Thursday, August 27, 2020

Character Development with Real Personality

By Jacqueline Myers 

Part of The How They Do It Series 

JH: Knowing who your character truly is can help you understand how they'll act in your story
. Jacqueline Myers shares personality theory is a writer's best friend when creating characters.

Jacqueline is currently happily at work on her second mystery series (under a pen name, Gilian Baker) while sharing what she's learned with other writers. Using the synergy of personality theory and brain science, Jacqueline coaches writers using a proprietary methodology that helps them overcome their debilitating creative blocks so they can write un-put-down-able books.

If you are struggling, she'd love to see how she can support you! Schedule your free story strategy session here. You can also email her at

Grab her first cozy mystery, Blogging is Murder, for FREE here.

Take it away Jacqueline…

There’s nothing that makes me delete a book from my iPad faster than a character acting…well, out of character. Same goes for clicking back to my Netflix watch list or leaving the movie theater. (I’d take the popcorn, though.)

Engineering strong characters can be done in a myriad of ways, often involving 10 pages of random questions about what your character’s personalized license plate spells out and what their favorite ice cream topping is. Honestly, I’ve never found those types of character sketches all that helpful. Yep, they inform me about the surface identity of my character. And they are certainly entertaining questions to answer, especially when avoiding writing that next scene (shocking, I know), but they don’t seem to get me closer to understanding what makes my characters tick.

If you’ve read my posts on how personality theory helps you enjoy the writing process and how it keeps writer’s block at bay, you won’t be surprised when I suggest utilizing personality typing for character development, specifically the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Even if you adore character profile charts, there are several reasons to apply personality theory when creating your characters. It makes sense that modeling characters off a system designed to categorize human behavior would be a good idea, right? So, let’s take a look at the benefits of adding personality typing to your character development bag of tricks, shall we?

Why Use Personality Theory for Character Development


Jacqueline Meyers
Readers come to intimately know our characters—at least that’s our goal. They come back to our series because they just have to know what happens next to their favorite hero or villain. But when we put our characters in a tough situation and then have them act unrealistically based on previous behavior, we may not get another chance to impress readers. It’s a break in the bond between writer and reader that often can’t be fixed. Bottom line: consistent character behavior equals better books and happier fans.

Using personality theory for character development takes the guesswork out of determining how a character would respond to the next big catastrophe. 

Because we understand her at a deep, psychological level, we can anticipate how she would interact with characters of different personality types and establish her behavior in various circumstances.

For example, the detective protagonist in your series is embroiled in solving the most heinous crime he’s experienced in his 20 years on the force. He’s way past burn-out but keeps pushing on due to a strong sense of duty. He could behave in a few different ways, depending on his personality type:

An ISFJ cop like DI Fred Thursday from Endeavor could easily get beat down by the evil he sees in the world every day. He cares so deeply about helping others, but he’s become jaded after all he’s seen on the job. Wondering if he’s ever really been a force for good, depression overwhelms him. Usually a by-the-book kind of guy, his despair affects the quality of his detecting, which leads to a vicious criminal back on the streets. Guilt eats him up as he retreats into himself.

However, a cop like Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon is by nature, a risk-taking ESTP. In the same situation, he goes overboard the other way, becoming obsessed with getting the bad guys. He barges into dangerous situations without backup or a bullet-proof vest. Everyone knows how he feels about the regulations that prevent him from getting criminals off the street because he makes a lot of noise about it.

Personality typing gives us a definitive guide when we’re determining if our detective would suffer in silence or if he’d shoot first and ask questions later.

Human Connection

If you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test, you likely experienced an ah-ha moment when you finally felt understood. That’s how we want our readers to feel—like they know our characters inside and out. After all, that’s how they know how a character would react “in character.”

Because personality theory is designed to help us better understand ourselves, how we interact with others, and how we view our place in the world, it’s a natural way to profile our characters. 

Suddenly, there’s no doubt about how they would behave amid conflict, stress, or heartache. We gain clarity around how to paint them, so readers connect, respond, and relate to them on a human level.

According to Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, one of the main reasons we read is to experience situations outside our comprehension. Our brain craves an understanding of how we should deal with particular circumstances if we were in the protagonists’ place. To give our readers this experience, we must create realistic human characters. Doing that is less complicated when you have such a deep framework, like personality typing, to work from.

Plot Points

Most new writers believe great storytelling is all about the external plot. But if we’re doing it right, the plot is driven by our characters—from their motivations, goals, and internal conflicts. It’s the desire to experience how the character evolves internally, which makes our readers stay up past their bedtime.

