Developing Realistic Characters Part 1 – Guest Post by Pamela Collazos

Characters can be tricky to develop. Unless inspiration suddenly hits you like a truck, you probably find it difficult to create characters out of thin air. So don’t try! Choose something more concrete to work with. The thoughts in your head, the people you’ve met, and the characters you love can all inspire you to create interesting, new people. They’re all great ways to go, but there’s another powerful method I haven’t mentioned yet: psychology. That’s right, we’re getting into the squishy stuff between your characters’ ears.


The Jungian Functions

People have debated as to the Jungian personality theory’s accuracy, but writing characters isn’t about committing yourself to one method of categorization. And anyway, people mostly struggle with this system because they erroneously link personality to character, which is a no-no. These functions can be tools for both good and evil (that’s what makes them so much fun!). So you can’t expect the functions help you understand your characters’ morals, but you can expect them to help you see how they receive and process information.

Note: Everyone uses all the functions—just with different levels of success and frequency. When I speak of feelers and thinkers, I’m talking about their strongest mental processes. However, feelers still think and thinkers have feelings. Clear? Great, now let’s define terms.


Extraverted Feeling (Fe) v. Introverted Feeling (Fi)  

First, let’s talk about feelings. Not like happiness or sadness, though extraverted feeling (Fe) and introverted feeling (Fi) include those, too. I mean the functions as defined by Carl Jung.

Psychologists say Fe “involves a desire to connect with (or disconnect from) others and is often evidenced by expressions of warmth (or displeasure) and self-disclosure” [1] We use Fe when we understand others’ expectations and decide how to best respond to them.

But Fi is independent of the group and instead “serves as a filter for information that matches what is valued, wanted, or worth believing in.”[2]

We use Fe when we understand others’ expectations and decide how to best respond to them. But Fi is independent of the group.

The feeling functions are about your priorities, and whether they’re rooted in the external/group (Fe) or the internal/individual (Fi).

Marvel’s Loki is an example of an Fe-dominant. Because Fe-doms often know what people want, they can work a crowd if they wish to. For instance, in Thor: Ragnarok, Loki holds the attention of the crowd around one of the Grandmaster’s parties in Sakaar,

And in Thor, Loki knows that Laufey wants the Casket of Ancient Winters and the death of his enemy, Odin, which isn’t surprising. But because Loki  accurately perceives Laufey wants these things to bring glory to Jotunheim, he is able to manipulate Laufey into attempting to kill Odin, which ends in Laufey’s death. That poor goon.

Writing application: If you wish to write a character who can charm his way to others’ confidences and easily gain valuable information, you want an Fe-dom. Strong Fe-users are good with people, even if they’re villains.

The less proficient your character is in exercising Fe, the less likely he’s aware of others’ feelings and opinions. Fe’s presence or absence can be a defining trait, which brings me to our next example.

Thor is an Fi-auxiliary (with little Fe). Just think of how he was largely unaware of his brother Loki’s deep-seated jealousy for him. He simply assumed, as Fi-users often do, that their feeling are reciprocated. And it’s not until Avengers: Infinity War that Thor wonders whether his brother staged his own death (again) or if he’s actually dead this time. Why? Because his (underdeveloped) Fi function makes him blind to the possibility that others have different standards and perspectives.

As an Fi, he often treats others as he’d like to be treated. And that’s all good and nice, unless you’re trying to convince the Hulk to let Banner out by showing that you believe in him as he did in Thor: Ragnarok. It looked sweet—until Hulk smashed Thor to the ground.

Poor Thor. He didn’t realize that, just because the I-believe-in-you magic worked when Odin used it on him, enabling him to blast his sister to high heaven, that doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

Writing Application: If you want to create dramatic irony that rivals the angsty Greek tragedies, or someone who is emotionally out-of-step with the group, an Fi-dom is your best bet.

Pride and Prejudice shows how Fe seeks group harmony and/or acceptance, but some—like Jane Bennet—care about true harmony, while others—like the Bingley sisters (who try to keep Jane from their brother)—care only for superficial harmony. Let’s compare them, shall we?

