Coming up with a character in and of itself is easy. Let’s use for example a tough chick who grew up on the streets and steals, kills, and spies to make ends meat. So I’ve created an ends justifies the means, self-preserving, and probably loner rogue archetype. So congrats, I’ve made a character. What she lacks however, is a personality. She has no depth or anything interesting about her. For this exercise, I’ll be referring to her as Samantha Pole.
Something that works for me that might not work for others is that I tend to form base personalities and character arcs from characters I’m reminded of when I think of the character I’m creating. With regard to Sam, characters like Raven from Teen Titans and Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time are great models for her character because both are closed-off loaners who have a hard time letting people in. This is helpful for me personally as a way of recognizing traits I see in this character in other similar characters. Then I can evaluate their characters and their arcs and see how the writers handled their characterization, and how I might have handled it differently. This might also be when I look at their character’s tropes on TV Tropes to see what might work for the character of Sam.
Now that we have a base template and outline of who Sam is, let’s start analyzing ways and methods to help give her depth. For me personally, it really helps me to sort my characters. Such sorting includes:
Game of Thrones Play style
Sense of Humor
The Myers-Briggs test divides people into 16 personality types in 4 fields of traits and dynamics. The first letter is either I (Introvert) or E (Extrovert). What this means is not whether they’re sociable. I myself can be very friendly and outgoing. However, at a big social gathering with lots of strangers, I feel uncomfortable and would rather stay close to someone I know. Thus, I am an Introvert. The second qualifiers are N (Intuitive) or S (Observant). Intuitive types think about the world in the abstract and what could be rather than what is. Observant types see the world for what it is and take the world more literally, focusing more on the present than daydreaming about what might be. The third category is T (Thinking) or F (Feeling). Do they act more on logic or emotion? Do they lead more with their head or their heart? Thinkers tend to plan ahead while Feelers tend to act first. Thinkers are more practical while Feelers are more empathetic. Finally, we reach J (Judging) vs P (Prospecting). Judging types are orderly, procedural, predictable, and well-structured. Prospecting types live on a whim doing whatever feels right in the moment and meeting challenges when they arise. So based on these traits, I would have to label Sam an ISTP type. She’s a loner so she’s not going to like large groups or put her trust in others. She’s in a bleak and realistic situation, so she’s probably not going to have her head in the clouds if she wants to survive. Being a thief and sneak is going to require some forethought, and being able to overrule emotion with logic. And because she’s probably always on the move, she can’t really let herself fall into routine. This may be her most balanced trait, as there would likely need to be a lot of judging in order to look out for herself, but I feel that due to the unpredictable state of her life, she can’t really rely on structure and order. So now that you’ve learned what your character’s Myers-Briggs personality is, it’s time to figure out what that means. But while there are plenty of websites that have tried to paint out exactly what each trait could mean, I personally found a lot of value in videos put out by IDRlabs on Youtube that all follow the format of ISTP in 5 minutes. They use cute little cartoon cut outs to explain in a dry but informative way how a personality type works best when problem solving, figuring something out, how they go about putting their trust in others if they do at all, etc. I recently sorted one of my own characters as an INFJ, and their video helped me figure out when he’d seek the advice of others and when he would seclude himself to try and work through problems on his own, which I found to be very useful.
The four Temperaments or the Four Humors is a construct straight out of Ancient Greece, and was even still upheld in Medieval Europe. It was believed that these personality types were actually caused by contents of the body, and that letting out certain fluids would change one’s temperament. Those being Choleric (Yellow Bile) Sanguine (blood) Melancholic (Black Bile) and Phlegmatic (Phlegm). Cholerics are aggressive leaders who charge into danger, but can be bossy dictators. Sanguines are jolly and cheerful, if not a little immature. Melancholics are reflective artists, but can be aloof and worrisome. Phlegmatic are calm and level-headed mediators, but can be shy and meek. Fun fact, in Medieval medicine, women were always supposed to be Phlegmatic, and being too much of the other three meant she must have been unbalanced and it was time to call the doctor to come bleed her or pull out some bile so that she could return to normal. TV Tropes has a page listing all the different associated traits, and some do overlap so it’s a good idea to arrange these into a graph. It’s also worth noting that unlike other personality tests, this one is not so much about just picking one. Everyone has all 4 types inside of them, it’s more a question of how these traits rank in order of relevancy to one’s personality. For Sam, I would say that she’s primarily Choleric with that aggressive drive to survive, followed by a stoic and reflective Melancholic, a compassionate Phlegmatic, and then at the bottom a jovial Sanguine.
