The 5 Absolute Dimensions of Character Personality

The 5 Absolute Dimensions of Character PersonalityIs there anything about your character that you don’t know?

I don’t mean insignificant things like favorite food or what’s on his bedroom floor, which—I know—might be one and the same. There is an (occasionally helpful) trace of personality there, but no real substance.

Those things aren’t him.

Imagine your character walking down the street. A normal street, a normal day. Does he swagger or cavort or stroll or stride? (Tell me in the comments!)

It’s the difference between going through someone’s stuff and meeting them. One is simply more effective, especially when you know what you’re looking for.

Your character’s walk is a clue to his personality, his presence. But it’s just one small piece, no matter how real.

The fullness of personality still awaits.

How to get to know your characters.You want to know your character like he’s standing in front of you pouring his heart out, discussing his next move, or giving you a piece of his mind. Yes. That. Please.

Unfortunately, for most writers it’s easier said than done.

…Even me. There was a time that I would work with a character’s fear and desire and inner conflict, and I would end up feeling like I was looking at a cartoon made of words. I had the head and the heart, but not the spirit.

As wonderful as the cornerstones and pillars are, they’re story-centric. Though they’re essential to writing a compelling story, they give a mere outline of the psyche.

So we need to define what rounds out a character so that you can identify the areas needing attention.

Overview coming right up.

5 Dimensions of Personality

This is an overarching framework, and encompasses every aspect of personality. Each category houses immense opportunities for color and texture, stemming from a wide variety of personality paradigms (nearly a dozen!) to give a full and nuanced view of your character.

I use this system in my Forensic Character Sketch sessions to pull characters from fuzzy beginnings into vibrant, distinct being.

Presence is how your character comes across to other characters, how he presents himself, holds himself, comports himself. It is the attitude he carries and the energy he exudes. Think stage presence turned page presence.

Does your character have his own mien?

(More info on Presence here.)

Motivation is everything that moves him. It’s the “why” behind actions, reactions, and emotions.

What prompts your character to act? To react?

Method is the pattern of of choices made in acting on a motivation. It indirectly reveals how he thinks, and can be a clear path to understanding the deeper workings of the mind.

What approach does your character take?

Interaction is how he handles different relationships, how he communicates, what he needs, what he gives, and how close he gets.

How does your character relate to others?

Underpinning is how the character’s mind works at the deepest levels. It is the seat of personality. As such, it houses mental systems that, whether determined by nature or nurture, are the unconscious core of who he is.

Who is your character if you strip away agenda and persona? What is his basic personality?

THIS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

This is for the imagineers. This is for the storytellers.

The Dimensions are broad. Deep. Mysterious. And if you push and question and probe and seek, your character will give up his secrets, throw aside his robe of ambiguousness, and show you his soul.

You are inventive and capable. You don't need to reuse characters.Pro Tip: Make sure you define a bit in each dimension to round out the character.

You can create hundreds of unique characters, voice and all, using this system of understanding. You are not limited to casting and recasting a few personalities. You are more insightful and inventive than that.

You are capable. You have tools at your disposal. Never settle for oh-him-again characters. NEVER.

It’s Time to Step Up and DIG IN.

You are not alone in struggling to find that spark of life. Hundreds of people visit this site each day hoping to clarify and capture the distinct personality of their characters.

This is the key.

The basic personality is the most elusive element of character because it’s so all-encompassing. But the point is that the Dimensions allow you to make sure you’re looking in all the right directions.

You can do this.

And you don’t have to do it solo.

There’s a FREE email mini-course coming soon. The Character Personality Jumpstarter will show you how to use the 5 Dimensions and demonstrate the specific questions you can ask.

Now, do me a HUGE favor:

Comment with your questions about the 5 Dimensions. I’ll use them to help me shape the mini-course.

See you soon!

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About MJ Bush

Developmental Editor.
Founder of Writingeekery with 10,000 monthly readers.
I help writers like you master the craft.

Comments

  1. Shelley says:

    Is presence the same thing as what I have often heard called masks? Does it vary depending on who we are with? Or are the two different?
    Should we look at motivation in general along with what is motivating him in the story?
    Can a character still work if their method is chaotic?
    In interaction, naturally it will depend on the situation, angry people interact differently than happy people for example, so do we need to consider all possible moods or focus on ones of a general nature until we know exactly what we will need?
    To use Jung’s term for underpinning, I think you mean archetype, but how important is knowing his base personality, especially if the arc is about his personal metamorphism?

