from the bookshelves of educator and children's author
Barbara Jean Hicks
No book has been more helpful to me as a novelist than the 1978 self-help tome Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types, by David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates (distributed by Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, Del Mar, CA). Most of the many 5-star reviews for this book on amazon.com tout the self-help aspect; it's designed to help people understand and get along with others who march to the beat of a different drum.
I've used it that way, too--but what I really love about this book is that it's a fabulous tool for developing the characters in my novels. Or sometimes for understanding my characters, who will say and do the most unexpected things, all on their own, without my having planned it! (You can't tell me you haven't experienced that--a character who absolutely refuses to cooperate and takes off on his or her own story?)
The book begins with the Keirsey Temperament Sorter--a fun and helpful thing to do for yourself and your significant others, by the way, but a fascinating thing to do for the characters in your work in progress. I've used the book to develop characters from the ground up, or, more often, to help me understand how a character I've already developed would think, act and react to events in the story--or how he or she would act to actually move the plot of a story forward.
The theory is that people are different in four basic and opposing ways: how their energy is restored (engagement with other people vs. solitude--Extraverted or Introverted); how they perceive the world (in terms of facts vs. in terms of hunches--Sensate or Intuitive); how they make decisions (rationally vs. emotionally--Thinking or Feeling); and how comfortable they are with the decision making process (having closure vs. keeping options open--Judging or Perceiving). The sixteen combinations of these four preferences create sixteen Temperament Types. Because no one person acts completely the same way in every situation, there are endless variations in personality, but the sixteen types offer a guide to understanding basic temperament--your own, your friends' and family's, and your characters'.
Here's a quick reference--cue words--to each of the four sets of preferences:
Extraverted: multiple relationships, sociable, broad experience, external, interaction, external happenings
Introverted: limited relationships, territorial, deep experience, internal, concentration, internal reactions
Sensate: experience, focus on the past, realistic, perspiration, sensible, what is actual
Intuititive: hunches, focus on the future, speculative, inspiration, imaginative, what is possible
Thinking: objective, logical, firm, principle-driven, drawn to policy and laws
Feeling: subjective, emotional, sympathetic, value-driven, drawn to peace and understanding
Judging: plan ahead, urgent, settled, decided, fixed; drawn to closure
Perceiving: adapt as you go, tentative, open-ended, pending further input, flexible; drawn to options
I highly recommend Please Understand Me as a tool to add depth to your fictional characters. Do you have other resources you use to make your characters well-rounded, real people that your readers feel as if they know? We'd love to hear!