3 Tricks to Writing 3-D Characters

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

Aries. 8. ENFP.

Those labels are mine. Sometimes I feel comfortable inside of them, sometimes I act a little out of character. I've found when writing characters it's important for their core values to stay consistent so their motivations and actions make sense. Here are some "labels" you can apply to your characters to help breathe life into them.

1.) Zodiac Sign

The simple act of choosing your characters' birthdays can have such an impact on your story. Aries like me tend to be passionate, stubborn, leaders who have no trouble speaking their minds. Lisette, my protagonist in Mind Like a Diamond, is absolutely an Aries with her take-charge attitude and her acid tongue.

Lisette's best friend Xavier is a Cancer/Gemini cusp, and he has personality elements of many of the June babies I am lucky to have in my life including my husband and my sister. Cancers are extremely loyal people and Geminis' personalities are often heavily influenced by the people (and energy!) they are around which is why Xavier will follow his best friend into danger, even when he's terrified.

Choose your characters' birthdays carefully and allow their quirks to cause friction and move your story forward. Even if you think astrology is nonsense you can STILL find inspiration in the millions of zodiac descriptions available online, especially those written about the romantic relationships and friendships between two signs.

2.) Enneagram Number

The Enneagram has nine base personality types with "wings" representing secondary personality types that can exist inside the same individual. Most of enneagram theorists believe your main personality type is influenced by the "wings" or adjacent types.

As such, you might find when you take the test (here's a link to a popular one that offers both a longer version and a shorter one) your character embodies mostly "3" traits but also has some answers that correlate to type(s) "1" and/or "4". The variables only make your character more interesting!

Now for the fun part: do some digging into how different enneagram types relate to each other. In the comedy I'm currently drafting Eat the Rich I purposefully pitted characters with super similar personalities against each other because I personally find it hilarious when people hate others who are JUST like them. It's an indicator a person has got some growing up to do, and in this book I wanted there to be LOTS of character growth--at least for the survivors.

As much as I love the Enneagram, I think I saved the best for last:

3.) Myers-Briggs Personality Type

I remember the moment, many years ago, I found out I was an "ENFP" (for the uninitiated: extroverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving as opposed to introverted, sensing, thinking, judging). I had never felt so seen!

Recently I made my husband take the test and he is absolutely an ENTP, also known as the "debater". I laughed so hard when he got that result as he is an attorney so he pretty much argues professionally.

There are sixteen possible results for this test (take the test here) so even if your book has 20 characters you could have a fair amount of variety between them. For Eat the Rich I had a few more extroverts than introverts as introverts can be a bit more passive which makes it harder to move the story forward.

Definitely not to imply your main character(s) shouldn't be introverted. One of my favorite books of all time is The Perks of Being a Wallflower so definitely don't make your main character an extrovert just to make your story faster paced.

The important thing is that you have your main character making choices, not just letting life happen to them. The real difference between an introvert and an extrovert is how they recharge, alone or with others. Everything else is highly individualistic.

What is your zodiac sign? Enneagram number? Myers-Briggs type? Do you find these labels to be accurate descriptions of you?

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