    Oh and my protagonist glides when she walks, but usually she is galloping at full speed on any given day.

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    • Shelley, most of those won’t fit into the mini-course, but…
      Masks and presence are different concepts, though they are related. Presence is mostly unconscious, affected by mood more than conscious desires.
      How you look at motivation depends on your process and style, but knowing motivations outside of the story motivators adds a layer of personality when they react in an unexpected way because of it.
      It most certainly can. :)
      For the interaction dimension, look at the personality, not specific actions… communication styles.
      The Underpinning is more than a single archetype, and more than even two or three combined. The MBTI is made up of four either/or choices. I can count 15 more choices off the top of my head, some of them open ended-questions that could (and should) have multiple answers.
      Overall, the Dimensions go deeper than most of us are accustomed to. It takes a shift in thinking to find them, and psychological theories can be a huge help. Thanks, your questions really helped me figure out how to approach the mini-course!

      Nice! That’s a bit of Method for you right there, too. 😉

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  2. Hey, MJ. My protag doesn’t walk. She rides a horse. Though when she’s lost on the mountain, she does a fair amount of both. I’m stuck on the underpinning. I get what it is. I just can’t for the life of me feel how to show it. I’m excited about the mini-course.

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    • Hi Robyn. :) The Underpinning is subtle. It will color every thought and action, but it’s not easy to define, which means it can shift around without the writer realizing it unless they take the time to dig in and spell out how the character thinks.

      (And I’m excited to share it with you! ;))

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  3. Arielle says:

    This post touches on one of my favorite things to do with my characters. One of my favorite scenarios is a trip to the beach. If one of my main characters Dante was walking down a street he would meander with his hands in his pockets. He’s from a parallel dimension that doesn’t have our technology so he would take the time to look at everything. He would try to be as casual as possible though. He would want to take apart a car to see how it worked. His sister would leave fingerprints on every single store front window and push all the crossing sidewalk buttons. She would also try to hitch a ride on a motorcycle.

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    • Hi Arielle! It sounds like you’ve got the situational motivations for the actions down, but what about the presence, the energy? It sound’s like it’s there but you’re focusing in a different area. How would he walk if he were back home on a normal day? How would she? Think in terms of the steps, the stride, not other actions. 😉

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  4. MJ, I’ve been working on my characters for my next novella this week and then I came across this article in my email. Perfect timing! I’m so excited to take your mini-course and learn more about each dimension. I don’t have any questions, but I’m specifically interested in method and underpinning. Can’t wait until it’s ready!

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  5. Fabulous framing thoughts, Ms. Bush, very intelligent stuff and I hope I remember to come back and think on it before my next section with my MC.
    My hero is walking the length and breadth of the Lands in boots with staff (tak, ting-tak, tak, ting-tak) and he has mastered the kind of rolling gait that spans leagues and signals his determination to eat them.
    My questions, or interest rather, concerns how to convey all these dimensions under a level of remove. My tales are never narrated from the hero’s PoV- there is always a narrator, and nine times in ten it’s a hostile one. Only so many clues I can drop before it becomes tell-y, capeesh?

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    • Thank you, Will.
      Hostile narrators are so much fun! And you can certainly have them misinterpret some things, but most will be shown through speech or action. You’ll just have to be extra aware of how your character is wording things, and generally coming across. Betas will likely be your friends. But you probably already know that.

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  6. Why walk when you can run? My main character is always darting from place to place, sometimes late, sometimes covertly, but mostly because she can’t be bothered to move at a civilian’s pace.

    Presence, motivation and interaction are all clear. Though I am unclear from just this article what method stems from? Methods are physical actions, certainly, but are they prompted by unconscious thinking –like underpinning? Or conscious thinking, like motivation?

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    • Hi Kirsten! She sounds quite lively. As far as your question goes, the best explanation I can give is that these are not traits. They are expansive groupings of traits that together draw a picture of that dimension. So the answer is… both. And Motivation doesn’t have to be conscious either. I hope that opens up new lines of thinking. :)

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  7. Hmm. I’m not 100% sure I understand, exactly, but giving it a try…
    My MC’s interaction and presence are pretty clear to me – she comes across as friendly and outgoing. People are drawn to her energy and vibrancy. She likes games and gambling, and is flirty and lighthearted. But she uses it like shield and lets very few people see the real her. When people get too close, she disengages or disappears. She covers a deep well of sadness with jokes.

    Her outward motivation is to be left alone to live her life on her own terms (she had a high-pressure family she ran away from), but she’s mother-bear protective of the few people she’s made a new family with (which is how she gets sucked into the story problem). Injustice makes her angry every time, although she rarely lets herself get involved.