Everyone already knows this one, I don’t really need to explain it. But if you’re not sure where a character would be sorted, Mawrti on Youtube made videos for Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff that sort multiple fandom characters into houses and have much longer lists of character traits to really help you get a feel for where your character belongs. While I don’t agree with every sorting myself, I still think it’s a useful guide. For Sam, I’d say she’s a Slytherin. She doesn’t have time to let emotion cloud her actions, and she does what she feels is necessary in the name of self-preservation. It doesn’t mean she’s heartless, it just means she knows when to set emotion aside and do what needs to be done. Slytherins understand that sometimes completing the goal is more important than sparing someone’s feelings.
Water is the element of change. It is the element of adaptability and balances offense with defense, able to turn one into the other. Water follows the path of least resistance, spreading in every direction until it finds the shortest and quickest route to the sea. The people of the Water Tribe use wolf symbolism frequently in their culture, as they are focused on the benefit of the group rather than the individual which is crucial for surviving in their arctic home. Earth is the element of substance and defiance. Its people are determined, stubborn, and unyielding. Their spirit and will is as solid as the very earth they bend. Earth benders are hard to rattle, and when something goes wrong, they’ll dust themselves off and push forward. Rather than avoiding obstacles, they ride it out and overcome. Fire is the element of Will. Firebending is the act of taking ones desires and willing them into affect. Firebenders are passionate, ambitious, and merciless in pursuit of goals. They have the foresight to envision what they want to achieve and the drive to make it happen. Air is the element of freedom. The Air Nomads value peace, harmony, and oneness with nature. They are pacifistic, valuing spirituality and mediating tensions between the other three elements. But they can also be too detached, avoiding problems and running away from responsibilities rather than dealing with them. Sam is tricky because she has the drive to survive and accomplish this goal of a Firebender, the resilience and fortitude of an Earthbender, and the adaptability of a Waterbender. However, I would ultimately rule that she is a Firebender, as she is most heavily characterized by her will to live and overcome by any means necessary.
There are multiple websites dedicated to this stuff, so I won’t really bother to go into it here. But something I personally enjoy doing is combining Zodiacs with alchemy ideas to decide someone’s “Core Element” as I like to call it. What I mean is that each Zodiac basically comes with 3 elements. Each Zodiac itself is tied to Water, Earth, Fire, or Air. Each season is tied to an element as well. Spring is Air, Summer is Fire, Autumn is Earth, and Winter is Water, at least in Medieval alchemy. And each zodiac is aligned with a celestial body, each of which is also tied to an element. Combine this with the 4 Temperaments: Phlegmatic (Water), Melancholic (Earth), Choleric (Fire), and Sanguine (Air); and with Harry Potter Houses: Slytherin (Water), Hufflepuff (Earth), Gryffindor (Fire), and Ravenclaw (Air); and the Avatar element you gave them and the element that appears the most frequently across the board is their true “Core Element”. For Sam, I would say that she is a Scorpio. Scorpio is a Water sign starting in November. Sept, Oct, and Nov are the three Autumnal months, so she’s seasonally Earth. Neptune and Pluto sort of both rule Scorpio. Neptune is Water aligned and Pluto is Earth aligned. She’s Choleric, a Slytherin, and a Firebender. Her final element tally would come to: Water (3), Earth (2), and Fire (2). Thus her core element is Water.
