Give your characters a personality
In the last post, we worked on figuring out what made our characters tick. We talked about Most Painful Life Moment, goals, motivations, and the difference between the last two. Today, I want to continue the discussion on characterization. So, by now you should know your characters pretty well when it comes to their “why”; now let’s talk about their “who.”
WHO are your characters? I’m talking about their personalities, their attitudes toward life and other people, their innermost beings. I’m talking about your characters’ temperaments. All of us are different. We have a unique DNA that was ours from the moment of conception with the exception of identical twins. But even twins are different. Why? Simple. They’re different people. They may look alike, but they are not the same person. So, how do we give these characters life and make them unique to any other character we may create?
One way is to use a test call the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This test has been around for ages. It’s a self-reported questionnaire that aims to identify a person’s personality type. It has been theorized that there are four principal psychological functions by which humans experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed the indicator during World War II to help women entering the workforce understand their preferences and, in turn, what kind of war-time jobs they would be most effective in.
The MBTI categorizes individuals into one of 16 different personality types explained below:
Extroverts (E) vs. Introverts (I): This represents how a person gains energy. Extroverts tend to be energized by interacting with others, while introverts tend to recharge from time alone.
Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): This shows how a person gathers information. Sensing types tend to focus on the present and the concrete, relying on the five senses. Intuitive types look at patterns and future possibilities. In other words, they rely more on their intuition.
Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): This refers to how a person makes decisions. Thinking types usually base their decisions on logical analysis and objective information, while feeling types prefer to make decisions based on personal values and how the decision affects others.
Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P): This reflects a person’s approach to the outside world. Judging types prefer structure and order and like to have things planned. (Think list-maker.) Perceiving types are more flexible and adaptable, preferring to keep their options open. (The commitment phobic person?)
The combination of these four dichotomies results in 16 different personality types, each identified by a four-letter code (e.g., INFJ, ESTP). Each type has a unique description and set of characteristics that can help individuals understand their preferences in how they perceive the world and make decisions.
When I was a teacher in the public school system, the MBTI was used with determining how students learned best. I found it very helpful to have this insight into my students. The same goes for my characters.
You can find a free version simply by googling “free Myers Briggs personality test.” When you finish the test, your results pop up. It’s only a small bit of information because they want you to buy the whole report, but you don’t need it. The information they give you is more than enough to build a character.
Once you have your character’s personality type and the several paragraphs of description, you can start pulling information from that description that will fit your character. Then start making notes where you can show this personality in your story. This type of character-building will help you make sure your characters are believable. Someone who is an introvert is not going to be looking forward to the party with tons of people. Someone who is organized and detail-oriented is not going to have a messy work space—all the time, anyway. Sure, it could happen; but it would drive the person nuts until she cleaned it up. Trust me on this, I speak from experience. All that to say, knowing your characters’ personalities will allow you to write them in such a way as to come across consistent and accurate. And they will be characters your readers will fall in love with.
So, tell me, what personality types are your characters; and how do you plan to use this knowledge to layer them into real people while adding in their Most Painful Life Moment (MPLM), goals, and motivations?
By the way, it’s interesting to take the test for yourself. I’m an ISFJ. Apparently, ISFJs make up 12% of the population. If you take the test, was it was accurate? Mine was spot on. LOL.