During one of my weekly writing group sessions, our host, outstanding author Hazel Manuel brought up an idea that she and another of our colleagues discussed at a recent lunch (I’d name the other person but I haven’t been able to ask permission yet). This idea was to use the Myers-Briggs Test as a way to define the personalities of the characters in our stories.
So what’s the Myers-Briggs Test?
The Myers-Briggs is a personality test that was developed by mother/daughter dynamic duo of psychology Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers which expanded on theories first put forth by psychoanalyst Carl Jung. It uses a series of questions to place aspects of one’s personality into definable categories.
Each of the categories are assigned two letters of which the test taker will receive one depending on how the questions are answered. After all scoring is complete the subject will have a four letter code that can be used to further examine parts of their personality.
The letter pairs and their root words are:
Extraversion – Introversion
When I took this free online version myself, I discovered my code was ENTP. This wasn’t surprising. I’ve taken the test as part of various staff meeting activities in the past with similar if not the results. Repeatable results are the cornerstone of good science!
Now what does this have to do with our characters?
During our writing group, the specific idea Hazel put forth was simple and useful. What if we, as authors, take the test through the mind of our characters?
Now let’s be clear. If we were to take this test acting as every character we place into our stories it would turn into the time-suck of all time-sucks and your cursor would blink at you at a funeral march pace. “Oh won’t you please come write something? Maybe today it will happen?” it would say to no one as you clicked yes’s and no’s for the butler in chapter 17.
Now, putting the minor characters aside, even well established main characters, what if we used this tool as a diagnostic for main characters we’re having trouble getting our head around?
I tried it and here’s how it went.
I’ve had a problem creeping into my latest novel. The main character is beginning to grow too similar to one of the main characters in my previous novel. They’re intended to share some characteristics but the two were starting to seem like the same brain in different bodies. I couldn’t let that happen for purposes of my sanity, pride, and respect for my readers.
I decided to take the test as both characters and keep the results handy. I also decided to copy the actual test questions and answers to help shed light on specific situations that may come up. Any time I’d have a “What would that character really do?” moment, I’d have a document ready that may hold the answer. Also, once each character has their four letter code, there is a wealth of diagnostic information available online that goes in-depth into each category helping to form a complete picture of just who these people are.
Another nice side effect is that the results of this test are helping me craft more realistic characters. The test picks up on both the character’s strengths and flaws and I can use that information to incorporate both. Strengths get us excited about a character but it’s their flaws that help us bond with them.
The results of the two tests helped to set my mind at ease and give me better perspective on these characters. In the end the characters only shared two of the four letters in their personal codes. Also they only answered 60% of the questions the same way. The results are going to be a good road map for keeping the character in my current project acting exactly like herself.
Try it for yourself.