Jane is an exemplar Fe-user. She’s kind to everyone and cares for their reputations, even when she hardly knows them. She wants peace between members of the group and actively works to create harmony by encouraging Elizabeth to speak well of Mr. Darcy when Elizabeth still hates him and to  pity Mr. Wickham whom Jane thinks may seek to redeem himself later.

Mr. Darcy also notes to Elizabeth how Jane smiles at everyone, which makes sense for strong Fe-users because they often exhibit the social graces.

By contrast, the Bingley sisters are terrible Fe-users. They’re technically following social protocol by inviting Jane to stay with them until she gets better and checking up on her, but as Jane’s sister Elizabeth notes when visiting, the Bingley girls only put on a show. When they leave Jane’s sick room, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

Writing Application. Note that just because a character is compassionate with one group of people does not mean he’ll be compassionate with every other group. And a character who’s good with people doesn’t have to like them!

If you’re writing a character who thinks well of others, you ought to decide on their reasoning for this. A good Fe-dom will probably desire to positively influence others and create group harmony. And if you’re writing about a rag-tag group who can’t stand each other, Fe-doms can work wonders in uniting your group.

Pride and Prejudice shows how Fi seeks individuality.

While Fe is about the group, Fi is all about the individual and how he judges his internal moral or aesthetic standards, meaning that they’re sometimes at odds with the group mentality. This helps explain one Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy perfectly.

Elizabeth is an example of Fi-dom. After all, when her sister Jane was sick, she didn’t care how people back then thought a lady walking by herself was scandalous or that the Bingley sisters would hold her in contempt for it. She didn’t care it had rained the day before and the ground was now muddy. She wanted to go for a nature walk and she wanted to see her sister, so she did.

When she arrived at the Bingley house, she had mud at the bottom of her dress. And yet she stepped inside as if this was normal, and didn’t care how different her standards were to theirs.

Mr. Darcy is an example of someone who isn’t an Fi-dom, but still uses the function at times. If you remember, he doesn’t mind that Elizabeth is carelessly defying Victorian social graces. In fact, he says her eyes were brightened by the exercise!

Writing application. If your characters are Fi-doms, they don’t have to be inconsiderate, but they will likely be less concerned with observing others’ standards. They’re not immune to social pressure, but they’re much less likely to care.

If you want to have some fun with your characters in a romance novel, make them both Fi-users (or just people with little to no Fe). They’ll be mutually unaware that they love each other, or one will be unware his love isn’t reciprocated(that’s Pride and Prejudice in a nutshell).


Extraverted Thinking (Te) v. Introverted Thinking (Ti)

Speaking of interesting minds, let’s delve into extraverted thinking (Te) and introverted thinking (Ti). They’re different than Fe and Fi, but they aren’t opposite to them no more than hunger is the opposite of sadness. They just aren’t in the same category.

Psychologists say Te “is about organizing and monitoring people and things to work efficiently and productively. . . . [We use it] when we challenge someone’s ideas based on the logic of the facts.”[3]

But while Te organizes the external world, Ti organizes the internal world. Psychologists describe Ti as “an internal sense of the essential qualities of something”[4] which then helps Ti-doms draw conclusions from general principles. Ti focuses on  how things work rather than their functional use (as Te does).

While Te organizes the external world, Ti organizes the internal world.

Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger exemplifies Te. She makes study plans for her friends for each school year, keeps herself busy, and tries to boss her friends into improvement. This comes from her Te desire to impose order and efficiency. Her bluntness is also part of her sense of efficiency.

In fact, she uses Te even when the efficient choice is questionable, like when shewipes her parents’ memories so they would be safely away from Voldemort’s attacks.

Writing Application. Your Te-users don’t have to be bossy, especially if Te is not their first function. However, they do need to try to structure the world around them in some way. Maybe it manifests in trying to free elves like with Hermione, or leading group projects, or helping friends learn how to do the same job in less time. And their efficiency often makes them the ones to make the tough calls.

