‘CHARACTER’ – The Interaction Between Personality and Story

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Posted: 01-05-2018 14:04

Character: Developed from 5 Personality Traits

‘CHARACTER’ – The Interaction Between Personality and Story


Movies are about what people do: their ACTIONS in RESPONSE to EVENTS.


Exactly what a person does when challenged is a function of CHARACTER, a rather nebulous term, but one that is critical to understand if you want to write a credible STORY. Put a different way, choose the right characters to execute your PLOT in order to make their goals and actions believable and understandable to an audience. The actions of James Bond in all 26 movies, for instance, are entirely consistent with his character. Put Inspector Clousea, George Bailey or Forrest Gump in Bond’s place, and the story just wouldn’t make sense.


As a PSYCHOTHERAPIST, I help my clients understand their actions, interpret their experiences, as well as help them plan what to do in the face of life’s challenges. My clients’ stories and actions often echo familiar screenplay plots. I have found that the most critical variable that determines my clients’ actions is their PERSONALITY – a key component of ‘character’.


As a SCRIPT DOCTOR, I think that understanding what personality is made of and how it informs and influences a person’s actions is critical to designing the characters of your story - it will also help guide your plot design. While forcing a character to confront a challenge that demands them to act differently from their personality TRAITS is a way to create drama and conflict, actions that are inconsistent with a character’s personality lose credibility in your story writing. Think very carefully about the personality characteristics of your characters before you write, as well as use their actions during the plot to define their personality.


Let me help.


There are many ‘Models’ of personality, but the one I find the most useful is the ‘5-FACTOR MODEL’. As you interweave your plot and character traits into your story, consider these five domains:


  1. Introversion vs. Extroversion
  2. Agreeableness
  3. Conscientiousness
  4. Neuroticism
  5. Openness


I’ll expand on the key components of each of these traits in future posts, as well as compare the applications of ‘normal’ versus ‘disorder’ forms of personality traits in screenwriting and story-telling.


For now, to help interpret these five fundamental characteristics, think about them in terms of comparing James Bond, Norman Bates, Captain Jack Sparrow and Atticus Finch, especially when viewing these well-recognizable individuals in terms of the other components of character, namely PERSONAL EXPERIENCES (such as: traumas, accomplishments, failed relationships, career successes) and SOCIAL CONSTRUCTS (such as: political viewpoints, human right interpretations, gender perspectives) - we’ll also save the topics of personal experiences and social constructs in character development until later posts.


5-Factor Personality Model

Introvert vs Extrovert

I think this component of personality is probably the most overt way a character appears to an audience. Extroverts are inherently friendly and gregarious, who seek excitement without taking life too seriously. But they can be brash, controlling and impulsive. Introverts tend to be reserved, isolated and slower to act. On the other hand, they can appear unfriendly, unemotional and uninvolved. Remember though, these are not all or nothing traits. Conflict can be created where a character must disobey an inherent characteristic – and may fail or succeed at doing so as part of the plot.



Agreeableness is scored in terms of a person being trusting of others, whether they are deceptive, or altruistic and cooperative; agreeable people are modest and sympathetic; disagreeable people tend to be narcissistic, brittle and easily offended. 



People who score high on this trait tend to be orderly with a high level of dutifulness. They are goal-oriented with a high level of self-discipline. They are generally cautious and not impulsive; they don’t procrastinate.



This domain covers the profile of a character’s mood, end includes perspectives on their outlook and opportunities. High scorers tend to be depressed or anxious; are often angry when things do not turn out. Neurotic individuals are vulnerable to others’ criticisms, paranoid and vulnerable.



Open individuals enjoy being exposed to new ideas and perspectives. They respond emotionally to the appropriate degree; are adventurous and view experiences intellectually. They often challenge conventional wisdom, superstition and reject others’ demands on social conformity or rules. They enjoy ambiguity and chaos, and the unpredictability of like.



After designing a story outline, developing your character’s personalities will help define the plot – what they do when, how, and for what reason. Character gives credibility to a story and allows an audience to live vicarious experiences. 

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