Developing Characters and the MBTI

Any writer will tell you that character development is one of the most important skills we need. It’s not enough to know what your character looks like or what she does for a living–you need to know your character inside and out. What are their fears? What was their childhood like? What do they do in their spare time? What do they do when they can’t sleep?

A great way to further develop your characters is through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. If you don’t know what the MBTI is, here’s a short overview: The MBTI creates 16 distinct personality types by testing for preferences in four categories:

Introversion (I) vs. Extroversion (E): How you approach the world.
Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): How you take in information
Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): How you process information
Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P): How you make decisions

Your preference for each of these four subcategories creates your type–for example, INTJ, ESTP, etc.

If you don’t know your own type, I highly recommend taking one of the many free tests online. Finding out your type is a just the first step–there is more fun stuff to do, like examining your cognitive functions. But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to stay focused on types.

Different types respond to situations in different ways. Deciding what your characters are is a great way to get to know them better and to make their actions consistent throughout your story.

Let’s say, for example, your protagonist is an ESTP. An ESTP’s dominant function is their extroverted sensing–in other words, your protagonist spends a lot of time in the present world. She notices things around her, and she takes in information based on what she sees and observes. She probably takes risk, and she’s not focused on past events. This protagonist isn’t the type of person to sit around and dwell on an idea. This protagonist is going to find a solution to her problem by doing.

Typing while writing can also create tension between your characters. If your ESTP protagonist has an ENTJ friend/love interest, look at their opposing functions to create realistic conflict. Js love rules and planning; Ps like to keep their options open. If your protagonist and the ENTJ are making a decision together, they’re going to approach it in very different ways. This will lead to conflict. Exploit their personalities!

How can you type your characters? Well, you can do it one of two ways: you can type your characters before you start writing, and structure your characters’ actions, or you can write a few chapters and type your characters based on how they’re acting. Also, these are YOUR characters, and no one’s keeping track but you, so if you type your protagonist as an ESTP, but she’s acting more like an ESFP, it’s not a problem. Typing your character isn’t rigid–it just creates a guideline for how your character might act.

There are so many great websites out there to give you more information on the MBTI. Here are some that give good summaries:
http://www.16personalities.com/
http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/
http://www.personalitypage.com/html/portraits.html

If you want examples of the MBTI in fictional characters, check out Funky MBTI Fiction here: http://funkymbtifiction.tumblr.com/

Does anyone else type their characters? Do you find it helpful?

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