Web Resources for Developing Charactersby Greg Knollenberg
The Internet Writing Journal, June 2000
When developing characters, many writers use personality traits that they see in themselves and in others, such as friends, family and celebrities. A new source of material and information that can help you develop characters is the Internet. The Internet offers some unique resources for character development, such as psychological testing websites, baby name databases and other reference sites and databases. These websites certainly weren't created for writers developing characters; nevertheless, these site are extremely useful for writers. This article will help you locate some of these useful resources, and give you some tips about how you can use them to develop your own characters.
As we explain in our character traits section, psychological websites can help writers learn the underlying principles of behavior that motivate or cause people to act as they do. Reading psychology books can be a valuable use of your time, but why not take your character through psychological tests over the Internet? Online testing of your characters should help you gain a deeper understanding of your character or develop one from scratch based on his or her answers and scores. These tests include IQ tests, personality tests, aptitude tests and a variety of other types of psychological tests. Queendom is one of the largest online testing sites. Queendom maintains a large battery of tests available on its website covering topics such as personality, emotional health, relationships, intelligence and careers. Some other online testing websites include Keirsey Character and Personality Tests, Yahoo: Online Personality Tests and PsychologicalTesting.com.
Psychological websites can also help writers because they explain common personality traits, people's reactions to loss, illness, stress and tragedy and they often provide case studies and examples. Perhaps you can combine characteristics from several people you know well with new personality traits you researched on a psychology website. Personality resources are the most beneficial to writers. For example, the Keirsey.com website contains descriptions of various types of personalities and common characteristics of each, including examples of well-known people who fit each type. The Encyclopedia of Psychology can guide you to thousands of excellent resources and articles about numerous psychological topics. Some other valuable psychological resources and web directories include: Psychcrawler, Social Psychology Network, Psychology Online Resource Central, PsycHits, PsychSite, @Psychiatry, Psychology Information Online, Psychology Virtual Library and PsychWatch.com.
Biography resources can be a great help to writers. They provide in-depth information about the history, lifestyle and personality of the individual being profiled. Personalities profiled online include famous historical figures, celebrities, speakers, business men, politicians and many others. A great starting point to finding biographies online is Lives, which is a guide to online biography resources. Biography.com, another excellent site, includes profiles of over 20,000 well-known individuals. The Biographical Dictionary contains covers over 28,000 notable men and woman and also provides links to other valuable biography resources. Yahoo People contains a comprehensive collection of links to biographies of well-known people. Other biography resources include PublicFigure.com and biography-center.
Writers often consult baby naming books to help them select character names. You can now do this online through the use of searchable databases of names on baby and parenting sites. For example, Babynames.com contains a database of names with meanings. The database can be searched by name, by the meaning of the name or browsed alphabetically. The site also contains name lists, including lists of the most popular names, a list of Shakespeare names and a list of soap opera names. Babyzones.com also contains special name lists including names from around the world, celebrity baby names and cool names. BabyCenter's database of names can be searched by gender, number of syllables, starting and ending letter and by origin. Other great baby name resources are Parent Soup, Pregnancy Today, Popular Baby Names, The New Baby Name Index and Yahoo Baby Name Finder.
You can find more resources for naming characters on our character names page.
Genealogy websites contain many names, and are especially valuable for coming up with surnames. Ancestry.com has a database of 500 million names and also includes special databases such as the Civil War Research database. Yahoo also contains links to webpages for researching names in its lineages and surnames section. Some other genealogy resource are: GENDEX, Genealogy.com, RootsWeb and FamilyHistory.com.
Other resources that might be used for character development are limited only by your imagination. You might use the obituary section from an online newspaper to think of character traits for your characters or seek out typical characteristics, dialogue and experiences of a certain type of character (such a specific profession), by reading posts in a message board or discussion group. A good resource for finding discussions on a wide variety of topics is deja.com. Email mailing lists and newsletters can also be great resources for discovering more about different types of people. You can also find discussions and information about specific professions and personality types by visiting online communities devoted to the specialty you are researching. For example if your character is a fireman you might study posts and articles on Firehouse.com, an online firefighting community and resource, to find common characteristics of firemen and learn about their lifestyle. Or, if your character is a farmer you might follow articles and posts on AgWeb.com or Agriculture Online. If your character is a programmer you might try and learn more about him from websites like slashdot.org. If your character is suffering from an illness you could research people suffering from a specific affliction or ailment by browsing posts in a medical community such as WebMD.com. (Of course, you must be sensitive if you engage in conversation on such a discussion board, and be sure to respect people's privacy.) Develop your character's political persuasions by examining political communities on the Web. By dropping in on online communities you may be able to avoid research that previously took hours and hours to conduct using phone interviews. However, if you still need to talk to people directly to learn more about a particular profession or experience, you can contact them by email. Many experts in various professions can be found using online expert resources. An excellent list can be found in the experts links on writerswrite.com's research section. In addition to experts, you can also find the opinions and thoughts of millions of individuals on the Web, through personal homepages, which might be useful when developing characters. Some people even provide daily journals or online diaries and showcase their personal thoughts and experiences. A couple places to find online journals are LiveJournal and Tumblr. In addition to these web resources, an excellent offline resource for developing your characters is The Writer's Guide to Character Traits, which is a book written by psychologist, Linda N. Edelstein, Ph.D.
As you can see from the many resources mentioned here, there are numerous ways to use the Net to get creative when developing your characters' personality, skills, background, identity and personal characteristics. There are even tests to help make sure your character is not a Mary Sue character.
To pinpoint new resources try to determine what is missing in your character, then think how and where you could find that information online. Although it will take ingenuity and skill to develop your findings into fully developed characters to people your novels and short stories with -- the Internet certainly offers a fresh new arena for character research.
**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.