Monday, January 9, 2012

Why type your characters' personalities?

Yesterday I listed the 4 pairs of traits that generate 16 personality types according to the MBTI. Tomorrow I'll start to go through the results.

But first, why is it useful to type your characters? It helps you figure out how they'll react in a given situation (remembering that each trait is on a sliding scale, so they don't have to act in the extreme). Not just stressful situations and big decisions, but everyday stuff too. After a hard day's work, do they relax with a book (I) or go for a drink with friends (E)? In casual conversation, do they talk about sports and current affairs (S) or the future of humanity (N)? Do they think small talk is a waste of time (T) or that the social niceties are important for maintaining harmony (F)? Do they make quick decisions and live with the consequences (J), or avoid decisions to keep their options open (P)?

Typing also helps to ensure you have a variety of characters in your story. It's tempting, of course, to write characters who are like yourself. No surprise that the first major fictional character I wrote, Edie, is the same type as me, although more extreme because of her loveless childhood and then being kidnapped and all. But the most fun character I've written was Cat Lancer, who is almost the total opposite of me.

You can also match up personalities to create interesting relationships when it comes to personality conflicts and sexual attraction. Some traits go together well and others are create friction.

I'll note the types of my Scarabaeus characters when I describe each type, but as I mentioned yesterday  I didn't create characters to fit these types - I'm figuring out their types afterwards. However, for my WIP, I am creating characters based on specific personality types - for the reasons above. If you're the kind of writer, like me, who first develops a plot or idea and then populates the story with characters, then this approach might work for you.

If, on the other hand, you naturally create a variety of characters before coming up with a story - then, well, you probably don't need help in this department. It's still a fascinating exercise to discover the general characteristics of each type, and you might find patterns such as too many Chiefs or Dreamers or thinkers in your cast of characters.

As an intro to tomorrow's post: We can divide the 16 types into 4 general groups. Their official designations are:

SJ - Protectors
SP - Creators
NT - Intellectuals
NF - Visionaries

These groups are not of equal size in the general population, and you'll find more of certain types in certain professions. Tomorrow we'll look at the first and by far the largest group, the Protectors.

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