Have you ever wondered if your main character might be a narcissist? Is your villain a psychopath, or just misunderstood? I had a lot of fun giving these personality tests to my characters. Seeing their traits highlighted gave me a little perspective and some ideas.
But I’ve got a warning, before we get started. None of these online tests are scientific tools. Some of the theories they represent are out of date. They’re meant to be a fun way to learn some psychology, and I’m posting them here because they’re a great way to get to know your fictional characters. I’m also giving them brief and very general overviews that may not capture all the subtleties of the theory.
Myers Briggs is the most common pop psychology approach to dissecting personality. This abridged version will measure your character on four separate scales.
Introversion-extraversion: If your character’s a blushing wallflower terrified he’ll get an invitation to dance, he’ll score high on introversion. The hot babe he’s watching shake her ass in the middle of the floor would probably be considered an extrovert.
Sensing-intuiting and thinking-feeling: Our wallflower is on the sensing end of the spectrum, and so he’s all about concrete observations based in the here and now. He sees her many admirers and weighs his probable incompatibility with the woman. Being a thinker, he makes a decision based in logic and evidence, and remains leaning against the wall, trying to look cool.
The attractive woman, however, happens to be more intuiting, meaning she makes more emotional observations, and lets instinct guide her. While wallflower is thinking (logically) that she’s out of his league, she’s intrigued by the mysterious guy at the edge of the room. She’s got a gut feeling about him. And because she falls on the feeling end of the scale, she’s willing to act on a hunch, cross the room, and buy him a drink.
Judging-perceiving: Our wallflower is more judging than perceiving, and so he likes things settled in a logical fashion. After a few dates, he wants the relationship to have clear boundaries and be well defined. But his girlfriend falls closer to perceiving, and as someone who prefers to keep things open ended and tends to be more guided by emotion, she’s not sure she wants to commit, just yet.
The Big 5
The Big 5 personality traits are the most widely accepted and commonly used model of personality, at least in research. Not unlike the Myers Briggs, the Big 5 rates a person on how much they identify with five distinct personality traits.
Openness: Anyone who’s open to new experiences, whether they’re a world traveling super-spy or an elf on a quest to save the world, would score high on this trait, as would people who appreciate art and express creativity.
Conscientiousness: Both the super-spy and the determined elf would be highly self disciplined, motivated by duty, whether to a world on the brink of destruction or a government trying to protect its citizens. Their discipline and sense of duty would give them a high score on this trait.
Extraversion: The super spy is a closed off kind of guy, happiest working alone. You should hear him bitch when they assign that rookie to be his partner. The elf, on the other hand, is thrilled to pick up a bumbling, naive dwarf as a traveling companion, and is the life of the party at any inn they stop in. The spy would have a low score, on this scale, while the elf would knock it off the charts.
Agreeableness: Everyone likes the elf, and most want to aid him in his quest. Only a few will betray him to the Dark Lord. He’d be considered highly agreeable. The super spy, always making comments about the ineptitude of his rookie buddy, would not.
Neuroticism: The super spy is given to fits of anxiety, and dark moments of depression, so he’d be considered highly neurotic. The elf, with his cheerful approach to his grave task, would not score high on this measure.
You can figure out where your character scores on the Big 5 here.
The Psychology of Villains
Villains from Cruella D’Ville to the Phantom of the Opera tend to be self-absorbed and, well…narcissistic. Whether your character thinks they deserve a coat made entirely of puppies, or the admiration of a beautiful (if not terribly bright) young opera singer, it might be a good idea to test and see if you’ve got a narcissist on your hands. You know, so you can get them ‘help’…Psychopathy
Psychopaths are poorly understood at the best of times, but don’t let that stop you from using this tool to determine if you’ve got one on your hands, and how to bring out the best (or worst) in them. In addition to this quiz, there’s a checklist you can go through to get an idea of some of the traits of a psychopath, great if you’re starting one from scratch or just developing an existing villain further.
Most people have heard of Machiavelli, and even if you haven’t, I’m sure you’re familiar with some of his ideas. “The ends justify the means” is one of his most cited principles, and he wrote extensively on the art of ruling through fear. Even if your character is not a prince, she can still be Machiavellian, if she manipulates, lies, and otherwise uses other people to get what she wants. Put her through this test to get a sense of just how cunning a character you have on your hands.
If you want a three for one, or just another look at any of the traits above, the dark triad test is where it’s at. It’ll check for Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy, all in one go.
If you’re interested in villains, take a look at the Machiavellian, psychopathic characters that populate my upcoming novel Dark City. Sign up for the mailing list and I’ll let you know when it’s out!
Whether your character lies like Machiavelli, perceives the world logically, or rolls with the punches and acts on all their hunches, these tests can help you draw out their personality traits and develop them further. I had a lot of fun with them, and I hope you do too!