A trick to give your fictional characters some consistency

So I was reading up on character disorders (shaddup Steve) when I stumbled across an incredibly useful site: http://www.writersvillage.com/character/
Let’s say you’re writing a work of fiction. (Contrary to what some people have told me, I do that occasionally, not every day.) And you want your characters to be interesting. Normal is boring. The most interesting people in the world have something wrong with them. (Say yes.) (Steve, don’t say another word.)

Hey, think about it. Think of the greatest novel ever written: The Great Gatsby. I can think of two characters who showed any symptoms of healthiness in the whole book: the narrator, Nick Carraway, and I’m not even positive about him; and Gatsby’s dad, who only shows up in the end. The rest of them are very interesting people. But you’re in deep trouble if you live next door to any of them.

So give the characters in your story a character disorder.

If you’re like me and don’t remember character disorders from college psychology class, there are basically two types of mental illnesses. There are neurosises (I know I spelled that wrong), and character disorders. A neurotic can be pretty messed up, but a neurotic’s problem(s) are generally treatable and a neurotic still has enough grip on reality to be able to take responsibility for his or her own actions.

Character disorders generally aren’t treatable. A person with a character disorder is generally less pleasant and considerably more dangerous. A person with a character disorder generally won’t take responsibility for his or her actions, or a problem he or she caused. I once had a landlord who liked to threaten to shoot people and put a gun in their hand and drugs in their pocket. He probably had a character disorder.

So what’s this have to do with writing fiction? Basically you answer about 300 questions about a character in your story, and it comes back and tells you what character disorder the person might have. Then you can read a profile and a few symptoms, which will give you some insights into how your character will behave in different circumstances and allow you to give the character some consistency.

No fair trying to use it to diagnose your coworkers, OK?

And no fair trying to use it to diagnose me either. I’m a neurotic. (There. That quote will keep me out of public office.)

3 thoughts on “A trick to give your fictional characters some consistency

  • June 24, 2003 at 9:25 am
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    And no fair trying to use it to diagnose me either. I’m a neurotic.

    Well then you’re in good company my friend.

    Once had a buddy who defined degrees of sanity as how well your internal world view matched objective reality. So I figured, “Hey! I can be neurotic and still (mostly) sane…” 😉

  • June 25, 2003 at 10:38 am
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    I can only think of a few character disorders off the top of my head. Things like posting a URL to an incredibly useful site in your blog without creating a hyperlink. Or putting your cordless phone in the fridge, sometimes in a Jello mold. Those are the big ones…

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