One of the writer's groups I'm involved with is conducting a special exercise this week. Each of us is to complete a character profile for a character in our WIP. The template we are using is from "Break into Fiction" by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love. As I started jotting down adjectives to describe my character, I was reminded of my experiences with Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, or MBTI. In short, MBTI draws on the Jungian idea of archetypes and sorts personalities into one of 16 types -- with four major archetypes. Now, I don't like the idea of sorting personalities into defined categories, and there is definite overlap in some personality types, but I've seen this theory in action and it does work. For more on the MBTI and the 4/16 personality types, check out the Myers and Briggs Foundation website here. A summary of the theory surrounding their work and the different personality types can be found here.
One of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is when a character takes an action inconsistent with their background/character. This is why I think it's very important for fiction writers to take the time and flush out a detailed character background prior to writing their story -- family history, experiences, education, likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc. But developing a believable character is so much more than what they like and don't like, it's how they behave, or how they simply "be." An old anthropology professor of mine used to describe people in all cultures as consisting of two parts: "being" and "doing." I think that writer's often nail the "doing" but forget about the "being" and I really believe Myers-Briggs can help with that and will help unlock secrets of your character that he or she may not even know about themselves!
Here's what you can do:
1) Think about your character and "type" your character according to this brief (and free) assessment: Free MBTI Assessment.
2) Use this site to read more about your character's MBTI type.
While reading about your character's personality type, you should:
- Make sure your character's actions and life-story (past, present and future) fit his or her personality type. If not, you either have to change your character's background or retake the test. In essence, you are validating either the results of the survey or how you portray your character in the story.
- Get to know your character better. Pay attention to career choices. For example, you don't want an INTP working as a nurse, that's more for an ESFJ -- unless your character doesn't like working as a nurse and wants more. Also, look at your character's ideal relationship type -- if your character is unhappy in his or her current relationship, use MBTI to develop the partner's personality types. You don't want two people who should get along to be fighting with one another unless it's part of your story development.
Whatever you find out about your character, use it to develop a complete and consistent life story for that person. You'll find your characters taking on a life of their own and it will be much easier to weave a narrative if you take the time to get to know your character.