Personality, I think, forms after a period of time. Life experiences shape our attitudes, choices and our reactions to things. In fiction it is no different except a character’s personality doesn’t take a lifetime to form. This is where the character’s image comes into play.
Take Sandra from Conquering the Five Senses, her whole life is not before the reader to scrutinize unless the story starts at her birth but it doesn’t. She’s introduced as an older lady that has had many life experiences or at least that’s what we assume. Her thoughts and reactions have to come from somewhere, they have to have roots even if those roots are not apparent to the reader. They may not even be apparent to you, the writer. You may decide on a whim that Sandra despises cake. It’s a part of who she is because you said so–the end. The authoritative bluntness of such personality decisions is great and all, but doesn’t depict who Sandra is as a person. We’ll become familiar with her the more we are shown her actions, conversations, thoughts and feelings. So, how are we supposed to decide who Sandra is? You could just let it happen as you write, and eventually her personality will form or you can guide it.
By having a strong image of Sandra it’s easier to form her personality based on physical traits.
- She wears a pink shawl
- Has grey hair
- Has a slight hunch
What can be deduced? She probably likes pink, doesn’t care so much for perfect posture or hair products. These are pretty basic and bland assumptions to make. They still don’t tell us much about her personality, and they won’t until we start adding to her history/life experiences.
Sandra grew up on a farm; not a large-scale operation but a work-you-to-the-bone family endeavor. Being the oldest of twelve, she was constantly helping her mother with household work and raising younger siblings. She felt she never had time for herself, and she probably didn’t with so many responsibilities. Her family was poor; she rarely got to pamper herself with modern beauty techniques or wear the latest fashion. At times she begrudged her position but developed a respect for the land that only comes from the long hours spent toiling on it.
Voilà! Sandra’s a humble woman with respectable charm. She wears pink to bring a little flair to herself. She doesn’t dye her hair because of all the chemicals; she prefers natural beauty–an appreciation she developed while growing up. Her back is hunched because years of back-breaking labor does just that, breaks your back. With a general understanding of Sandra it’ll be easier to form her interactions with other characters and work the plot.