Personality and Fictional Characters: Idiographic and Nomothetic Descriptions
In this assignment, you will describe the personality of a fictional character from a novel,
play, movie, or television series.
Unlike most of your other essay assignments, this assignment doesn’t require any
searching for scientific articles or books. Instead, it involves only your own study of a
novel, play, movie, or television series—one that you will find on your own. In fact, for
this assignment you are actually not permitted to do any searching for other people’s
analyses of the personality of your fictional character. Your analysis should be entirely
Note: In the instructions below, “book” or “novel” can refer to whichever work you
are using, whether a novel, a play, a movie, or a television series. Non-traditional
forms of writing can be used only if the volume is at least equivalent to a short novel.
Sections of the Assignment
1. Title page (see comments in “Details…” section below)
2. Start your essay with a statement indicating the name of the fictional character you’ll
be studying, along with the title of the book in which this character appears. Indicate that
you will provide idiographic and nomothetic personality descriptions of this character.
(To remind yourself about idiographic and nomothetic personality descriptions, see your
lecture notes from the first lecture and see pp. xxi-xxiii of the Introduction chapter of the
Note: Do not give any background information about the book, any summary of the
book’s plot, or any list of its various characters. (The assignment isn’t a book report.)
3. Idiographic Description of the Character
In this section, describe what you consider to be a few (two to four) of the most
noteworthy features of this fictional character’s personality. Each feature should have its
Justify your choices with reference to the character’s thoughts, feelings, words, or
actions. In giving these examples, you should be concise, giving only the basic context
needed for your reader to understand what is happening. The examples should be in your
own words, not direct quotations from the book (except in cases of quoting what a
character was saying or thinking). Give page numbers for these examples. (In the
case of a movie, you must give the time of the relevant scene; in the case of a
television series, you must give the season number, episode number, and time of the
In your idiographic description of this character, do not use any special terms from
personality psychology; just describe him or her as an insightful reader who had never
studied personality psychology would do.
4. Nomothetic Description of the Character
In this section, describe this same fictional character in terms of the HEXACO
personality factors. Each factor should have its own paragraph.
For each factor, estimate the character’s “level” of that factor, and explain your estimate
based on the character’s thoughts, feelings, words, or actions. You can use as levels the
rough categories of “very high”, “somewhat high”, “average”, “somewhat low”, and
Justify your estimates with concise examples from the book (much as in the above
section). Make sure that the evidence you give as indicating a character’s level of a
factor really is relevant to that factor; that is, be sure that you understand the content of
the factors. The content of the HEXACO factors is described in detail in the file
“hexaco factor descriptions for essay assignment”, which is posted on the course
Isaak/Sakai site. (Note: Don’t insert these definitions into your essay.) See also Tables
3.5 and 3.6 of the textbook.
You can also mention your level of confidence in your estimate. For your character,
there may be strong evidence indicating his or her level of a given factor, but hardly any
evidence (or even conflicting evidence) indicating his or her level of another factor. In
the case of conflicting evidence, you can do your best to weigh it and come up with an
5. Comparison of Descriptions
Now consider your responses to the two parts above for each of your fictional character,
and address each of the questions listed below:
Do you think that the idiographic summary provides much information that is not
given by the nomothetic summary? Explain.
Also, do you think that the nomothetic summary provides much information that
is not given by the idiographic summary? Explain.
Overall, which description do you find to be more useful for this character?
Which description would be more useful if you had to compare this character with
another character? (You don’t have to do this comparison, but imagine that you
did have to.)
6. References (see comments in “Details…” section below)
Details about the Assignment
You must submit your assignment as a Word file (.docx or .doc), NOT as a PDF file.
Include a title page with the following information, centred and double spaced: a title,
your name, the course number (PSYC 2P25), Prof. Ashton’s name, the date, and the word
count. Also include a running head and page numbers. Do not include an Abstract.
You should include section headings (not numbered) for the main sections of your essay,
as well as subheadings for the features of the Idiographic section and for the factors of the
Nomothetic section. The main sections should have headings that are centred and
bolded, and the subsections should have headings that are left-justified and bolded.
You should include a References section with only two references. One will be the novel
or movie from which your character is taken, and the other will be the course textbook.
Use APA style for the References section.
Also, you should cite both the novel and the textbook in the opening sentences of your
essay: the novel or movie will be cited when you first mention the character and the
book title, and the textbook will be cited when you first mention the terms idiographic
and nomothetic (you don’t have to define these terms). Use APA style for the citations.
(If you use a movie or television series instead of a novel or play, you should use the
appropriate APA style for citing those kinds of audiovisual media and also for the
When citing the novel in the later sections of your essay (i.e., Idiographic, Nomothetic,
and Comparison), you can depart from APA style and simply give, in parentheses, the
page number for the evidence you’re mentioning (please see above for the equivalent of
page numbers for movies and television programs). The reason for this relaxation of the
usual rule is that for these sections of this essay, it’s understood that you are referring
exclusively to this one book.
Your fictional character should be from a work that was written or performed in English
(written translations of novels or plays are okay). The work must be readily found in a
library or internet search. (If there is a series of related novels by the same author, you
can decide whether to use one or more than one of those novels, but if you include more
than one, be clear which book is being cited for a given example.) The analogous point
applies for movies.
The minimum and maximum length of the text of your essay are 1500 and 2000 words,
respectively. You must indicate an accurate word count of the text of the essay at the
bottom of the title page. (Note that “text” here does not include the title page or
Double-space your essay. Use a 12-point Times New Roman font with margins of 1 inch
(2.54 cm) on every side.
Do not try to find any sources in which the personality of your fictional character is
described. Instead, you should rely solely on your own observations in describing your
Important note: Very few of you would even consider doing this, but please DO NOT
fabricate any non-existent works or any non-existent examples from any works; doing so
is a serious violation of academic integrity.
Some Suggestions and Advice
It’s probably easier to work on the idiographic section before the nomothetic section.
This assignment is likely to be easier if you choose a novel or movie that you’ve
previously read and enjoyed (but then again, you could always look for a new one).
Try to pick a novel or movie that has some interesting insights into a character’s
Note that novels or movies that are oriented totally around the plot—especially a plot that
relies heavily on sex and/or violence—might give only limited indications about the
personalities of the characters, so be cautious about choosing such a novel for this
Also, it’s probably easier not to use a novel or movie in which the character has a “split
personality” or undergoes some total transformation of their personality.
The above points apply even more strongly in the case of movies or television programs.
Even if it’s your favourite movie or television series, don’t choose it unless it gives some
detailed, varied insights into the personality of the characters.
Your essay will be marked holistically rather than according to a “scoresheet” assigning
specific mark values to particular aspects of the essay. The following considerations (not
necessarily an exhaustive list) will be important in marking your essay:
Clarity of personality descriptions for the character, especially in the idiographic section
For the nomothetic section, relevance of examples to their intended HEXACO factors
(i.e., consistency with factor content)
Accuracy of information (the markers may verify any particular example that you give)
Consistency with assignment instructions
Writing quality (including sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, grammar, word use,
APA style (but see “Details…” section above for assignment-specific guidelines)
Personality and Fictional Characters: Idiographic and Nomothetic Descriptions