Myers-Briggs Your Characters

We’ve all been there, on that website taking the Myers-Briggs personality test. Then you get an answer, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh YES! I am a ____! Life is solved!” and then you forget what you four letter acronym is two weeks later and all is lost. (Just me?)

Anyway, Myers-Briggs, or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a test used to pinpoint where people fall on the scale of personality characteristics and behavior asserted by Carl Jung in his research. According to the test’s website, “The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.” It breaks personality down into four different categories: Introversion v. extroversion (how do you recharge your batteries); intuition v. sensing (how you take in information); thinking v. feeling (how you react to the world); and judgement v. perceiving (how you plan your life). There’s a lot of gray area, of course, but everyone falls into pretty much one of sixteen different personality types. The website 16 Personalities is a great place to get started.

As for me, I’m predominantly an INTJ (but I tend to slide into ISTJ and INTP tendencies). That means that I’m an introvert, that I process information from ideas and theories inside my own mind rather than data from the outside world, that I respond to life with thought and reason (and not feelings or emotions), and that I’m a planner. It’s been great knowing this because as I’ve read up more on this, I’ve grown more comfortable with who I am, and things I once though were “wrong” with me I now realize are just my personality. It’s a great baseline for predicting behavior.

Which is why, with this novel, I decided to MBTI my characters. BEST DECISION EVER.

I initially started just writing these characters, but I wanted to get a better focus on who they were, so I ran them by a friend who is a bit of an expert at this. She was able to guide me on what their personalities were, and as I began to research, who are they came sharply into focus. And it was able to guide me on writing better, truer, more realistic characters. Let me explain:

Josh – My main guy is an INTP. He’s a burnt out college professor who has a ton of very niche interests outside of work (model shipbuilding, Revolutionary War reenacting, etc.), which is characteristic of INTPs: They possess a whole lot of knowledge in specific content areas, but because of their P tend to be slackers about it. Because he’s an introvert I was able to play on his loner status. There was a scene whereintp-cat I initially had him invite another character over to hang out, but after I started really MBTIing him, I knew he would never do something like that! Therefore, when he initiated some kind of social connection, it became a huge deal (you’ll see what I’m talking about when you read the novel!). Because of his N and T, he’s going to be in his head a lot, reacting to the world with reason and thought, trying to figure everything out. The change he arrives to at the climax of the novel therefore needed to be one of emotional change, and I never would have known that outside of the MBTI. His P makes him live life each minute without planning, and perfectly fits into his actions in the book: He inherits his grandfather’s house on the Cape, and moves down there to…hang out and read and make models and not do anything “productive.” That becomes a plot point as well (and a point of contention, let’s just say). Also, Josh’s grandfather plays another major role in this novel, and since I wanted parallels between the two, I just made them the same personality type.

Amanda – My main gal is an ESFJ. Think super friendly, think super people-person, think super caregiver, think super on top of things, think super control freak. She runs a restaurant, which is perfect for her extroverted personality, and she would be the one to invite people over – or invite herself to come over and hang out. Her S means that she’s very outward focuesfjsed – focused on people, focused on data, focused on the world and events around her – and her F means that she reacts emotionally to thing in her life. She’s not dramatic, but she responds out of deep feeling. But she’s also not a bookworm, and doesn’t exist within a world of ideas and theories. Her J just means that she schedules everything, which makes her an excellent manager. There was a scene I wrote where she retreats to lists when she gets stressed out. She runs a good restaurant, she’s locally recognized in her community, she serves her community, she runs marathons, she’s an excellent mom, she’s pretty Type A, and a big part of her life for the few years before the novel opens has been caregiver to a few sick relatives. If you do a little research on ESFJs you’ll see them often categorized as “The Caregiver,” “The Supporter,” or “The Provider.” Because this personality type is often associated with crazy control-freak tendencies, I made that her Achilles heel.

Oh, you say, they’re opposites! Yes they are. Which means fantastic coherence and fantastic conflict. Picture the two of them fighting. Josh is going to try to reason out his excuses, and win the argument for the sake of winning the argument. Amanda is going to argue from a place of emotion, insecurity, and hurt. Josh will forget about the fight the next day while she’ll carry the wound from it for a long time. Picture the two of them trying to plan something together. She has the lists, the spreadsheet, the time stamps, when to get this, when to get that, and Josh is over reading a book or working on a model, oblivious to it. Picture them at their worst. She’s trying to control him, and he shuts down. He shuts down and then she feels unloved, and then tries to control him more, and he shuts down more… You can see how this makes for great tension. But picture them at their best, completely complimenting one another, encouraging the other in their weaknesses, picking up the slack, filling in the gaps. Yes.

Again, best decision ever.

Writers, have you used the MBTI to help you define your characters?

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