By contrast, Ginny Weasley uses auxiliary Ti. She sees the essence of the matter, realizing that Harry was always going to go hunt for horcruxes because heroism is part of who he is. She’s not surprised or even weepy when Harry tells her the news, understanding that he may leave her for now but he’ll come back to her, for that’s also in his nature.

She also doesn’t let Harry keep up his angst-party about having a murderous Voldemort in his head. Instead, she gets to the heart of the matter (Ti) by bluntly reminding him that she Voldey possessed her before, shutting him up.

Writing Application. When writing strong Ti-users, remember they like to view things from several angles to deduce what’s at the heart of the situation, often finding innovative solutions and exploitable weak spots. Those with higher Ti than Ginny will probably mentally break apart the problem.Sherlock shows Te and Ti. He shows Te when he’s busy, acts quickly and decisively, and delegates minutiae to others like having Watson hand him his cellphone, write down the details of crime scenes, and deal with the humans. He also uses deduction (though technically speaking, he’s using induction, a Te trait), and is so good at it that he makes a living out of it.

He is also straightforward with others, unwilling to waste time like a typical Te-dom.

But he has an internal categorization system in the form of his mind palace that is unparalleled and indicative of a (very) strong Ti-user. This also explains his genius-level problem solving skills which help him dissect the crime scene in his head from beginning to end.

Writing Application. Technically, he defies Jungian classification. But you can be Neo from The Matrix and bend reality if you wish (just don’t let your characters become unbeatable gods!).

Remember, if you want a character who is trying to practically impose his idea of order on the world, go with a Te-dom. If you want a character who is happy to impose order for his own mind and see things deconstruct before his eyes, make him a Ti-dom. And if you need both, or just think it will make the character more interesting to have both, go for Te and Ti. Or just give them a friend who has the abilities they lack!



I hope these functions help you understand your characters. Just remember people have more than one function. They’re complex.

For instance, Harry Potter’s Ron Weasley doesn’t often show Te, but he does like chess, a game that requires him to organize (Te) pretend armies.

Luna Lovegood (of the same series) often uses Fi, but when she does come out of her thoughts, she often says something honest and blunt (Te). At one point, she is hanging out with Ron’s friends when she notes, “He [Ron] can be a bit unkind. I noticed that last year.”[5]

Marvel’s Captain America uses Si and Fe the most, but he has enough Ti to look at a tough situation and mentally dissect it until he has found his enemy’s weak spots. Think back to Captain America: Civil War. *Spoilers ahead!* Remember when Cap saw Stark’s electromagnet on his chest and smashed his shield against it to destroy the source of Stark’s strength, a strength that quizzically lay vulnerable and exposed? He was using his Ti to find Stark’s weak spot.

Writers, it’s a good idea to connect your character’s strengths to their weaknesses—that’s how real people operate.

Now get out there and write! Or get inside and hole up in your room, if that’s the type of writer you are. And maybe, just maybe, the truck of inspiration will hit you sometime soon. And if not, come in next week for Developing Realistic Characters, Pt. 2.

Pamela Collazos is a Professional Writing Student seeking to grow as a writer and to help others do the same.






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6 replies

  1. WOW!! This is great information, Pamela. Thank you for sharing. Will definitely have to use these tips for my (many) characters

  2. Great article! I think one thing that helps me decide how to balance traits such as the ones listed in the post is to make a distinction between innate personality traits/behaviors and learned traits/behaviors. On an innate level, for instance, I’m an introvert and always will be, but I still do my best to talk to people and be socially competent.

    Understanding the distinction between an innate and learned behavior is important here, because it affects motivation and therefore action. As an introvert, I could probably learn to handle and even enjoy a job where I have to talk to people all day. But if I don’t feel like I have enough time to recharge, that job will probably start taking a toll on me at some point, regardless of whether I enjoy the job itself. A character like me might eventually be motivated to find a job that requires less constant socializing. An extroverted char, on the other hand, might do everything they can to keep that job for far longer, and that will affect their actions and feelings.

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