    Walking down the street, she’s…jaunty? Commenting on this or that in shop windows, making impulse purchases. She’d leave a bag from the first shop in the second or third and not notice. Or give what she bought away to someone she thought needed it or likes it more.

    I’m not sure what to do with method and underpinning. And I really have no idea how to show most of this, aside from other characers commenting and reacting.

    This is awesome – I haven’t thought so hard about my MC in a long time! I for sure want to sign up –thank you!

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    • Hi Nicole! It sounds like you have a good start on those three dimensions. Now go deeper and look for nuance and contradiction, not just in the surface stuff, but in the unconscious workings of her mind. I’ll have to do a post on how to show your character’s personality. I’m looking forward to having you as an Insider. :)

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  8. I’m working on a character for a third try at writing a novel. Characterization is one of my weaknesses. Presence: how do I show this throughout a book? Motivation: how to tie it to plot? Method: there are so many choices, how do you pick the right one? Interaction: I know what this is but how to present character without seeming to alter the personality? Underpinning: is this where interior monolog come in?

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    • Hi Annette! Let’s see. I’m going to do a post on how to show Presence and the rest throughout a story. There are two main parts to Motivation: fears and desires. I’ll link my articles on each. Method stems from the Underpinning. I’m not sure what you’re asking about Interaction. Talking to someone or interacting with them in any way shouldn’t alter the personality. If you’ve created a fabric of personality starting with the Underpinning, then it can flex to reach all the emotions and bend to accommodate different types of interaction without losing its solidity. The Underpinning is unconscious, everything from the way that information is taken in, to how it is processed, to the assumptions they have about the world..
      And keep trying, practice is what makes a writer. 😉

      Fear article: http://www.writingeekery.com/fear/
      Desire article: http://www.writingeekery.com/desire/

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  9. So, I really have trouble with this for my villains/antagonists. Most of the time I struggle to connect with them and they end up as cartoonish mustache twirling villains with no real motivation for their behavior. I seem to have better luck with people I twist into antagonists as opposed to knowing they’re the “bad guy” to begin with. It would be cool if the mini course could help with that. Thanks! I love these articles.

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    • Thanks, JP! I could do an article on believable villains, but an explicit explanation for it isn’t going to fit into the mini-course. (It’s already packed!) You might well find that fleshing out their personalities solves the problem, though. Good to have you! :)

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  10. My MC walks with purpose, confidence, correct posture. Will occasionally have his hands in his pockets. Never in a hurry, but not a slug. He’s for my current WIP, but I have a bigger project that I’m about to start that’s based on real people. I’d like to try fleshing them out with these dimensions. Thanks!

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  11. Varina Suellen Plonski says:

    Wow, where to begin? I have two MCs for my WIP, one female and one male. I’ll have to think about this for my primary, the female. The male is easier just now.
    Part of how I work a character includes choosing a picture (often an actor) so I can base my descriptions on that. Just a starting point, generally, though in one case the choice changed the character from a one time walk on to a major key player in the story And of course, it changed my story for the better. (NEVER argue with your subconscious when it tells you to do something!) Anyway. I started with a concept of an angry young ex-con. I hadn’t really planned on him being a main character; like Topsy, it jest growed. I kept using the image of a dog pack with him; he’d been a member of a gang before going to jail, and ended up in another (sort-of) when he got out. Not an alpha, not even a beta. Mid- to low-level. So his Presence changes depending on who he’s interacting with — their “rank,” so to speak. But generally he presents himself as confident; he knows his abilities and his relative place in the world. But! He also carries a lot of anger, which is actually due to nerves. He knows his place in the world, as I said, but it’s not the place he wants or needs. He knows he made a mistake the first time he joined a gang, and now he’s gone and made the same mistake again.
    And that’s also the source of his motivation. He wants — he NEEDS to have someone who’s got his back. That’s why he joined the gangs each time. He needs that to survive, but the choice of whom to trust is where he went wrong both times. And in the back of his mind he knows who he should have chosen — the female character I mentioned before. He’ll figure it out eventually, but that’s his whole motivation and the source of his unease, that need and the wrong choices he made to fulfill it.
    That’s also the method: that he jumps before he has all the information. That need is so strong in him that he just can’t wait.
    His interactions are all colored by that need, too. He’s angry, and he’s nervy, because he *wants* and he’s just not getting what he needs. He snaps, and he snarls. But he also hands out the kind of help he wants himself. He’s a good guy under it all; when he sees a co-worker floundering because he hasn’t gotten the training he needs, he jumps in and straightens it out. He’s a little gruff with the kid, but the kid appreciates the help. His other co-workers see it, too. He helps out when they’re overworked. Doesn’t say anything, just pitches in, and then goes back to what he was doing. So when something happens and his crappy boss gets on him, he is astonished when his co-workers back him against their boss. And that’s the first real chink in his armor, the first time he feels like he can reach out, because (he thinks) they reached out first.
    Because he doesn’t see that his actions had anything to do with theirs, that his automatic and unthinking helpfulness showed them that he had worth despite who he hangs out with outside work (the source of his boss’ hostility). And I think this is what you mean by “underpinning,” what Neitzsche meant when he said “Character is who you are in the dark.” The who you are when nobody sees, the person who does good deeds when no one will know or the person who is mean for no reason. When sometimes even you don’t really know why you did something. (Although sometimes, when I think of that quote I change it slightly — Character is who you are in the Dark. Who you are when you’re backed up to the wall, when you’re face to face with the bad guy and it’s now or never, all or nothing. What’s your choice then? That’s who you really are. Or at least, that’s who my characters are.)
    Thanks, M.J.! This was an interesting exercise. I hadn’t thought of them in these terms, and I’m going to toddle off and let this percolate for my other protagonist and for my bad guy!
    Ooh – sorry for such a long post!

