Confession time: I love the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. And as much as I enjoy learning about my own personality type, I appreciate how the MBTI can help create and develop characters. If you’ve never heard of the MBTI, it’s essentially a personality theory (and test) that says there are sixteen personality types. It looks at how people get their energy (introverted/extroverted), how they process the information (sensing/intuition), how they make decisions (thinking/feeling), and how they structure their world (judging/perceiving). For a complete explanation, hop over to the Myers & Briggs Foundation Website.
The official test is expensive, but there are plenty of comparable free tests floating around the internet. My favorite is 16personalities.com.
I’m an INFJ, and I’ve found that knowing my personality type has been pretty helpful in explaining my own behavior, thought process, and work tendencies. Shortly after I discovered the test for myself, I realize it could be just as helpful for character creation. So I started giving the MBTI test to my characters.
Here are just a handful of ways the MBTI can help with your characters!
1) It can add depth to your characters
There’s a lot that goes into creating a character. And because of that, it can be easy to overlook some of the finer points of a character’s personality. The MBTI provides you with a detailed description of how your character is likely to operate. This means it’s easier to ensure that you’re characters have a natural depth and you can make sure their personality traits don’t conflict with one another.
Also, once you know your characters personality type, you can look up what the unhealthy version of that type is. When you read an ‘official’ type description, most of the qualities that you read are going to be good. That’s because what you’re reading is each type at their best. However, there’s another side to every type when they’re not at their best. That’s the unhealthy version. So if your character is an ESTP and you want to know how they react under extreme stress or any other negative situation, make sure you do a google/Pinterest search for “unhealthy ESTP.” This can help make your character more well-rounded and believable.
2) It can help with consistency
If you ever find yourself questioning how your character would react to a situation, learning their Myers-Briggs type can be a great resource. You can refer back to the MBTI to see how your character’s type is likely to react, then adapt your scene according to your character. You may find that your character’s reaction will take the scene in a different direction than you were planning.
Additionally, if something about one of your scenes is feeling off, but you can’t put your finger on the problem, check in with your characters. It’s possible that someone’s reaction or behavior is inconsistent. If a character is out of sync with the personality you established for them, it could create a subtle inconsistency that’s hard to identify unless you know what you’re looking for. MBTI is a guide to how each specific personality type processes and experiences the world, so it can help you recognize these problems and tighten your scenes.
3) It can add conflict
The MBTI can give you insight into what annoys each personality. Which means if you do some research, you can see how two character types may clash. This can help create conflicts you might not have thought of because, in this case, you’re not just considering what your characters want, you’re also considering the fact that they also have different ways of attacking a situation to get what they want.
So if you have two characters who are trying to solve a problem and one of you’re characters is Judger while the other is a Perceiver, the judger is going to want to have a plan before going into a situation and the perceiver is more likely to want to figure things out as they go. This creates a natural source of tension between the two characters in addition to whatever problem they’re trying to solve.
4) It can help with secondary characters
Secondary characters don’t always get as much development attention as our primary characters. It’s unfortunate and unfair, but often true. Our time is limited and fully and completely creating a character that’s only going to be in a handful of scene/chapters isn’t always the best use of our time. Luckily, the MBTI can help fix that! 16 Personalities estimate that it takes less than twelve minutes to complete a test. I think we can all afford to spend twelve minutes on our supporting characters, no matter how minor they are. Once you’re finished, you’ll have a profile for a fairly well-rounded character that you can adapt based on your character’s history and other personality quirks.
5) But keep in mind, it’s just a guide
Everything about the MBTI occurs on a scale, so none of these personality profiles are meant to be taken as one hundred percent correct all the time. It’s possible for a person or character to show traits from other types depending on where they fall on the scale.
It’s also worth noting that personality is just one of many things that goes into shaping a character. Whatever happened in your character’s past will still play a key role in creating who your character is. These personality types help you figure out how your character might react or respond to a certain event or situation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t deviate if it feels right for your character–just make sure you stay consistent with that deviation.
Once you discover your characters’ MBTI, do a Pinterest search of that type. You’ll get TONS of articles and infographics that can help you better understand all of your characters!
I hope this gives you a good idea of how to create characters with the MBTI!
Now it’s your turn: Have you used the MBTI to develop your characters? Do you think it will help? Tell me about it in the comments!
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