February 6, 2019

Who Are You? Using Personality to Make Your Characters Shine

By Sarah Sundin, Author of The Sky Above Us (released 2-5-19)

With her third novel, an author fell off my must-read list. Why? I loved her first novel, with the fiery, spunky blonde heroine. I liked her second novel, with the fiery, spunky brunette heroine. Then I read her third novel, with the fiery, spunky redhead heroine. You see the problem.

Understanding personality is a powerful tool to help us write believable characters—and to avoid writing the same character over and over.

By nature, novelists’ study human behavior. Studying personality types hones those skills.
To understand my main characters, I give them personality tests. There are three major personality tests—the Four Temperaments, the Myers-Briggs, and the Enneagram. These reveal how your characters are wired and how they act and react in certain situations.

You will apply pressure to your character—will she withdraw into herself? Freak out? Lash out at others? Get drunk—or otherwise tune out of life? How does he react to failure? To success? How does he make decisions? How does he recharge his batteries? When does he feel most alive?

When you stay true to a character’s personality, the story rings true to the reader.  
In my latest novel, The Sky Above Us, Lt. Adler Paxton is a choleric/sanguine ESTP Promoter—a man of action, confident, and charming. Appropriate for a World War II fighter pilot. These traits lead to his greatest successes—and his deepest failures. He can’t accept that he committed a great sin that hurt people, so he doesn’t think about it, true to his personality. The story forces him to think about it, deal with it, and change.

The heroine, Violet Lindstrom, is a melancholy ISFJ Protector—warmhearted, hardworking, drawn to the downtrodden, and she values tradition and family. Appropriate for a Red Cross worker. These traits lead her to do great good—and to inflict great hurt when her standards are violated. The story forces her to face her self-righteousness, deal with it, and change.

Adler and Violet are different and complementary, and they’re different from the other heroes and heroines in my Sunrise at Normandy series. This create variety for readers, and it provides a satisfying challenge for me as a writer. When writing in the point-of-view of characters with different personality types, we must fully immerse in their ways of thinking and acting, not our own.
By understanding personality, we can craft realistic characters who bring our stories to life. 
Sarah Sundin is a bestselling author of historical novels, including The Sea Before Us and The Sky Above Us. Her novels When Tides Turn and Through Waters Deep were named to Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years,” and Through Waters Deep was a finalist for the 2016 Carol Award and won the INSPY Award. A mother of three, Sarah lives in California. She enjoys speaking for church, community, and writers’ groups. Social Media Links:: Website: Blog: Facebook: Twitter:

1 comment:

  1. What Enneagram type would you think Adler and Violet are? I think Violet is a One with a Two wing; Adler I found harder to pick, but I thought maybe a Seven with an Eight wing?