Wordsmith Wednesday–Character Development, A Sample

My "Seven Swords" Novel Writing Nook

Image by mshea via Flickr

In previous posts I’ve addressed character development using the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile. I thought in this post I would share with you specifics on how to use it.

Before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for my second novel, The Sin of His Father, I took the time to create a complete profile of each of the main and secondary characters. I wrote these prior to even outlining the plot, since, in literary fiction, the story is driven by the characters. I included a few descriptive phrases (which I didn’t use). The benefit of having a clear picture of your characters it that it will allow you to create a “round” versus “flat” character, to introduce both strengths and weaknesses, to create an element of surprise that is non-the-less believable and to help you predict how your character might react in a given circumstance.

Here is the profile I created for my protagonist, Matt:


1. Matthew McKinley Maxwell – Point of View Character
• Nickname: Matt, Mattie (by his Mom only)
• Birth date: April 2, 1979 (Aries)
• Character Role: Protagonist
• Protagonist, Private Investigator, Franciscan Novice/Monk, Seminarian
• Think young Jerry Orbach

Physical Description
• Age: 36 at beginning of novel
• Race: Irish American-white
• Eye color: brown
• Hair: dark brown
• Build: 6’2” 182 lbs
• Skin tone: dark: “Black” Irish
• Style of dress: clean, but not stylish. Mismatched colors. Baggy pants. Franciscan habit. Safety pin on belt loop to pick pipe tobacco out of his teeth.

A mop of thick black hair marked him as Black Irish. Crossed on the left, swooping across his smooth forehead, Matt struggled with that one unruly lock that tangled with his heavy brows.

Matt’s forehead protruded like that of a Bald Eagle. Thick brows, perched above his beak, hooded deep-set brown eyes. He avoided catching the priests glance. His mother had told him, time and time again, “Look people in straight in the eyes, Mattie. Look at them. Show them you have nothing to hide. Show them you’re a man.” But this man’s eyes were different. It seemed like they pierced his sorrow.

Matt sucked in his upper lip, guiding the razor in short downward strokes. He’d thought about growing a mustache before.

Matt’s dimples deepened when he smiled, which wasn’t often, the Novice Master realized. What sort of burden did this man carry?
What was it about him that was so elusive?

He chewed on his thick lower lip, longed for the comforting touch of the smooth pipe stem in the corner of his mouth. (Research websites on favorites about pipes, tobacco.)

He heaved his 6’2’’ frame into the El. At 182 lbs, he kept promising himself he’d drop five. “Do ya think I can do it?” he would ask Monica. ¶“Not here,” she’d answered, wrestling with the extra cheese on a pepperoni from Pizzeria Uno. ¶“But I build in my exercise walking to and from the El.”

• Quick wit, dry sense of humor

• Smokes a pipe and has an aroma of tobacco smoke about him. Dresses shoddily, but clean. Keeps a safety-pin in a belt loop to pick flecks of tobacco out of his teeth

Raised as an only child by his mother who was first generation Irish. Raised in the South Side of Chicago. Never knew his father. His mother told him that his father split before he was born but never gave him any details. He would ask her “Why don’t you get married, Mom. Why don’t you get me a daddy?” She would answer, “You know why. You know we’re Catholic.” Matt always assumed that she had been married and divorced from his father. Whenever he would ask about his father, his mother would answer, “You don’t want to know about him, Mattie. He wasn’t a good man. But you, you don’t need to be like him, you know. You’re your own person. It’s good you don’t have him in your life.”

o Matt attended 8 years of Catholic School in the South Side, but then had to go to Public School. He was intelligent and always got good grades. He never mixed in well. There was a mix of blacks in his neighborhood and parish and that’s where he became friends with (detective). They became buddies in High School and decided to go to 2-year college to study criminal justice. Both graduated and his buddy went on to the police academy. Matt decided that he didn’t want to be a cop because he had no stomach for violence, blood and guts. But his buddy encouraged him to be a PI because of his analytical mind. Bachelors in Criminal Justice, then Theology. Studying in the Seminary for Doctoral Degree before leaving monastery

Matt stopped going to church when he went to the community college. He didn’t believe you should have to answer to any human, but to directly to God. Every once in a while he would slip into the Catholic Church in downtown Chicago and spend some time with God. He liked to be alone and think. He just didn’t like the structure and authority of the church. He continued to carry his rosary with him. His mother would plea with him to return to the sacraments, telling him that that’s where she got the strength to go through life alone. He would explain to her that he still felt close to God in his own way.

As far as relationships go, Matt had a series of monogamous relationships with women his age. He liked sex but as soon as the women began to talk to him about commitment, he’d drop out. He had a fear of showing his emotions. He wasn’t sure what it was that bothered him, but thought it had something to do with his mother’s bad experience with marriage. Matt was precise and wanted to do everything precisely, including marriage. But then, he finds himself falling in love with Monica, wanting to be with her for the rest of his life. He’s not able to tell her, and in the middle of their relationship, tells her he can’t have sex with her anymore. He doesn’t feel guilt about sex, but somehow felt he would hurt the one woman he had begun to care about. Monica was confused and told him she couldn’t see him anymore.

