Your personality is built day by day, a conglomerate of your experiences and more importantly your choices. When you look back over your life, however, you’ll find that certain events stick out. These are the moments when you said to yourself, “I will never…” or “I’ll always…”
When I was a child, I lived out in the country and there weren’t many children around my own age. I remember being scared of some of the older kids. They would chase my brother and I and though I can’t remember them ever catching us, I do remember that I decided I had to look out for my brother and always make sure he was okay. We had to stick together. To this day I have rarely ever fought with him and most of the sibling characters I write also have this fundamental kinship.
What are some of your defining moments? What about your characters?
Big things that influence us are our parents, our friends and our wider social circles – places like school, church, work and so on. Yet these things aren’t totally random. Each choice is based on the foundational blocks that went before. If you align closely with your parents as a young child, you will be more likely to make friends with the sort of children that reinforce those personality traits.
My mother always claims that my brother’s hatred of onions came from emulating a mutual friend of ours when we were little. He claims (of course) that it’s just because he can’t stand the taste (or the texture). Who is right? Maybe it’s both. Once you take something on, you make it your own and it really doesn’t matter where it came from any more.
Sometimes, instead of emulation, you choose to ‘do the opposite’. “I’ll never hit my children” or “I’ll always make sure my family has enough money” could come from wanting to avoid the pain of something that happened to you.
As you can see, personality is layered and complex, built up over years and years of experiences and decisions. When you want to write a good character, it’s worth considering what building blocks have shaped them as a person over the years. Say you have a character bent on world domination, consider what they were like as a baby (probably not quite as evil… unless they are Stewie and just born that way). Something will have happened to make them distrust people – perhaps parental abuse, bullying at school, or even an attack by a stranger where others looked on but did nothing to help. There may have been an event where they decided the only way to feel safe is to be in complete control (hence world domination). Deciding some of these key personality defining events will help you write your character with more integrity and depth.
I’d love to hear what sort of events have defined your protagonists and villains! Post me some examples in the comments below.