it. I use this to give my characters just the right amount of stereotype. Let’s face it. We all have those people in our lives who are a stereotypical version of the inventor (ENTP) or the performer (ESFP). We need to see some of that in our writing too. Just don’t go overboard. I’ve taken the test on a few different sites for myself and have come up with 3 different answers that ALL describe me so there are overlaps. Here’s a site you can take the test at: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp

Multiple Intelligence Test. This test will tell you what environments and situations your character will strive in. It will also tell you the situations your character may have to turn over the lead to someone else. There are many tasks a person will strive in and other that they may not. This test will tell you if your character is a match wiz or a person who needs to work with their hands.
How I use it. Say your characters are trapped in a room. They all have their own ideas on how they will get out, but which is the best idea? Which character takes the lead? You know how they are going to get out, but who’s idea will it be that gets them out? This test will help you figure it out. Here’s a place you can take the test: http://www.literacyworks.org/mi/assessment/findyourstrengths.html

Values Test. This test will tell you what your character values most. When your character needs to make a tough decision or prioritize tasks, this test will tell you how they’ll do it in a believable way.
How I use it. If one of my characters needs to make a tough decision and I need to make sure that they are making the right one that doesn’t deviate from their personality, I use this test. When something big happens and my character has a lot of things they need to do to get the right outcome, I use the values test to determine the order in which they do things. Save friends first or try to fight the bad guy? Which is more important to them? The well being of their friends or vengeance? Here’s a link: http://www.douglaswagoner.com/ValueTest1.php

Now for an easy test that you can give your characters. The Optimist-Pessimist Test. This will help you decide what characters will give up in the face of doom and which ones will push on. Take a look at the series of words and mentally track what your character’s reaction would be to each one.
ROCKY ROAD
FUDGE
FALL
FLIGHT
SNAP
TRICK
STROKE
TRIP
Now, did your character think positively? (ice cream, candy, beautiful season, upward journey, easy, magic, to pet, vacation) negatively? (tough time, cheat, tumble, running away, break, to deceive, a physical ailment, stumble) or maybe some of each? If it was mostly positive, they are an optimist. If they think more negative, they are a pessimist. If they are about half and half, they are a realist.

Remember to keep your character true to themselves. Don’t make them do things they would never do and you’ll have believable and strong characters on your hands. Don’t make them say one thing and do the opposite. No one like hypocrites and in writing, hypocrites just come off as unbelievable characters. Therefore you shouldn’t have your character saying that they are brave and fearless in one scene and then make them run away from danger in another. If you are careful to avoid things like that, your characters will shine!