While recently revising the first book in my new series, I realized I had put plot before character development, and it just didn’t work. My protagonist, Willow Gibbins, is an INFJ who has always felt like an outsider and doesn’t trust people to “get” her—especially after she moves back to her hometown, where she was bullied for being different. Because I was trying to pick up the pace of my plot, I had her open up way too soon to a past nemesis who later becomes her BFF and crime-solving sidekick. Readers would have noticed, and maybe not given my new series a chance after that faux pas—it just wasn’t believable.

Create New Characters

When we decide on our protagonist’s characteristics, it’s typical for a writer to create their sidekick as a totally different personality type. It naturally creates additional tension and a more dynamic, realistic interplay between them. Once you deeply understand your protagonist, it’s easier to decide what other characters should be like.

Since I write cozy and paranormal mysteries, when I start a new series, I need to create a sidekick character who will help my protagonist solve murders. But this goes way beyond their looks and likes. They need to respond to the same situations differently and have unique life philosophies. Otherwise, they won’t think differently enough to consider the evidence and catch the killer. But more importantly, the sidekick won’t be able to help my protagonist grow as a “person.”

Intimately knowing my protagonist using personality typing ensures I include a variety of characters who are sure to meet my structural purpose and assist my protagonist in her evolution as the series moves forward.


Nothing gives more insight into an individual’s personality and motivation than what they say—or don’t say. Typing your characters makes writing dialogue easier because you understand who they are at their core. Would she shout out, “I love you. Don’t leave,” across a crowded restaurant? If another character did that to her, would she whip around with a quippy comeback or just keep walking? What would she say to her boss, who is unfairly blaming her for losing a big contract? Maybe she’d stand up for herself…or silently retreat to the ladies’ room for a good cry. Authentic-sounding dialogue is one of the most challenging aspects of character development. What writer doesn’t want it to be more straightforward?

Using personality theory for character development is helpful when sketching out a new character or fleshing out an existing one. 

Did you know that different personality types gravitate towards specific types of careers, locations, and friends? That makes it simple to build out a new character who is just starting to develop in your mind. Or maybe you know the protagonist in your first book isn’t as 3-D as they need to be. You can take what you already know about them, assign them a personality type, and suddenly, creating a credible character your readers can relate to seems not-so-hard.

Now that I’ve explained how personality theory profiling can be so valuable in character development, in next month’s guest post, I’m going to outline more of the details so you can get started using it in your own writing.

About Blogging is Murder

Born with the instincts of a world-class detective, blogger Jade Blackwell never thought she’d solve more than a murder in a cozy mystery novel.

Jade Blackwell lives a quiet life, and that’s the way she likes it. Happily settled in a log home with her husband and daughter in the quaint village of Aspen Falls, Wyoming, she’s ready to dive into her new career as a ghostwriter and blogger and leave her life as a worn-down English professor far behind.

Jade’s promising career comes to an unexpected halt when a computer hacker targets her friend and fellow blogger, Liz, destroying her livelihood and reputation. But the intrusion doesn’t stop there. The mysterious hacker, known only as Connie, is a stalker, and now she has her eyes on Liz’s three children. Before Jade can even begin to investigate, Connie is found dead in Liz's kitchen. To the sheriff's department, the case is cut and dry. Now Liz is in jail, and Jade is the only one who can free her.

Determined to prove Liz’s innocence, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer, Gabrielle Langdon, and the two women sleuths dive straight into the heart of this cozy mystery. What they learn will break the case wide open, unraveling Jade’s faith in humanity and the safety she feels in the small mountain town she calls home.


  1. The Myers-Briggs is certainly popular in business -- I've taken it plenty of times -- but there are a lot of questions about how useful and valid it actually is.

    Psychologists today seem to favor the Big 5 approach, which had a significant amount of research behind it.

    You can Google Big 5 test and get a bunch of free ones online, with descriptions of what they scores mean.

    The biggest difference seems to be that Myers-Briggs doesn't account for the fact that most people score "average" on many traits -- Myers-Briggs plus them in one category or the other.

    Of course, you probably don't want your characters to be average, so this may not be as big a deal in fiction as in real life.

    The selection of traits measured is also slightly different, and the Big 5 traits -- openness to experience, conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless), extraversion, agreeableness, and
    neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident) -- may be more useful to writers.

    And thanks for the idea -- I'm going to be going back to my characters and taking another look at the in this light!

    Another thing to try from psychology is to give characters mental conditions. We all have our issues, but with fictional characters these are often exaggerated to the point of "why aren't these people in therapy already??" And Quora is a great place to find people with mental illnesses talking about what it's like to have them -- or to live with someone who has them. Check out borderline personality, for example, or malignant narcissism.

    -- Maria

  2. Thanks for your insights, Maria! I too have noticed business moving towards the Big 5, as the items it measures focus more on characteristics of how we each work. I love your idea about giving your characters mental issues. I'll have to put some thought into that one! Thanks for your comments!