For those who aren’t aware of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), it is a system of categorizing personality traits used by psychologists and for personal use. It helps to determine how a person views the world and how they make decisions.
In its most basic form, there are 4 sets of opposing traits:
1. Introverted (I) or Extraverted (E)
2. Sensing (S) or Intuitive (N)
3. Feeling (F) or Thinking (T)
4. Perceiving (P) or Judging (J)
This means there are a total of 16 combinations that a person could be, for example, ISTJ, or ENTP. The personality analysis doesn’t stop there. Each combination has 4 “functions”— dominant, auxillary, tertiary, and inferior—which explain how your personal combination of traits interact with one another to produce your primary motives and life goals. There are also shadow types that come out in stressful situations.
It’s a very complex system, and I highly recommend you read about it from someone who can explain it more simply and eloquently than I can. Here are a few sites that could help you learn more and determine your own type:
https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test (This is a very thorough test.)
USING MYERS BRIGGS
As a novelist, I have found this to be hugely beneficial. I love developing backstory and learning about my characters’ motivations, fears, and how they make their decisions.
You can use this in many ways. First, you can use it to create your characters. If you have a scenario in mind for a book but are struggling to think of the right character, choose whatever MBTI type that would create the most conflict for the scenario!
Second, perhaps you are one of those people with too many characters in an existing novel. MBTI can tell you what sorts of traits are common between existing characters so that you might combine characters or even completly eliminate some!
But the main focus of my post today is how to place your existing characters into types. This can be helpful if you have written yourself into a corner, and it is particularly helpful if you have a character acting… well… out of character!
Before beginning, keep in mind that these are NOT either/or scenarios! People (and characters) can fit anywhere into the spectrum of a pair of traits. When I take MB tests, I typically score about 5-10% Introverted. People can also be 100% one or the other, but it is significantly rarer.
One more note—each trait has an influence on how the other 3 function. This deals with your dominant, auxillary, tertiary and inferior functions. For example, as an INFJ, my desire to influence the world in a positive way often negates my “introversion” and people perceive me as an extrovert. (Believe me, I’m not!)
Alright, let’s get going! Choose a character in your novel or short story, read the descriptions and then answer the questions below. Remember, it’s not an exact science, so choose whichever fits best! I’ll give you examples along the way.
If the character derives their energy from being with others, they are extraverted. Extroverts love being around other people and can feel empty when they’re alone. Conversely, introverts derive their energy from being alone. Spending a lot of time with others in social situations can drain them of their energy and they need to “recharge” by being by themselves.
(Keep in mind that a person who is shy can still be extraverted and crave interaction with others, and friendly, energetic people can be introverted. I’ve known both.)
Sensing types perceive facts, information and do so in order to gain a better understanding of the bigger picture. Sensers like to stick to what they can sense and what is real. Sensers live in the here and now. Intuitive types see the big picture before the details, and see the world as full of possibilities. Intuitive types see everything in patterns, symbols, and metaphors and often trust their subconscious even if they have no concrete evidence to back up that decision. Intuitive types often dream and plan for the future.
These are probably the most straightforward personality concepts to wrap your head around. Thinking involves facts, rationality, and logic. Thinkers may be brutally honest or be perceived as “cold.” Feelers put an emphasis on relationships with people, empathy, and tact, and may be seen as overly sentimental or sensitive.
Another thing to consider is that teenagers are not mentally or emotionally fully developed. Teenagers almost always seem like “Feelers”. As a high school teacher, I see even the most logical straight-forward students overreacting, getting emotionally involved, and “following their dreams” instead of making practical deicisions. If your character is a teenager, look at how they interact with others on a daily basis, when huge decisions aren’t on the line and everything seems peachy.
This is another somewhat difficult trait to distinguish unless trained. Perceivers are often those who consume information and experiences. They are happy to observe and take notes, to explore and wander. Judgers are those with a plan. They are constantly trying to MAKE something with the information they take in. Judgers always have somewhere to be.
