7.4.13

Applying the DISC Personality Test to Your Character


"Character gives us qualities, but it is in actions—what we do—that we are happy or the reverse...All human happiness and misery take the form of action."
- Aristotle


Over March, I've posted a break-down of the DISC personality test in terms of each type of person values. This is a personality test that is used by psychologists today, and I'm convinced that using it in my novels can create dimension to my characters that I otherwise might not have considered. Since the A to Z Bloggers' Challenge gives us Sundays off, I figured I'd use the first Sunday of April to address how we might use the DISC personality test to apply to our fictional characters. 

Characters are the most important thing in a novel, I think. Some of the more plot-driven novels might get away with a cardboard cutout of a character, but even those benefit by character development. Unless you're in it only for the action, the character is vital to the novel and must be fully fleshed out.

This fleshing out of characters should include the author knowing much more about their characters than ever gets put into the novel (see April 1st's post for a character worksheet). It's not necessary that the reader know what happened the first day of second grade for your protagonist (unless, of course, it pertains to the plot), but it may be nice for you to know how that day shaped your character. 


Most novels cover a very short span of the main character's (MC's) life, and the rest of the life doesn't matter to the plot. That doesn't excuse the author from knowing their characters' pasts though.

I mentioned in the first DISC post here, that a person can fall into multiple DISC categories. This leaves endless variations of characters to create. 

So how you use the DISC test may depend on how you write. Personally, I need to see my characters before I can start writing a story. I may have a general outline in my head of what is going to happen to this character, but before I put my first word down on the page, I need an idea—even a loose one—of who my main character is. DISC can help with that.

Let's say I'm going to have my MC save the world in one way or another. Perhaps it's a crime drama, where the heroine single-handedly defeats the antagonist, an evil, drug-lord mastermind. It's unlikely that a high C or S personality, who would avoid or acquiesce in response to confrontation, would make a good protagonist. (Keep in mind that they could always start out that way and change in their character arc throughout the novel.) So we look at the D or I personality, who either becomes autocratic or attacks in the face of conflict. In this circumstance, the latter would probably be best. 

But let's look at the D personality a bit more…the D is results oriented (that could help save the world) and tends to be impulsive (well, that could cause a lot of conflict), they are driven to action (definitely needed in such a plot), they are persistent (that might be good), and like to have control (that wouldn't hurt—if they're the good guy or girl). While most of the above are the positive traits of a D, some of their weaknesses would be insensitivity, impatience and inflexibility (well, those could hurt a save-the-world mission, couldn't they?).

Looking back at the I personality, we see that while they attack under tension, they are motivated by recognition and approval (all right, well, the adoration of the people they save could be good), they are optimistic (that could help in facing down death and overcoming the odds), while being personable and enthusiastic (that might not be bad, either, they could charm people with their enthusiasm, perhaps?), and they, most of all like to have fun (maybe they'd find saving the world fun?). Some of their weaknesses would be a tendency to over-sell themselves, manipulate others, jump to conclusions, and not follow through. (The ability to manipulate others wouldn't seem like a weakness with this plot, but jumping to conclusions and lack of follow-through certainly would be. What if Frodo got halfway to Mount Doom and decided he just didn't want to do it anymore?)

Both Is and Ds, depending on how you spin the character, seem innately qualified to save the world. If you wanted to make a superhero, you could pick only the best for your character and there'd be no chance of failure. However, people aren't really like that, and people undoubtedly fail at some point in achieving their goals, so we need to create a well-rounded person.

To create a realistic character, we should give them a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. If we gave our I-D character impulsivity, a drive to act, a need to control the situation and lack of follow-through, they'd have a fighting chance while being their own worst enemy. Presto, an "I-D" character outline to go with my ever-so-brief plot outline.

But to give the novel even more conflict—since pages turn with conflict—we could pair them with a sidekick who is a by-the-book C personality. This C character would be outraged by the I-D's impulsivity and demand that the protagonist think about that cliff they're going to jump off. The C sidekick would shrink in the face of conflict (unless the C character is convinced he/she is right). But when C is convinced of the I-D protagonist's world-saving course, they would be a wonderful sidekick who lends their support. They just have to believe in the cause first—and that might be a problem with our impulsive, results-oriented, controlling I-D protagonist who doesn't get bogged down with the details.

Although this method far from develops every aspect of a character, it doesn't touch on hobbies or history, I think there's much value in knowing the personality traits of your character and how they would react to a situation or another type of person. 

~I.E.