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    • Hi Varina! Totally digging the in-depth comment. I would encourage you to go deeper, though. Presence isn’t just how he acts around others. It’s his intrinsic energy type. Motivation is multi-layered with fears and desires and values and backstory, though you did a great job of digging into a deep need rather than a conscious “want.” And I can guarantee there’s more to his Method than simply being impulsive, though that is definitely part of it. For example, when he has a simple task, does he focus on doing it as quickly as possible or doing it to the best of his ability? Interaction has a good start, but what traits make up his overall communication style, not affected by his experience but by the personality underneath? A lot of this stems from the Underpinning… The Underpinning is who you are under who you think you are. It’s how you operate at the very base of the personality. The MBTI personality test (INTJ, ESFP, etc.) is a good example of different spectra you can look at. I use over 60 traits and spectra to draw a full and flexible and finely detailed picture of the personality. That’s what I want you to do. 😀

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  12. Hi, Thanks for this, it looks really interesting (and needed). I hope that you’ll address techniques that will work in first person POV as well. Thanks!

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    • Hi Heather! I can’t tell for sure if you’re saying it sounds like these are specific to 3rd person POV (they’re not) or if you just want a little more explanation on how to use them in 1st person (totally understandable) or if you just want 1st person techniques in general. Let me just say that knowing the deeper personality of your narrator is important in 1st person. The personality – how the character thinks – colors everything, and it can’t be avoided even for a moment. It’s not much different from 3rd person in that personality has to be shown through action and dialogue. It slants the perspective and choices and reactions. Knowing what color you’re trying to paint the final result helps you make the right decisions.

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  13. Ariadne says:

    Hi, MJ. I have two protagonists: The MMC is almost a Byronic hero, like Edward Rochester and Heathcliff. The five dimension personality almost works for him. In case of presence, he is often rude and mean and impolite to others, except for the times when he wants to sleep with a woman (he’s a womanizer) or with his patients (he’s a doctor). In case of motivation, he’s mean because he doesn’t wanna get emotionally attached to anyone, because he used to be a mama’s boy and after his mom died, his dad became a drunkard and abusive. In case of method, he’s rude to others by choosing to not mingle with others and dismiss them if they show interest in him. In case of interaction, he connects with the FMC because like him, her dad also neglected her after her mom died of childbirth and she constantly tries to win her grandma’s approval, the same way he tried to win his dad’s approval. But now I’m stuck with the underpinning part. I was hoping if you could specify that part more and help me with my MMC’s case. Thanks, :):)

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    • Hi Ariadne! Thank you, this will help me clarify a few things. This system, really any system of understanding characters, is for the purpose of deepening a character, so it’s not about what already exists, but adding to your understanding. It’s not about “fitting” a character. I’m going to push you a bit, don’t take it too harshly… right now, by relating everything back to rudeness, you’re unintentionally rationalizing a flat character. It’s an easy mistake to make. Try to think about how he does things instead of what he’s doing.
      Everything you mentioned under Presence is actually Interaction. Presence is deeper: one aspect to consider is how intense he comes across to others. Method isn’t interaction either. It’s about how he approaches his goals, what he justifies, what works best for him. Interaction isn’t about why he relates to some and not others (which is Motivation), it’s about his standard behavior toward others, when he breaks that policy, communication style, conflict resolution style, and other elements that always affect how he interacts – even when he’s straying from his general policy. The Underpinning is what most personality tests would call “the personality.” I’ll be sharing specifics for every dimension in the mini-course. I’d love to have you in on it. 😀

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  14. Hi Mj. I’m actually totally new to this. I want to write an anime comic, and to answer your question my protagonist walks with a jaunty stride, never looking back.

