Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

How can I train myself to think in "multiple personalities" so I can use these personalities for character development in writing?

share|improve this question
4  
I think you mean for differentiation/fleshing out of characters. Multiple personalities as character development seems like a cool idea in psychology themed fiction, though. –  iajrz Mar 23 '11 at 2:26
2  
See also Getting inside someone else's head –  justkt Mar 23 '11 at 13:09
add comment

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Quick side note: Role Playing Games such as Dungeons and Dragons helped me out with this. Playing make believe, too.

Now the answer:

You need what many call a brief, although stating "brief" is just the name, being a rather longish document. In a character's brief, you write down their characteristics. A good thing to do is write down their traits (easily angered, quick to laugh, spontaneous), then when writing a scene, look back at these traits and check for incongruousness. You might find, or not. In any case, you don't have to "think" in multiple personalities. You give the characters traits. They take life and you follow them and their actions. Write what you think first, then check back on the character's traits and edit the scene.

You might have written the character as slow to anger in a scene, but given it (at the moment of fleshing out) a quick temper. You need to change accordingly, unless the character is growing out of their quick temper; in that case, you should take note appropriately in the place you have those traits written down. "She starts learning how to control her temper in this and that scenes".

This helps a lot to keep track of character believability, and also with character development.

share|improve this answer
1  
Thumbs up for D&D! –  oldrobotsneverrust Mar 23 '11 at 13:52
add comment

One technique, as suggested by the author David Mitchell (who is known for his 1st person prose) is to write a whole bunch of autobiographical letters from your characters to you, the author.

You won't use these letters verbatim in your writing, but even if your character is narrated in the third person they will be valuable as a tool for getting in the mind of your character. Not only will you explore your character's bio (which is the traditional way of character exploration), but by writing the letters in the first person you'll also explore their language use, which in turn helps you understand their mentality and perspective on the world.

I've used this technique and can vouch for it. It's pretty effective, though requires a bit more time investment than the traditional character brief.

share|improve this answer
    
This may work for some people, but for me this seems like a chicken-and-egg problem. If I can't get inside my character's head, how am I supposed to write an autobiographical letter from him? –  JSBձոգչ Mar 23 '11 at 15:11
    
You repeat it. So you write a letter to the author on, eg, the subject of your parents. You can make up the facts before hand. Then, if you are not happy with the characters mind/personality you repeat the process until you are. –  Panda Mar 24 '11 at 12:27
add comment

I've sometimes taken online personality tests, answering the questions as my characters would. I particularly like the Myers-Briggs version - there's one available here that works for me. The test itself can be helpful, as you have to really think about your characters in order to answer some of the questions, but the summary at the end is what I like the best. It classifies each character as one of sixteen personality types, and then reflects on how people of that type get along with others, view themselves and the world, etc.

It's not foolproof, but I find it helpful, and it's kind of fun, too!

share|improve this answer
    
That particular Myers-Briggs variant keeps classifying me wrong...or at least different than what I've always been! –  justkt Mar 23 '11 at 13:15
    
Another one I recommended to someone is the list of questions which gets passed around via email -- What's your favorite brand of toothpaste? Pepsi or Coke? Ever been to Europe? etc. It's somewhat silly, but it's one more way of getting a handle on the person you're creating. –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 23 '11 at 13:46
add comment

Base the characters off amalgamations of people you know well. Or people that you have spent enough time with to know how they would react in various different situations.

Also make an effort to really pay attention to people. Rather than engaging yourself in conversations, observe them, noting:

  • what people are saying and not saying
  • how they're saying what they're saying
  • how they react to other people's opinions
  • how they respond to others
  • how they gesture
  • etc

Being an extreme introvert, this is how I have (sadly) always engaged in conversations. But I've suggested it as a writing exercise before and have heard good results.

share|improve this answer
    
But make sure when using your friends that you do so in a way that avoids them reading your published work and going wait, that's me! unless they'd be flattered. –  justkt Mar 23 '11 at 14:00
add comment

I would go the other way round: any tried 'multiple personality' voice, which really does not resonate on paper once written, should be at least strongly questioned when revising your text. Only those passing this test are likely to work for the reader; the same applies to the relevant characters.

Moreover, to keep a proper balance in narration perspective, among characters and their voices, it helps to stick to the simple rule of using the third person whenever possible, as in Franzen ten 'serious rules':

Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

share|improve this answer
    
Point of view is one thing, but you can write in the third person omniscient and still need to have a personality for each character that may not (some would say ideally should not) parallel your own. –  justkt Mar 27 '11 at 1:42
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.