One of the notes that writers are most frequently given is that their characters are underdeveloped, and because of this they feel unengaging and unbelievable. We all know that the main characters in films and novels need to be compelling and complex, but for many writers that’s easier said than done. Giving a character a want and a need develops just one dimension of personality, and building in some additional complexity may add another dimension or two. But given that psychologists describe personality in terms of five dimensions, it’s hardly surprising that without fully understanding what these dimensions are and how they guide behaviour, many fictional characters have the tendency to feel “thin”.
Deep Characterisation is a new approach to character development, based entirely on psychological models of personality and the latest psychological research. For many writers, the starting point for building a new character is in observation from life. Other writers may know their main character’s goal or unconscious need. The Deep Characterisation approach then helps develops these ideas to create a character with a fully rounded character on the Big Five dimensions, as described by psychologists.
What are the big 5 characteristics of Deep Characterisation
1.Openness to Experience
– the degree to which your character enjoys trying new things or is open to new ideas (compare Tyrion Lannister with Bilbo Baggins on this dimension)
– the trait which describes how much your character wants to achieve their goals (Carrie Mathison like most detectives is very high on this trait)
– the dimension which tells us how outgoing and sociable your character is (could Austin Powers be any more extrovert?)
– the dimension that lets us know whether your character is more of a people-pleaser (think Annie Hall), or someone who believes it’s more important to be true to their beliefs, at the risk of offending all around them (Mildred Hayes)
– the degree to which your character experiences the highs and lows of life (think Riggan Thomson)
These Big Five personality dimensions are just the starting points in developing character. Each of these traits can be further broken down into six further facets of personality and this is where nuance and complexity of character really starts to emerge. Austin Powers and James Bond are both extroverts, for example, but with very different facets of personality on this dimension.
And there’s more, much more… A character’s facets of personality don’t just guide who they are, but how they behave, how they interact with others, their beliefs, their typical style of dialogue and even the way they move. If you want to learn more and discover how to create characters that are full of truth and complexity, come along to my Deep Characterisation workshop.