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  15. Hi, MJ. Last week I started to struggle with “hearing” my characters. I hit a spot where I just could not “see” or “hear” them interacting with one another. I decided maybe I needed to take a break from writing and just spend some time with my characters, delving into backstory and getting to know them better. This post came up in my email at just the right time! I’m working on an FMC reluctantly involved with a group interested in using her skills and political worth for their cause, and an MMC who would rather pursue romance, mystery and beauty than deal with his manipulative family or be responsible. This article and the one on how to “backdoor” your character have been so helpful! I look forward to reading your thoughts on how to develop each of the five dimensions. Count me in! 😉

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  16. I just accidentally down-voted my own post because I was trying to figure out what the tiny buttons were…. oh dear! 😛

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  17. Hiya,
    Do you have any suggestions on how to slip the characters presence into the story when it is in first person, or third person but totally grounded in their POV?

    This article was super super helpful and accurate, in my opinion. Thanks for the tips!

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    • Oh, and to answer your question, the protagonist from the story I just finished walks hunched over, moving as little as possible, often with her arms folded in toward her torso.

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    • Hi Leena. :) It’s in the voice, the diction, the rhythm, and the actions. Go ahead and describe your character’s walk from her point of view, in the moment. Using the right words will make the presence obvious.

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  18. Lynne Smith Thor says:

    Wonderfully thought provoking. Ty. I am new to this kind of discussion. Old lady, here, great gramma who must take a nap now but one of my characters, Tamo, loves you for this. His heart swells with delight, free now to soar into his future (in 1904 so much to do,so little time to do it ) full blast although he was meant to be only a side kick little bro to ” Carlo” The Protagonist.
    My thought is this,when we open a book we enter it as we do a family it is a large family, we get the inside scoop on several members but not all. Get my gist? Ok I will come back to you later to continue. Ty so much for this little article and your willingness to help, ty, lyn as in grammlyn

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  19. Thank you for this post! I just came across this, even as I am currently writing a persuasive speech on the subject of archetypes. This is a topic that I seem to see a lot of disagreement on, where on one hand people call for the abandoning of cliches, but on the other they speak of “seven archetypes your story should have,” etc. In first writing a blog post on the subject, and now working on a speech, I have had to further read the arguments of “pro-archetype” people… and so now reading a post such as this, which calls for a deep delving into the individual character rather than the adopting of a fill-in-the-blank character, is extremely refreshing.

    This quote especially stood out to me. “You can create hundreds of unique characters, voice and all… You are not limited to casting and recasting a few personalities.” I read this, and also the “Never settle for oh-him-again characters. NEVER.,” and I mentally said THANK YOU.

    Anyway, all that to say that this post showed up on my feed exactly when I needed it. Thank you.

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    • Hi Katherine!
      My thought on the subject of archetypes is that it’s a false dichotomy. We can use them without sticking to them. They offer a place to start. We simply have to add layers and twists and contradictions. Whether someone chooses to use an archetype or not depends on their process and the story they’re writing.

      Plus, I differentiate between archetypes and stereotypes, and archetypes and roles. I’ve seen both instances conflated, which only increases the confusion on the matter. Archetypes are just a tool, and they can be misused.

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  20. Thank you for writing this post! I moved awhile ago, and writing has helped me cope.
    Do you have any tips on writing great henchmen? So far my henchman is misunderstood with a abusive mother… Is this too cliche?
    My MC limps, but it’s still hard to keep up with his long strides (He’s very tall). My other MC skips, or runs to keep up with other people (She’s very short).

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    • I can’t tell you if it’s too cliche, but I can tell you that if that’s the only thing you can say about your henchman (not saying it is), then he’s going to seem cliche because there’s no depth to him.

