Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Big Five

Nope, as interesting as it would be to talk about the big five publishing houses, today I'm talking about the big five personality traits.  (We looked at Extraversion a few weeks ago ;))

The Big Five personality traits are five broad areas of personality that are used by psychologists when looking at....personality ;).   The Big Five factors are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.

 AKA- five really cool ways to look at the micro-characterization of your characters!

The idea behind personality theory is that certain traits indicate specific personality types, and for writers, if we understand what type of personality our characters have, our development of them will be much more rich and real.  Little subtle cues will add depth- your reader may not realize where it's coming from, but they will know it's there.

  • Openness to experience: (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). This refers to how much the character wants variety in their life.  Do they want the same routine over and over and freak out if it changes?  (Think Sheldon of the Big Bang tv show- he is pretty much at one extreme for each of these measures ;)) or are they constantly seeking new adventures and hate doing the same thing?  Like real people- characters are going to be somewhere on this scale- most like not at one of the extremes, but somewhere inbetween.

  • Conscientiousness: (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless).  A good way to think of this scale is self-discipline- aka how much do they have.  Are they easy going and relaxed about life?  Or plan every interaction down to the minute?

  • Extraversion: (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). How outgoing are they?  How do they "recharge?"  More introverted folks need to be alone to recharge- the more extraverted need to be around people to regain energy.

  • Agreeableness: (friendly/compassionate vs. analytical/detached). Are they compassionate or suspicious of others? Are they well-tempered or cranky?

  • Neuroticism: (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). How secure a person is emotionally can affect how quickly they react to real or imagined slights.

  • Understanding aspects of the human personality can really help us as writers build stronger and more complex characters (and yes, there are a lot of different personality theories out there ;))

    There are tons of huge books and articles on personality theory and the Big Five, but unless you are really interested as a source of study outside of your writing, you can probably just find some easy short online tests.  I have no idea of the validity nor reliability of these tests-LOL.  The idea is just for you to get a feel for the scale of personality traits within the big five and see how they could be applied to your writing (who knows, maybe you'll find out something about yourself as well!


    1. Thought provoking post, Marie.

      I've got one for you. What if a person is extremely "conscientious" ie. believes in fulfilling every duty (or responsibility) given them, but never seems to understand what it will actually involve? - Get the princess to her father on the other side of the molten lava lake in time for her wedding. Yes, sir! How will you do it? Ah...Duh...Hmmm...It's gonna be hard? Dangerous?

      I have a character who is totally committed to the responsibilities he quickly takes on, but is usually clueless about what will happen after he does. I struggle with this. Perhaps this impulsiveness (which I can't seem to find above) is a poor personality characteristic to give him, though it does make for lots of trouble and angst.


      1. Hmmmm- well, perhaps that is a difference between conscientious as in thought process and actually being focused on details ;). Sounds like your guy wants to do the right thing- but speaks before he thinks about it. The only thing I'd be worried about is this not thinking about how he's going to do something before he agrees to do it could come across as someone not to bright. :( Sort of a dudly do-right kind of character.

        Thanks for the comment and making me think! :)