GAME OF THRONES PLAY STYLE
Each of the houses in Game of Thrones tend to play the game differently. House Stark are the honorable rule-followers. They keep their oaths, and are very traditional. They bow to the way things are, and tend to die because of this honor. They only start to thrive when they break this honor system and play the game like the rest of Westeros. Their words Winter Is Coming implies a readiness to face hard times, and a determination to survive as a group. A single wolf hunting alone in Winter is far less likely to survive. House Lannister is about upward mobility and maintaining their place. They are cunning and manipulative, able to play the chess game to put themselves into positions of power and influence. But that can also be a corrupting force. Their words Hear Me Roar speak to their ferocity, and their sigil of the lion showcases that with them, Family is about the survival of the pride. But that word pride is also a major flaw of the house, and their pride is one of their biggest detriments. House Tyrell strikes a balance between the two. Like the Starks, House Tyrell is unified with a genuine familial love for one another, like branches of a tree that all share the same roots. Like House Lannister, the Tyrells know when it its time for sweet honeyed words, and when it is time to wrap a thorny vine around their enemy’s throat. Their words of Growing Strong implies that they tend the garden of their schemes and they reap what they sow. They have an eye for the long game and the patience of a gardener to bring that plan to blossom. The exact counter is House Grayjoy, who take what others have made for their own. They are as hard as iron and as cold as the salty sea. They are raiders who take what they must to survive. Their words We Do Not Sow speaks to this willingness to take what is not theirs by right and reflects the pirate and viking origins they get their historical basis from. House Targaryen is the near extinct house of Daenerys, characterized by Machiavellian strategy, cunning, and a merciless iron fist to opposition of authority. While Danny fights for just causes, yelling and burning is a primary method of dealing with her problems, and her stubborn pride causes her to be unreasonable and arogant at times, especially when she was the Queen of Meereen. House Baratheon are really better soldiers than politicians. They make better walls than scholars, and have a temper about them. It is only Renly, who lacks many of the Baratheon traits, who is a genuinely fitting politician. Their words Ours is the Fury speaks to their aggression and wartime tactics. Their sigil of the deer is fitting not only as the king of the forest, but that deer fight a lot among themselves during mating season. Frankly, I don’t know the playstyles of House Martell, Tully, or Arryn. They’re smaller houses in the narrative of the show. If you want to know more, check out their house symbolism videos on Youtube. As far as Sam goes, I think she’s a Grayjoy. Not necessarily looking to claim the Iron Throne, just working to keep herself alive no matter who she has to hurt to do so.
SENSE OF HUMOR
Everyone has some sense of humor. Some have more than one. But the kinds of things they find funny says a lot about the kind of person they are.
- Sarcasm (snide remarks, usually pessimistic. Think Daria.)
- Irreverent (nothing is sacred, anything can be made fun of. Think Family Guy)
- Toilet/Low-Brow humor (bathroom and sex jokes, think Teen Titans Go!)
- Gross-out Humor (comedy from making people cringe at the disgusting nature of what they’re seeing.)
- Slapstick (physical comedy, laughing at pain. Think Three Stooges)
- Satire (parodying and mocking other things, often centered on a theme or running gag. Think South Park.)
- Social Commentary (An exaggerated or satirical jab at real world issues facing the modern world at the time the product was made.)
- Dry Humor (often pairs with Sarcasm, it’s a witty remark that’s often either a veiled, subtle, or clever jab at someone or something. Think Olenna and Tyrion in Game of Thrones.)
- Dark Comedy (humor that comes from joking about a dark subject matter, or making light of a serious topic. can overlap with self-deprecating humor and aggressive comedy.)
- Wholesome (jokes that don’t make fun of or belittle anything to make the joke. Think knock-knock jokes.)
- Vaudevillian (comedy that often comes in the form of routines or running gags. Coyote and Roadrunner, Bugs and Elmer, and Tom & Jerry are all examples of Vaudeville style comedy routines.)
- Self-Deprecating (comedy at one’s own expense.)
- Pranks/ Deprecating (comedy at someone else’s expense)
- Aggressive (comedy aimed at telling jokes that would upset certain types of people, often with little regard for how they’d respond. Think Ron White or Lewis Black.)
- Sight Gag (comedy that is found in facial expressions, costumes, etc. Looney Tunes is a master of expressive sight gags, and Monty Python is no stranger to costume gags.)
- Situational (comedy that comes from telling real life events where something funny happened. Think Gabriel Iglesias.)
- Pop Culture Reference (jokes that acknowledge other works. Often overlaps with parody or in-universe play-on-word. Think Bojack Horseman.)
- Torture Porn/Butt Monkey (comedy focused around torturing and kicking around a single person repeatedly, even when they didn’t do anything to prompt just comeuppance. Think Jerry Smith on Rick & Morty or Squidward in later seasons of Spongebob Squarepants.)
- Conversing with the Camera (fourth wall breaking jokes that recognize the media that the story is set in. Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy and Chowder both used this type of joke a lot.)
Once you’ve completed this step and have a solid idea of your character’s personality, it’ll be time to move on to motivations and character traits, but that’s for a later post.