      As far as their walks, don’t just attribute it to the physical. He’s probably determined and stubborn and focused, while I would interpret her as distinctly peppy and optimistic. In both cases, how they choose to react to their limitations is a clue to personality. As long as the stereotypes don’t hem them in, you’ve got a great start. :)

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  21. On so many levels, I believe I need your help. My main character will come full circle, but along the way, she continues to fall back into what’s familiar, and most of all she often seeks to fulfill the lust of the flesh. She is in a relationship with a man that inwardly, she doesn’t believe she deserves. She has it together in all other aspects of her life; she is a motivational speaker, has overcome drug abuse and rape, but she is addicted to physical intimacy that she longs to have with her fiancé’ whose bound and determined to wait until marriage to consummate their relationship.

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  22. I really like what you guys are usually up too. Such clever work and coverage! Keep up the very good works guys I’ve added you guys to our blogroll.

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  23. My character steps as lightly as a falling leaf but is sure on her feet and steady. She holds herself back into the shadows in a new situation, but is loud and happy with friends and the few times you will see her with her mother figure and best friend/brother are when you see what she holds back from everyone. Overall she walks confidently but while knowing she is not on top.

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  24. How does Brannon walk?

    I would say that he stalks. Not so much one person he might be tailing, though he has that training. Instead, the entire nation (or planet) is his stalking victim. He is profiling, looking for weaknesses and deep-seated injustices. His movements are slow, but not enough to draw attention. His stance gentle and unassuming, like an engineer looking over a broken machine looking for how it might be repaired or taken offline, so that it might be made to serve it’s rightful owners (The Holy Terran Empire.) His nervous temper shows. He always scans the crowd, takes pills regularly, and often has his back to the wall. His stealth is not primarily in hiding his purpose; it is mostly in hiding his own vulnerability. The HTE do not appreciate losing an asset…

    Brannon’s Motivation is disjointed, because he has had to infiltrate. He can put on a front, believing in the cause of the enemy for a moment.

    His presense is shy and retiring by default.

    His interaction is: variable. He can pretend with the best of them, picking up habits of local culture. He’ll do things he finds detestable if needed, yet will shy away from unnecessary violations of conscience that others might consider expected. Such as ‘taking advantage’ of a seductress who he thinks is a little too at-his-mercy. (He’s actually at her mercy, though she gives him the upperhand in name.)

    His method: he prefers gadgetry and hacking. Rigging situations, but in a sort of improvised manner since he has been himself rigged to think that he can get out of any tight situation. He ‘conquered’ and reformed an entire world by reprogramming their police droids, requiring them to get permission before acting. This in turn actually reprogrammed the humans, who were accustomed to the casual violence of the machines.

    His motivation: unclear, complicated, and angular (self-deceptive). When outraged, he will not vent in the slightest for fear that he might lose a piece of the energy he is storing. Approaching combat, he feels a desire to kill bordering on psychopathic lust, but once the kidnap victim is safe it instantly becomes something like disappointment that the moment has gone. Even as he effortlessly disarms the enemy three times, he can no longer bring himself to hurt the man.

    His underpinning: Dissociated. He sees himself and the world around him as a delicate machine that was poorly designed and altered by hostile forces. It therefore needs to be constantly adjusted in order to achieve a modicum of desirable result. His own thoughts are seen as being moving parts rather than a reflection of reality, just another display screen, so he will manipulate them with drugs and devices and autosuggestion.

    Indeed, he never looks directly upon anything, but always through some kind of mechanical filter.

    So my question: Are my answers actually responsive to the questions? Specifically underpinning; I had a bit of trouble with Underpinning. What does this actually mean? Also, this character sort of spewed out on the page during a Nano. I had designed his goggles, a rather silly Macguffin involving illegal mopping equipment, and his penchant for unique self-made gadgets. The rest spilled onto the page. Is this technique useful for existing characters or only for new ones?

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    • Yes your answers are mostly in line with the questions, but like I said, these are extremely broad categories, so you’ve just brushed the surface. I would never try to sum them up with one trait. The more detail you go into, the more useful it is.

      Motivation needs to be clear to you, though not to him. What does he fear? What does he desire? Those are the two major motivators.

      For Underpinning, I would suggest starting with the Jungian cognitive functions, the Big Five personality traits, the 16 Factors, defense mechanisms, that kind of thing. That’s just a start, but it’s a good one. (And don’t try to use Wikipedia’s explanation of the cognitive functions. It’s a mess. =))

      And yes, it’s actually far more effective on existing characters than new ones, though new ones can always develop to where you can unearth the nuances. But to be fair to other systems, it’s rare to find a character development method so simplistic that it will only help new characters.

