The Myers-Briggs Personality Test: Do You Know Your Characters?
Being on Pinterest and various Facebook writer’s groups, I’ve long-since known that certain authors and aspiring authors approach character development by using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test.
If that makes you go, “Huh?” Wikipedia does a pretty decent job explaining it: “The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an introspective self-report questionnaire designed to indicate psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.”
The way I understand MBTI, it’s a pretty in-depth and accurate personality test that maps out your strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, likes and dislikes. As such, I’m told it makes for a great creative writing tool.
Personally, I’ve never used it, since characterization is one of my stronger creative writing suits, unlike setting. There’s also the fact that I’m just too much of a pantser to ever do that kind of planning. The only time I’ll put that much effort into the pre-writing processes is when I’m working on historical fiction. Then I go crazy researching the details.
Otherwise, the very thought of being so organized makes me want to pass out from exhaustion.
But that’s me. There are plenty of people who can and do benefit from character-development resources. So if running your main or secondary characters through the MBTI specifically or a personality test in general is going to help you write and write well, then what are you waiting for?
Get to it already!
In that light, I’ve asked three fellow creative writers (who are clearly more organized than me) to share their thoughts on why they use the MBTI.
Let’s start out with Devany Wilson, author of The Gadling Legacy: Haven’s Fall (18+ content):
When developing your character, having their basic information is a necessity. But it's not enough. Knowing their birthday, eye color and favorite food is rarely going to help you make decisions on how they interact with their environment or other people in each scene. You can jot down their goals, their ambitions, and traits; but, again, that's not going to be enough to make them come to life on paper.
The trick is: You have to know them well enough to make all these things matter.
Think about a person you just met, and then think about your best friend. How do you think one of them would react if they were late to work and spilled coffee on their last clean shirt? You divert to stereotypes with the stranger, but the best friend's reaction might make you laugh.
The reason you know what your friend would do is because you've been through things together. You've witnessed their reactions to the world around them, so you have a good idea of how future scenarios would play out. Your character, though coming from your own imagination, is still a stranger to you.
So how do you fix this?
Write your character into situations that have little to nothing to do with your story. Remember – you're just getting to know them by going through things "together." They don't have to fit into your setting; they can be anything at all. You can have your barbarian warrior on a train to a job interview, or your elven princess learning to play poker. Does your barbarian worry or is he unwavering? Does the princess have a good poker face or does she try to cheat?
You'll better learn your characters this way, easing problems with consistency, believability, and writer's block.
Up next on our all-star character development panel is Daeus Lamb, author of Edwin Brook: Dire Recompense…
There are two ways I’ve used Myers-Briggs in my writing. First, sometimes I have characters that just really aren’t well-defined. They’re flat, and I’m not entirely sure how their brain works or what drives them. In those cases, learning that character’s personality type really points me in the right direction.
The type profiles you read are all stereotypes, so they only help so much, but the power of Myers-Briggs is that it actually tells you how a person thinks (and that, quite accurately).
The second way Myers-Briggs helps is that I can compare a character of one type with a person I know in real life who shares that same type. Sure, they’ll be very different in some ways, but I still find it helpful for rounding off a character.
And then we have Jennifer Foster, an aspiring author (potential 18+ content) who has a natural knack for blog post presentation as well as creative writing:
Crafting characters can be difficult, especially when your character is vastly different than yourself. I ran into this while working on my novel, and it became quite a roadblock.
After staring in frustration at a blank page for several weeks, I came across a comprehensive personality test based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I first answered the questions as myself (curious to check the test’s accuracy), then took the test again and answered as I believed my character would…
The test took some time, but it was an investment I would make again. Answering the questions alone was helpful in understanding my character, but having the actual results of the test was invaluable. I was able to later refer to the results when I was unsure of what my character would do next or how he would respond to a situation.
Instead of sitting there staring, I could use the results to make a realistic decision, skipping the step of banging my head on the keyboard. I love this as a tool for character development, and I was glad to find it when I got stumped in my own novel.
So there we go!
Three perspectives on why personality tests – the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in particular – are a great way to approach character development in a way that makes them more realistic to you. And more convincing to your readers.