NOTES on Sensing/Intuitive/Perceiving/Judging:
Because the Sensing/Intuitive dichotomy and the Perceiving/Judging dichotomy can be fairly similar, I’ve done some comparisons. SP combinations love taking in experiences and information for the joy of it, whereas NJ combinations are ruthless because they see patterns and possibility everywhere and have the ambition to turn those possibilities into reality. SJs are often your innovative scientists or executives with great managerial skills, and NPs are the dreamers who see possibilities, but would rather write about them from a distance or discuss them in debate than take action.
The main character of my novel is named Ramy—he loves being around other people, but his parents restrict the people that he comes in contact with and the experiences he has. He hates them for it. He lives for the attention of others and does not shy away from being the center of attention. Ramy is definitely extroverted.
Ramy is a senser. His life is governed by what is in front of him and what opportunities open up as they come. He creates meaning from what he experiences through his senses and lives in the moment. His parents had big hopes and dreams for him, but they see him as short-sighted and shallow.
Ramy is seventeen during the main part of my novel, which makes him difficult to place as a thinker or feeler. He’s a hothead and sometimes acts with his feelings, but for the most part, his thoughts govern his life. Often, his life is constructed of the lies he has created. These lies need to fit together so perfectly in order for him to live in the environment he wants. If he were a feeler, the lies would tear his world apart because of the affect they would have on the people around him. Instead, as a thinker, the lies help him create his own facts, his own world. Another clue that Ramy is a thinker is that he is not particularly empathetic. He can be dense when it comes to the feelings of those around him and he does not always take other people into consideration when he makes a decision—even if it will greatly affect that person’s life.
The last one is by far the easiest placement for my main character—he is a perceiver. He loves the joy of experience and adventure. He doesn’t have a plan, he just dives right in and figures it out as he goes.
Ramy is an ESTP. (Interestingly enough, this is my shadow type—Ramy is everything that I am not, and much of what I often wish I was.) ESTPs live life as a grand adventure! They leap before they look, and they love taking risks. Schooling and organized environments are difficult for Ramy and other ESTPs, but he loves learning through hands-on experiences. He’s bold and direct, and he loves having fun, but he is more than a handful to his parents, he’s highly unstructured, and he can be insensitive to the feelings of others. He’s a flame that burns bright all the time, which makes for some good drama.
I have paired Ramy up with others who make life interesting for him:
Ramy’s Sidekick is an ESFP (a type so similar that they can get into a lot of trouble together)
Ramy’s twin sister is an INTP (which makes Ramy frustrated when dealing with her naivete and misunderstandings)
Ramy’s romantic interest is an ISFJ (which causes some serious communication issues)
Alright, your turn. Do you have a character yet? Answer the following questions about them.
Does being the center of attention excite your character? (E)
Does being with others make your character come alive? (E)
Does being with others exhaust your character? (I)
Does being alone make your character happy? (I)
Does your character see possibilities? (N)
Does your character see the bigger picture? (N)
Does your character see details? (S)
Does your character prefer concrete experience to future opportunities? (S)
Does the character act based on facts? (T)
Does your character easily empathize with others? (F)
Does your character have tact? (F)
Is your character rational? (T)
Does your character have a plan? (J)
Does your character think a lot about the future? (J)
Does your character like to stop and smell the roses? (P)
Does your character live in the here and now? (P)
After you have put together your 4 traits for your character, go to one of the above sites and compare. Is this how your character really acts? Is this how you intend for your character to be seen by others?
Dig deep—you can get a lot of great information by classifying your characters.
Again, there is no right or wrong answer. If the type does not sound like your character, play around with other type combinations. All-the-while, make sure you are answering the question why? Be able to cite specific instances in your novel, short story, or other writing that proves that your character is indeed that type. If you can’t explain why a character is that type, then you might not know your character well enough yet.