      What can it DO for existing characters, that’s the real question, isn’t it? 😀

      I’m covering this in upcoming articles on dialogue and voice, but it bleeds into every action your character takes… knowing the nuances of how your character’s personality perceives and interprets and decides and acts allows you to bind everything he does (or says, or exhibits) even more closely to who he is.

      For example, you say Brannon’s presence is shy and retiring. So that’s the impression he gives. But everything you said before that is part of his presence as well. The word “stalking” implies that there’s a predatory aspect to it. (Forgive me here, when it comes to this, I’m a stickler for precise word choice, so I’m assuming you meant exactly what you said. :)) Does he always seem shy and retiring, or are there situations in which he’s more forceful or forward? How would he seem if he had never had training or been in hiding? Is he naturally high-strung, or is it a product of his circumstances?

      I like the juxtaposition of his gentle stance with his nervous eyes. It’s an opening for a contradiction. Why is his stance gentle (aka: relaxed) if he’s nervous? Training? Natural disposition shining through? Training? Or, uh, training? What’s he like when he’s relaxed? …Is he lively or still? …Does he seem confident or apprehensive? …Does he actually seem relaxed?

      …Back to what it can do.

      When you edit, you can take all those insights and find ways to make him show through even more on the page. You can make sure he’s consistent without allowing him to become predictable. It’s especially true with the Underpinning. When you take a worldview and all its assumptions, combine it with mindset and frame of reference, you get conclusions that others wouldn’t reach. You get ideas that others wouldn’t come up with. You get a character that captures your reader by keeping them on their toes with a personality unique to them.

      I don’t know if I’ll use this example in an upcoming article or not, but here’s an example of frame of reference and backstory creating unexpected conclusions.
      https://www.pinterest.com/pin/278238083204318340/

      That’s what it can do. 😀

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  25. My character (Kelly :3) Walks in a strong gait as if no one can touch her. She doesn’t look at a person directly, as if dismissing their very existence. She has her arms crossed when shes still. She sits in a sluggish way with her arms on her legs. She doesn’t show her emotions much, it’s like she doesn’t care about anything or anyone. She tries her best to show and not tell that she doesn’t want to speak with anyone no matter who you are. She doesn’t trust anyone anymore because she used to trust people openly, but was hurt too many times. She secretly hoping for someone to prove her wrong, to know that she can truly trust again but beleives that she’s not meant ro be happy since so many people had hurt her for reasons she doesn’t know. She wants to trust people again but is petrified of getting hurt again. She beleives that people are lying in some way whether consciously or not. The only people she could trust in any way is her family since they never betrayed her trust and was always there for her.
    She interacts with others in a harsh, rude way. She may speak in a way to get out of a conversation as fast as she can. She treats every conversation as if it’s meaningless.
    Before everything; before getting hurt, she was caring and protective of people she cares about. She didn’t want to see anyone hurt or let them believe she hates anyone, because she never felt that way. She doesn’t like to see other people hurt others because she believed they hurt themselves. She wants to undertand others, to know their passions, beliefs, fears, desires…etc.
    I like contradicting factors of a personality. It seems really interesting to me. I’m not sure if this is too plain. It could be overused. I’m sure it will diverse her more if I added likes, dislikes and silly quirks? Is there anything else I should add here that will make it better? I thought of starting out with my character with stereotypes and working them into their own area since people are put into stereotypes but there’s more to them than that. Like it fits but not really

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    • I see fears, one desire, and a touch of inner conflict between them. You can add strengths, flaws unrelated to the fears, values held, values opposed, secrets, and quirks. You can also tighten up how she changed by identifying her defense mechanisms. That will get you started. :)

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  26. Jennifer says:

    I just found this blog and it is awesome. Thank you so much for this advice. My question is this: How would I determine what my character’s walk says about their personality if they can’t walk? In my current WIP my MC is in a wheelchair.

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    • This is why I group aspects, traits, and characteristics into Dimensions. When you aren’t getting anything from one aspect, you can look to another in the same dimension to fill in the space. Every character has some areas where they’re middle-of-the-road normal, with nothing noteworthy in a certain aspect. The key is to simply move to other aspects.

      Substitute posture for walk. Add movement of any kind. Does your character fidget? Move with reckless abandon? Move with care?

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  27. Presence

    Habits/Mannerisms
    Messes with hair, worries lip often, hums to herself, fidgety

    How do they move?
    Cocks head often, in lieu of an actual question. Very touchy/tactile when comfortable. Enjoys stretching out. Moves lightly/carefully (after several years of walking into things while not paying attention. The lightness ingrained in her training). Sometimes very slowly if in deep thought. Busy fingers. Fidgety/bouncy legs/restless.