Matt always had dogs when he was growing up, always Black Labrador Retrievers and always named Bones. At the beginning of the story, this is his third dog. Matt needs to rise early to exercise his dog before daily activities. Then, after work, he takes him for a run along Lake Michigan. Throughout novel, Matt can talk to Bones, review his thoughts and conflicts aloud with his confident. See description of Bones, below.

• INTP on Myers-Briggs (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceptive
• Precise–Reviews his reports several times
• Asks a lot of questions for clarification, “Now, did I get this right?”
• Strong ability to concentrate
• Is oblivious of his surroundings when he’s reading. People will say something and he won’t even hear them.
• Logical
• Keeps his cool, externally, when things are chaotic around him. Shows good problem-solving skills.
• Shuns external authority
• Show his struggles when he’s a novice. Use lots of interior dialogue. Now what’s the purpose of that? That doesn’t make sense. Has to bite his tongue when he wants to make a smartass remark, but keeps it inside of himself.
• Curious about universe, about how things work
• Tie into above. Have him ask why? All the time.
• Need to understand behavior
• Again, asking lots of questions. His novice master and others in the novitiate can go crazy with his questioning, tell him, Enough already, just do it. This can be a big point of contention in his conversations with his superiors.
• Intellectual, impatient with those who are not
• Consider adding another novice. The kid could be dull, younger than Matt and in the end, drops out before vows. Matt could try to befriend him, but it’s a hopeless case. Again, could be an instance in which he has to bite his tongue, only have him chew down on his empty pipe which he carries with him all the time. (Ask Fr. JP: Are novices allowed a pipe? Could paint him going through nicotine withdrawal at first.)
• Perceived as arrogant
• Novice Master could have this discussion with him. Perhaps he doesn’t relate well to the other friars.
• Must understand everything, irrelevant to them if others don’t understand their truth
• Covered in above descriptions
• Lives in the world of theory, not able to make things happen
• This could be apparent in his dealings with his friend, the detective.
• Dosen’t like social activity or disorder in his environment
• Describe some part of his apartment, office, cell that he’s compulsive about, bearing in mind that these kind of people “give up” if the situation is impossible. Maybe everything that he files away has to be in perfect order. That’s why he has piles around. He can’t put stuff away if it’s not in the right place.
• Re: social activity, just have him respond as an introvert
• Easy to live with
• Doesn’t confront. Can have Novice Master probe him about his inner feelings, saying he always gives in. Matt would deny that’s a problem.
• Forget things, not grounded in daily living
• What can he be absent-minded about? As novice, doesn’t show up to community prayer/activities. Always late. As PI, sometimes forgets to get off El at the right stop.
• Difficulty expressing emotions verbally Show in his relationship with his mother, when she’s dying, with Monica and his reflection back on his other relationships. These can happen in conversations with the novice master. Tie in to “easy to get along with.
• Strongest quality is thinking, but they don’t appear to others as intellectuals. Show in his absent-mindedness. Maybe a discussion between the prior and the novice master.
• Often misunderstood, their reserve is difficult to penetrate
• Not adaptable if principles are violated. Think of a scene when this is shown. Maybe his interior struggle related to his secret drinking. Show conflict and guilt. Have someone compliment him on his discipline and have him react to the deception he has undertaken. Can also be shown in a scene with his detective friend. Maybe he wants to do something illegal-bribe a police detective or…?
• Think in a complicated fashion. This can come out in conversations with the novice master and the detective. Maybe even with the old priest.
• May be unaware of feelings of others. Show in context of community life. Also have him question how he could have missed the signs that his mother lived a tortured existence.

Internal Conflicts
• Central internal conflict is related to his fear that he has genetic influence from his father who raped his mother.
• Morally sound man who hates the fact that he’s living a lie. He has entered the monastery to escape his fear that he’s a sexual predator. He values the truth but knows the he is deceptive in his reasons for being in the monastery.
• He secretly battles alcoholism. Again, this adds to his sense of self-deception. While he is able to deceive others, he is never able to lie to himself. He watches his act as a detached observer. His passion for the truth makes it even more deceptive.
• He’s puzzled by his inability to form a strong relationship. He’s madly in love with Monica, but cannot bring himself to tell her. He’s a bundle of emotions that he holds under close wraps.

External Conflicts
• Matt is assailed by the fear that he will be discovered for the liar he is.
• He lives under the dread that he will develop into someone who is prone to violence and/or sexual deviancy.
• He doesn’t know what he’ll do when and if he will find his father.

Private investigator, Franciscan postulant, seminarian, student, novice, friar, works in soup kitchen.


4 thoughts on “Wordsmith Wednesday–Character Development, A Sample

  1. Jamie Dedes says:

    I saw this before and love that you posted it … I love using MB or architypes.

    Well done.


  2. I’d like to link your blog to mine. I was discussing character creation and loved the way you presented this. I’ll be posting it tomorrow unless you say otherwise. Thanks.



  3. Love my Myers-Briggs. Glad to see you do this. Well done and I’ll be back to read again. Thanks, Victoria.


  4. trisha says:

    I wonder if you have any idea how much you help me through these wordsmith posts of yours.

    I love to write but my writing is completely imagination based, you are helping me to sort out my imaginations and give them a beautiful form.

    thanks and hug.


Your comment and feedback are important to me. Thank you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s