Death to the Cookie Cutters

Ever get stuck on figuring out what your character would actually do, how they would realistically act? Or do you look back and realize your characters resemble the cookie cutter subdivisions?

Well, you’re far from alone. When I first started writing I had some characters that sporadically changed personalities to do what I wanted them to do.

I love studying people. I caught on quick that it could help me explore and develop my characters. In high school and college I eagerly took Psychology and Sociology. While fellow students moaned and suffered through it, I loved scheming out eccentric cultures and how to terrorize my heroes.

I loved personality tests. I’d horde all the papers and then spend hours and hours running my characters through them. Just to see if I could.

For an introvert like me, what more could I possibly want?

My extraverted Mom thought I was crazy especially when we would go to a family reunion camp and I’d take my binder out to the woods to write all by myself.

Lucky for me I married a People Analyst Addict. We regularly theorize about human nature, motivations and paradigms. It’s something like a joint hobby.

In terms of temperament studies we seem to favor the Myers & Briggs system  and our own version of a four color set up similar to “True Colors“.

One of our favorite books is Please Understand Me, the foundational basis of the Myers & Briggs system of four different spectrums of opposing preferences such as Introverted vs Extroverted.

I love the sixteen temperaments and placing my characters there so that I can read the full profiles and find out how I can flesh my characters out and smooth over the gaps of my understanding of them.

Another book I love of this system that I’ve recently discovered is Mother Styles, but this book is less for my characters and more for myself and family.

Although stereotyping real people can be problematic, it’s really helped me create a more  diverse cast. The tips on weaknesses and how to avoid clashes can spawn great ideas of how to cause struggles and group drama. Knowing just what their buttons are and being able to realistically create two characters that just rub each other the wrong way.

Now that’s fun.

So how do you diversify your characters and keep them straight?


About Ren Black

Part-time novelist. Weekend artist. Full-time Mother. Ex-poet. Perfectionist by training. Compulsive researcher sporadically. Prone to fits of linguistic commentary Unorthodox Renegade occasionally. Sarcastic by habit... Dreamer Always... Consider Yourself Warned

2 comments on “Death to the Cookie Cutters

  1. ROFLOL! Ren, speaking strictly from the viewpoint of your poor, manipulated characters, budding writers ought to be BANNNED from psychology classes!

    What a hoot!

    I’ve never really formalized my system. When I’ve taken personality tests, I’ve always tested out very high in the category of empathy.

    I guess–what I do is more seat of the pants; getting inside my character’s head, using their eyes, and then asking myself, now–what would he (or she) REALLY do, and what can I have other characters do that is believable to create real friction?

  2. I’m a huge fan of using MBTI for my characters. I also make them answer endless amounts of questions to figure out their psyches. I’m a people-watcher too, and always making up stories about people I saw, even when I was a child. I’m highly intuitive, so that was helpful in figuring out possible motivations, but I was always driven to find more evidence that my intuition was correct. In high school, I was a big fan of online, play-by-post role-playing (the kind that were essentially round robin stories), only my biggest challenge was to create as many unique characters with unique back stories as I could.
    On occasion, I can be a little obsessive about this. 😉 However, I think it’s important for the type of fiction I write, which is surprise, surprise, character based. Plus, like it or not, romance sneaks into my novels, and I’m a stickler for having equally strong male and female characters (one of my pet peeves is unbalanced romantic pairings, where one character gets all the fleshing out, and the other is just there to be an attractive plot device). This puts me in a matchmaker role countless times, so I that also plays into the personality tests.
    Honestly, my characters rarely stick totally to their designated roles–once I figure them out, then they become more flesh and blood.

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