Character creation can be tricky sometimes. Maybe not so much for your main characters but I definitely find it hard sometimes to create multi-dimensional side characters. You know, the characters like your protagonist’s best friend or your big villain’s head lackey. I usually find it very easy to flesh out the big players in my novels but come up short when it comes to those who might get a couple of pages “screen time” throughout the entire story. Fleshing out your characters will make them unique and easily recognizable to readers.
One small side note before I continue! A lot of writers say that you should know each and every character intimately regardless of how prolific they are. Now, personally, I say this is a matter of choice over how much detail you want to go into. I don’t usually know the Tragic Backstory(tm) of Walk-on Mary who tells Tadashi and Hiro that Professor Callaghan is still inside the burning building when I write. Nor do I care to as it creates more work in the long run that readers will never see. If you are one of those writer’s then more power to you. However, that’s a topic for a completely separate blog post!
And now back to your regularly scheduled blog post!
I’ve rounded up four different methods that make the character creation process a bit quicker. Whether it’s a main character you’re struggling with or if you need a bit of assistance with building some interesting side characters to populate your novel, archetypes, MBTI, Astrology, and Tarot cards all offer unique and different ways to help you build characters utilizing preexisting traits, quirks, and characteristics. None of these options force you to start from absolute scratch. Though if you felt the need to mix and match different characteristics to build a unique character to fit into your story.
Out of all four of these tools, archetypes are probably the most well known. We see them all the time in movies, television, books, and other media. Archetypes are stock characters that most people are familiar with. I’ll name a few:
- The Alpha Girl (or Guy)/Cheerleader: Heather Chandler (Heathers), Cordelia (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter)
- The Wise Mentor: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), Doc Hudson (Disney Pixar’s Cars)
- The Smart Guy (or Girl): Sailor Mercury (Sailor Moon), Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Simon (Firefly)
Archetypes tend to be the go to resource for writers who need a quick, simple character. There are literally hundreds of them because they’ve been around since Plato. Each archetype comes with it’s own defined characteristics that can be found among other characters across various stories. They have also been expanded upon by author after author. Carl Jung, a psychologist from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, helped to further define what each archetype entailed. This blog post from NowNovel.com discusses some of these archetypes more in depth. It also includes some helpful hints on goals and fears for character motivation. You can also mix and match certain traits and characteristics of these archetypes to create new ones. The evil mad scientist archetype is simply a remix of the genius smart guy and the dark lord archetypes.
For some ideas on how to remix archetypes for your own character creation process, check out this chart!
MBTI, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator if you like long words, is one of the most comprehensive personality tests out in the wide world of the internet today. You’ve probably seen MBTI charts on pinterest or tumblr categorizing your favorite book/movie/television characters into one of these personality types. It’s the hot thing to do at the moment right up there with sorting your favorite characters into Hogwart’s houses.
In total, there are sixteen different personality types that measure a person’s dominate character traits. Each one is a combination of four different dichotomies, or splits, in an individual’s personality. Kind of like facets. They are marked with a corresponding letter that creates an unique personality type. Well-Storied has a pretty in depth article about MBTI and how to use it with regards to your characters. If you just need something quick and easy though take a look at this chart. It’s more in depth than I could ever be. All of the sixteen of the personality types are described and detailed in it.
I’m not sure how well mixing and matching personality types would work with MBTI. I think it would simply end up changing the entire personality type but you could always try it and see what happens. However, you’re more than welcome to try it out. Tomi Adeyemi suggests taking the characters that you already have and then applying MBTI personalities to them for more inspiration. This works really well if you just need to further flesh out your characters. If you’re starting from scratch though, consider just picking a personality type that fits your needs best based on the given descriptions for your character creation.
Astrology and Zodiac
Astrology and the zodiac is another good place to look for inspiration when it comes to character creation. In fact, it happens to be my most favorite. These have been around for a very long time. At it’s simplest form it’s the study of how celestial bodies move through the sky and effect events on Earth. It’s all very subjective and I’ve never been one to believe in the tell of horoscopes to predict my future. However, I find something incredibly interesting behind the wide variety of signs and symbols.
Sun sign astrology is the zodiac that most Westerner recognize. Aries, Capricorn, Virgo, and the rest of the twelve signs are usually what we focus on since they are the most familiar. Bryn Donovan has written a series of posts that focuses on writing each of the twelve zodiac signs. She covers both the good and the negative traits that are associated with each sign. Useful when you need to come up with a handful of flaws for your characters to make them more well rounded. Because astrology and the zodiac has been around so long, it’s super easy to find other inspirations. Like with archetypes, traits from each sign can be mixed and matched so that no two characters are exactly alike.
If the sun sign astrology doesn’t feel right for you or your looking for something different, try one of the many other zodiacs or astrology systems. Just about every culture has one. While many of them are similar, there are enough differences to separate them. Try the Chinese zodiac or Celtic astrology for something a little off the beaten path.
My last tool for quick character creation is a bit off the beaten path. Tarot uses cards to usually predict the future or to gain insight on events that are happening. Each card carries a specific set of meanings and is usually up to the person reading the cards to interpret. It’s very subjective and because of this some people are skeptical on whether or not a set of cards can tell you what the future holds. Regardless of whether or not you believe in telling the future with a few cards, tarot still lends itself to be an unique approach to character creation.
One of the really cool things is that though there are specific meanings for the cards, there are still several ways of interpreting those meanings. It might make it super confusing for predicting the future but it makes it interesting for writing. I love how open ended it is and the creativity it allows. Several spreads exist for using tarot as a writing aide but it can be as simple as choosing three cards from the deck at random for a character’s positive traits, negative traits, and motivation or really any aspect you’re looking for.
Writing After Dark has a specific, more in depth, spread of cards specifically for creating characters. There’s also some directions and an example on how to interpret your cards. She uses a spread that I’ve seen floating around on pinterest. I’ve got it on my list of spreads to try when I need some inspiration for some characters of my own. There’s also another example spread at Writing One Word At a Time. She also has some resources if you aren’t familiar with tarot cards and their meaning.
There you have it! Four tools for quick character creation. The next time you need some inspiration try one of these out and let me know what you think. Which one do you think will fit your needs best? Let me know in the comments below. Or better yet, send me a link to your characters’ profile so I can check out your handy work!
- Looking for your next story starter or perhaps something to bust up writer’s block? Dig through my writing prompts!
- Looking for something interesting and free to read? Check out Enchantress on either Tapas or Wattpad!