I've mentioned The People Code in these posts before, but I don't think I've explained much about how we can use it to flesh out characters or gain insights into real people. Hence, today's post.

The People Code presents a personality theory based on what the author calls "driving core motives." In this theory, there are four personality types, each with a different driving core motive:

  • Red: Power (although I think "accomplishment" might be more accurate)

  • Blue: Intimacy (i.e., building relationships)

  • White: Peace

  • Yellow: Fun

The book includes a test that allows you to determine which personality you are. Most people don't score 100 percent on any color, but there's typically one color that dominates (some people also have a secondary color). Each color is prone to certain strengths and weaknesses and tends to follow certain patterns in interacting with the other colors.   

Around the time I discovered the book, I was working on my second screenplay adaptation of a novel from the Scarlet Pimpernel series. I was struggling with what's known as the B story: the part of the narrative that focuses on the protagonist getting what they need, as opposed to what they think they want. It's typically where the characters' deepest relationships play out, whether those are romantic or something else. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, for example, Indy has one of his many love interests, but the B story is really about his relationship with his dad.

However, I had two problems. First, a lot of the Scarlet Pimpernel stories and novels have the same cliché, melodramatic B story: "Percy (the main character) is saving aristocrats from the French Revolution, Marguerite (his wife) either stays home worrying about him or gets captured to use against him, and Chauvelin (the villain) wants Percy dead." Second, I'd already shown a lot about these characters' relationships in my first screenplay, so I needed to take them somewhere new and interesting in this one. But I didn't know how to do it.

Finally I decided to run Percy, Marguerite, and Chauvelin through the Color Test to see what their basic personalities were and, therefore, what options for conflict I hadn't explored yet. I had a few predictions in my head when I started:

  • Chauvelin would be Red because he's motivated by getting and keeping power. After all, I'd been trying to keep the word "vicious" in mind while writing him.

  • Percy would be Blue because he cares about people, but he'd maybe have some Red because he's a leader.

  • Marguerite would be Blue because she's sensitive and caring, and she'd likely have some Yellow because she's an actress and therefore probably a people person.

To my surprise, here's how the results came out:

  • Chauvelin turned out Red-Blue. I definitely didn't see the Blue coming, much less as strongly as it did: Chauvelin didn't have a single White or Yellow answer on the test. However, I could see where Blue had come through in what I've written. In the first screenplay, I'd written Chauvelin as Marguerite's suitor, and he does show genuine affection for her and her brother at first. Maybe it was mostly the Blue side of him that Marguerite saw at first, and that's why she didn't initially realize what kind of man he was. But for the most part, everything Chauvelin does is to advance his own interests or the interests of the Republic, and he doesn't care whom he hurts in the process.

  • As I'd suspected, Percy turned out Blue-Red. It did surprise me, though, because I did the test for Percy right after I did it for Chauvelin. Maybe that's why they make such a great hero-and-villain pair: each is the upside-down version of the other.

  • Marguerite also turned out Blue-Red. I hadn't expected the Red, but as I thought about it, it made more sense. Marguerite is sensitive and tends to hold a grudge (Blue), but when things need to get done or someone is in trouble, she doesn't let anything stop her (Red).

These results led me to a few interesting conclusions:

  • Many, many bad guys are motivated by power. Even if they're not, they want what they want and usually don't care what they have to break or whom they have to hurt to get it. Thus, a lot of them either are primarily/secondarily Red or have strengths/weaknesses that come naturally to Reds.

  • However, it's especially important to remember that many of the questions on the test ask about what the person was like as far back as they can remember. Though a person's driving core motive never changes, the events that lead them to go bad can also twist their motives and make them appear Red when they're not.

  • A White bad guy might want to take over the world because they misguidedly believe that only they can bring about world peace. (Ultron, if a robot can have a personality, and Thanos in the Avengers franchise might fit a similar description.)

  • A Yellow bad guy might have a sick sense of fun.

  • Many heroes either are primarily/secondarily Blue or have strengths/weaknesses that come naturally to Blues: caring deeply about people and the greater good, feeling things deeply, and having a strong sense of what's morally right and feeling obligated to live up to it, whatever that may cost them. And since Blues are especially, even ridiculously, sensitive, it's easy for them to get hurt and thus have a reason to go after the bad guy.

  • Since peace motivates Whites and fun motivates Yellows, heroes with these personalities may have a longer "reluctant hero"/"debate" stage at the beginning of the story. Something has to come up that severely disturbs their peace or majorly interferes with their fun before they'll be willing to go down a road that they know will lead to serious conflict (which both Whites and Yellows try to avoid). Before they're willing to upset the status quo, they have to be persuaded that the adventure will enable them to restore their peace or get back to their fun.

What personality do you think your protagonist has? Let me know in the comments--I'm curious!

Write on,


(Thanks to XiaoXiao Sun for sharing their work on Unsplash.)