How to Write Layered Characters Using Myers-Briggs
About five years ago, a college friend, Nikki, said to me, "Bethany, you're an INFJ through and through."
At the time, I didn't know what she meant, but Nikki introduced me to websites that explained the 16 Personality Types of Myers-Briggs.
I spent hours trying to type everyone I knew and kept a little book of all my insights. I made friends and family take the test to see if I had got them right. (Thanks for putting up with me guys!)
Each personality type has four letters in it, for example, INFP, INTJ, ESFP, ENTJ.
But what do these four letter acronyms stand for and how to they encompass varied personalities in just 16-types? Basically, each letter represents a dominant personality trait.
Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E) * Intuition (N) or Sensing (S) * Thinking (T) or Feeling (F) * Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
As an INFJ, my type means that I am Introverted (I), Intuitive (N), Feeling (F), Judging (J).
It is the rarest personality types because often Feelers tend to be Perceivers instead of Judgers. It is the combination of Feeling and Judging that makes INFJ's less than 1 percent of the population.
INFJ's make great counselors and listeners, yet have strong opinions, and tend to be more idealistic than other personality types, and therefore, are often crushed when they find that the world is less than a loving, kind and helpful place.
After two years of marriage, my husband and I sat down and read in depth about each other's personality types and how our types receive love. I was amazed at how accurate it was and how it shed light on some miscommunications we had experienced because of our different personalities. As a result, I felt closer to him as I tried to express my love in ways that he could best receive it.
Developing Characters with Myers-Briggs
I began to wonder if this analysis of the 16 personalities could help me create deeper, more believable characters in my stories.
At this stage, I was well into writing my novel and, for the most part, the characters were already established and doing their thing.
I decided that my protagonist is an INFP and that my antagonist is an ENTJ.
Even after three drafts, learning about my characters Myers-Briggs personality types helped me continue to explore them and push them to a deeper level. As I continued to develop the plot, I began to wonder if there were better ways to push them to their breaking points.
In novel writing, we put our protagonists through inner and external turmoil, dragging them steadily downward until they reach rock bottom. It is from this lowest place that they find a new strength, rise up, and face the antagonist in The Climax.
Myers-Briggs helped me flesh out my characters even more so that I understood where each insecurity, character flaw, and weakness lay. Their Achilles heels were mine—all mine! Muuuhahaha!
I discovered a new level of character development that I hadn’t before. Characters can contradict themselves, behave in surprising ways, and still not break character. Why? Because people do it all the time! People are walking, talking, breathing contradictions.
It's like what Shrek said to Donkey, “Ogres are like onions! They have layers!” So it is with human beings and the characters we write. We all have layers!
Discovering my protagonist
My protagonist is an INFP. INFP's are creative and open-minded individuals with a love for language and emotional expression, INFP's tend to be sensitive souls and are often too idealistic.
Because the story is told from a first person POV, I wanted to use her narrative to convey what was happening in the story, but also that her world view and mental state would be conveyed in how she told the story.
Discovering my antagonist
My antagonist is an ENTJ. The ENTJ personality is often confident, distant from his emotional expression, charismatic, arrogant, and craves approval from others. The latter may seem like a contradiction from all the other attributes, but it just goes to show that people have a lot of depth.
I found Myers-Briggs especially helpful in bringing a human quality to my antagonist. I didn't want to write about a monster with an evil vendetta, I wanted to convey a strong personality haunted by the past and unable to quit a self-destructive path.
Writer, know thyself!
We’ve all heard of the common acronym IQ, but have you heard of his sister, EQ?
Emotional intelligence (called EQ or EI) is what helps people function and respond to the stresses of life and process negative experiences in a healthy way.
"All people experience emotions, but it is a select few who can accurately identify them as they occur. Our research shows that only 36 percent of people can do this, which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions." - Travis Bradberry, SUCCESS
Not only is having a healthy EQ important to functioning in life, it would be a fatal mistake for a writer to give their characters irrational emotional choices that leave the reader with a neck aching from whiplash. As a reader, there is nothing that loses my respect more than when a character is made to leap erratically from one emotion to the next without reason.
I’m not saying writers need to have the highest EQ score or wander the streets in gloomy introspection, but a healthy, self-controlled outlook will not only make a happier writer, but a better writer.
Finally, if you're interested in learning more about Myers-Briggs or taking the test check out this website!
Have you taken the Myers-Briggs personality test? I'd love to know your results!