Recently on Twitter, @AgentShea (Katie Shea of the Donald Maass Literary Agency) was wondering “how to make a one-note romance book into women’s fiction.” This is a question I also think about. As a writer of women’s fiction, I find that some romance and chick lit novels leave me dissatisfied. They hint at the depth of their characters but don’t really explore it.
For instance, I recently read a chick lit novel where the heroine is addicted to shopping. Even though she’s getting deeper into debt, she can’t seem to stop herself from buying things. The novel is resolved when she finally takes control of her financial life. But it never explores why she’s got this addiction in the first place.
I get that there’s a temporary high that comes with buying pretty things (have you seen my lia sophia jewelry collection?). I get that the character’s mother also loves to shop. But people with an addiction generally have a hole in their life they’re trying to fill. What’s this character’s wound? In the novel, she doesn’t seem to have one.
This is one area where knowledge of personality type can help you deepen your characters. For instance, this protagonist struck me as an ESFP. She was gregarious, fun-loving, spontaneous, and deeply loyal to the people she cared about. She ignored her negative feelings, hoping they would go away, rather than confronting them directly before things got out of control. So, considering the stressors of an ESFP, what might the source of this character’s pain be?
Personal relationships are of primary importance to ESFPs. Conflict with a loved one, or the feeling of being excluded by their social group, is likely to trouble this type even more than others. Because of their lighthearted and carefree demeanor, ESFPs may find that people don’t take them as seriously as they deserve. I can easily envision how an ESFP character experiencing feelings of rejection might spiral into compulsive behavior.
In this novel, a couple of simple elements might have deepened the story substantially:
- Spending more time dealing with the heroine’s recent breakup with her boyfriend, which in this case was simply glossed over.
- Showing other characters consulting her expertise about fashion but not finance (she’s knowledgeable about both).
This is just one example. You can take the same approach to any of the personality types, identifying their stressors and working them into the story.
For other ideas on deepening character in your story, see the list of Breakout Novel writing prompts that Donald Maass currently has listed on the agency website. You can also find these prompts by searching #Maass on Twitter.
Using Personality Type Theory to Develop Fictional Characters