The Teleology of Characters Part II

One of my blog readers accused me of being purposely vague regarding the subject of teleology. This reader, who will remain anonymous, was correct. Yes, I was being purposely vague. But my reason for ambiguity may surprise him a little. He claimed the idea of using teleology for characters in books is fascinating and suspected I was keeping trade secrets–as if I have any!

Here’s the sad truth: I’ve been dwelling on personality types for weeks now. My mind is consumed with characterization and, therefore, I have little else to talk about on this blog at the moment. At the same time, I don’t feel confident in my understanding of this subject to write more than an overview. So you can see I’ve created a conundrum for myself–lost in my thoughts, but not having the expertise to reveal them fully. This is how I respond to the world all the time. In any given situation, my natural reaction is to give vague, mysterious, or inexplicable answers if my knowledge hasn’t prepared me to respond with definitive answers. Now you see where I’m going with this, I hope. My own natural responses play into the idea of teleology.

The word teleology is of Greek origin and can be broken down into two parts, telos meaning end; logos meaning science. Teleology is the science of final causes. When adapted to characters, this doesn’t mean writers should look to the end of the novel and work backwards in order to understand their characters’ motivations. Instead, this philosophy suggests that the universe was created with design, and that its multitude of parts don’t act outside their natures. In a simplistic way, that is the reason the causes are final, because the nature of the universe has been fixed from the beginning. Furthermore–and this is very important when considering characters in Christian novels–God works from within the nature of the individual, rather than from the outside.

I suspect my utter disbelief in many Christian redemption scenes has to do with a lack of teleology. In other words, God is working from the outside, rather than within the nature of the individual, or (and this is perhaps more common) the individual suddenly acts outside his own nature when responding to God.

Working within the scope of a person’s nature/personality type may seem limiting, but it’s actually expansive, at least for me as the author. I’ve forced myself to look at how psychologically healthy my characters are, why they’re exhibiting signs of good or ill health, why they might be acting disingenuously and mimicking other personality types.

Next time, I’ll compare two historical characters of the same personality type, and give concrete examples of how and why they are so different from each other despite their similarities.

In the above image, you will find two familiar characters who play out their types rather well.



  1. Oh crud. I just lost a long post that basically said "youre right" but was much longer and definitely more scintillating. :p

  2. Yeah, blogger can be unreliable. I've been thinking I should write my comments in notepad and then copy/paste them into the comment box, especially if I have something scintillating to say. Thanks, Katherine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *