(Case Study: Jordan Redmond, Providence)
Have you ever read a book where a character didn’t seem realistic, where something was...off? Maybe they did things that weren’t compatible with the person you were introduced to or maybe they reacted in a way that was unbelievable. Character psychology is no different than psychology in the real world. There are specific expectations based on psychological makeup, specific attributes of personality types, and when we deviate from these expectations, the reader will sense that something is off (even though they may not be able to put their finger on what it is specifically).
Our goal as writers is to create characters that our readers will care about, because without memorable, realistic, and well-rounded characters, our readers will quickly lose interest in the story. Characters, in fact, are one of the most vital elements of any story, but how do we create characters worth reading about?
In today’s post, I’m going to demonstrate how to create authentic, well-rounded characters by testing their psychological continuity.
CASE STUDY: Jordan Redmond (Providence, Book 1)
The Character Interview
You probably have a pretty good idea of who your character is. You’ve been thinking about her for weeks, if not months. You know what she looks like, what her demeanor is, and can probably pick out a real-life person that reminds you of her. So why is the character interview so important?
Because it’s where we get to know the nitty-gritty of what makes our character tick. For instance, the fact that Jordan grew up as an only child tells me something about her, as does the fact that she always tends to see the glass as half full and gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. And while these points probably won’t be mentioned in the book explicitly, it does help me to know certain things about her and how she’ll respond and react to different people and events throughout the story.
Below is a sample character interview we did for Jordan Redmond, the main character in Providence. As you can see, it’s a pretty basic template, but you can make yours as in-depth or basic as you need it to be, adding to it as necessary as the story develops.
NAME: Jordan Redmond
PARENTS: John and Helen
LOCATION/HOME: Riverside, California
ECONOMIC STATUS: Upper Middle Class
OCCUPATION: Nursing student/ER Nurse
FRIENDS: Jason, Mike, Veronica, David, Jeannie
HOW DO OTHERS PERCEIVE THIS CHARACTER: Beautiful, innocent, full of potential
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: Blonde hair, thin, medium height, green eyes
CHARACTERISTICS/PERSONALITY: Jordan is a hard worker, empathetic, and tries to see the best in everyone. She fights for the underdog, is compassionate and nurturing.
HOPES/DREAMS: She hopes to become a nurse to help other people. She wants to be a wife, and maybe even a mom someday.
INTERESTS/HOBBIES: Reading, volunteering, movies, cooking
IS SHE A GO-GETTER OR DOES SHE TEND TO HOLD BACK? She’s a go-getter, but has a plan.
DOES SHE PREFER COMFORT OVER ACCOMPLISHMENT? She prefers accomplishment and is willing to do what it takes.
DOES SHE COME ACROSS AS HAPPY AND AS IF SHE HAS IT ALL TOGETHER ALL THE TIME, REGARDLESS OF HOW SHE FEELS? Yes, in most situations. An exception would be life-altering events, i.e., death, trauma, etc.
IS APPEARANCE IMPORTANT TO HER? Yes, she wants to look professional, well put together, clean.
DOES SHE TEND TO FEEL MELANCHOLY AT TIMES? No
DOES SHE HESITATE STARTING SOMETHING, AFRAID OF FAILING? No, she’s confident
IS SHE A PERFECTIONIST? Yes
IS SHE MOODY? No
CAN SHE HANDLE A CRISIS SITUATION OR DOES SHE FALL APART? She handles crisis situations well.
WOULD SHE ALLOW HERSELF TO BE CONTROLLED? Manipulated, maybe. Controlled, no.
DOES HER MIND TEND TO WANDER WHEN SHE GETS BORED? Yes
IS SHE OVERLY SELF-ABSORBED OR DRAMATIC? No
DOES SHE SEE THE GLASS AS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY? Half full
IS SHE MORE FOCUSED ON THE NEEDS OF OTHERS THAN HERSELF? Definitely
WOULD SHE PROTECT THE UNDERDOG? Absolutely
IS SHE GENERALLY AGREEABLE OR DISAGREEABLE? Agreeable
IS SHE BLUNT AND CONFRONTATIONAL? No
DOES SHE AVOID CONFLICT?: At all costs
IS SHE CRITICAL AND JUDGMENTAL? No
IS SHE WARY OF PEOPLE SHE FIRST MEETS? No
IS SHE A GOOD MEDIATOR, SEEING ALL SIDES OF A SITUATION? Yes
PRO TIP: I recommend starting with a basic interview, adding to it in chunks as you get to know your character better (usually by meeting her in a few scenes). As you write and develop more characters throughout your career, you'll find an approach to character design that works best for you, but a simple questionnaire is a good starting point.
Now, based on the answers in the interview in addition to what we already know about our character through brainstorming, we can then go on to determine her Enneagram type.
What is the Enneagram?
“[The Enneagram is] an ancient body of wisdom that identifies nine core personality types and how each sees and interacts with the world.” -- The Road Back to You, Discover Your Enneagram
So basically, the Enneagram is a valuable tool that helps us to know how our character will see and interact with the world around them. We can also identify attributes that are consistent with the personality type and incorporate them into the character’s personality, reactions, and interactions in our story.
We determine Enneagram type in a couple of ways. One is by putting our character through the Enneagram Inventory on a site such as TypologyPodcast.com or by using the tests provided in books such as “Understanding the Enneagram” by Don Richard Riso & Russ Hudson and “Discovering Your Personality Type” also by Don Richard Riso & Russ Hudson. Another is to study the descriptions of each type in the books mentioned above or on www.TheEnneagramInstitute.com and decide which one more accurately represents the character we’ve developed. (I’ve found that after taking the test a few times myself and studying each of the types in depth, I now have a good enough understanding to simply use the character interview and what I know about my character to determine their type.)
PRO TIP: Take the Enneagram Inventory yourself to gain a better understanding of the system. Once you’ve studied the types, look at the people around you and see if you can figure out where they fit!
In the next installment of this series, we’re going to explore how the Enneagram type can be used in the creation and testing of characters, and we’ll also talk about Jordan’s type and how this information played a role in her development in Providence.
Read part two here.
In the meantime, don’t forget to take the Enneagram Inventory, and feel free to share your results in the comments below!