    Present or detached?
    Generally pretty detached, but is present/observant when the situation calls for it.

    Lively or still?
    Isn’t very good at sitting still. Shifty kid, she is. Will randomly roll and stretch in the living room while thinking or singing.

    Emotionally expressive or undemonstrative?
    With family/close friends she is actually fairly expressive and loud. Is very controlled and polite with unfamiliar/people she isn’t close to, but her feelings aren’t always as well hidden as she might think.

    Forward or shy?
    Is pretty reserved, but she doesn’t really feel nervous putting herself out there. She just doesn’t.

    As a rule, tense or relaxed?
    Not quite tense in a negative way, but she does tend to be high-strung/restless/busy.

    More likely to seem confident or apprehensive?
    Outwardly, she seems like an unruffled, confident and apathetic sort of person, but she feels a sense of apprehension and self-doubt every time she does something.

    Does your character seem high-strung or laid-back?
    She seems kind of high-stung, what with the constant fidgeting and moving, but her somewhat expressionless/bored/out-of-it face might make the image a little strange.

    Alert or spacey?
    As a child, she tends to be pretty spacey, but over time, she learns to pay more attention to her surroundings (although, she’ll let herself space out if she can afford it).

    Does your character seem sensitive or resilient?
    She seems fairly resilient/unruffled/unconcerned, but others might say she also seems pretty fragile/delicate due to her slight appearance (this view is usually from people who haven’t really interacted or seen the way she behaves and only have appearances to go off of). In truth, while she doesn’t usually care what others (strangers she doesn’t know or care about) think of her, she is extremely self-critical and terribly insecure, especially concerning those who she does care a lot about.

    How intense is your character’s stare?
    Pretty intense, if you’re the focus of her attention. If she’s stuck in her head and looking through you, while it’s still somewhat creepy, it isn’t quite so nerve-wracking.

    Habitual posture?
    Sitting in her chair, she tends to shift between having her legs twisted in a knot while leaning forward or having one or both legs bouncing while try to occupy her hands in some way. Standing up, she’s always messing with something in her hands, and shift her weight on either leg, or leans against a support (wall/table/chair/anything really).

    Do your character’s movements and mannerisms seem cultivated or natural?
    When she’s younger, it seems natural, but as she grows older, her movements do become more deliberate.

    Motivation

    What prompts your character to act? React?

    Curiosity (tied in with the need for the truth, to know for sure), need for approval/acceptance, for other to hold value in her in any way. She craves connection, but is also terrified of being hurt. (A case of desire versus fear). The unconditional kind. Duty/obligation are also there, but not quite as strong. Self-interest/own happiness is pretty big.

    More plot related – deep down inside, she wants to find him (her brother), for him to come home to her, to be happy again. She’s furious and sad and betrayed and knows she has to kill him, should kill him, but she loves him even after everything he’s done.

    Method

    What approach does your character take?

    She begins by forming a theory, and then collecting information on her own, first and foremost. Whether it be through reading or observation or even experimentation/meddling (basically poking it and seeing what happens), she tries to figure things out for herself before asking others for any insight. Even then, others are used as a sort of sounding board, or just a source of information from which she can extrapolate on (meaning they can be useful, but she only trusts herself to come to the right conclusion). Her theory will adjust accordingly, or if she feels something is not quite right, she will go on her gut.

    So, poke it, see what happens, adjust theory, poke it again.

    Interaction

    How does your character relate to others?

    She craves connection and acceptance and love, that sort of unbreakable, absolute trust where she means something, and others mean something to her. Unfortunately for our little protagonist, she has major trust issues, and tends to sabotage herself and her relationships. In addition to trust issues, she’s terribly insecure, and always questions loyalty or friendship, which tends to chafe her companions the wrong way. Another way she ruins a good thing.
    With strangers, she’s generally apathetic. (Unless their intriguing, or she wants to connect with them. Then they become Someone that Matters.)
    She has a difficult time looking outside of herself and what she wants, which is made especially difficult when she has a high emotional stake in the well being of her and another person’s relationship. Amusingly enough, she’s better at assessing these sort of things from a third-person, objective sort of view, where she isn’t involved. You could even say she’s a bit self-centered.

    Underpinning

    Who is your character if you strip away agenda and persona? What is his basic personality?

    Very INTP, like me, with an emphasis on her extraverted Feeling function.

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