My favourite aspect of storytelling is creating life-like characters. For some characters, I’ll have a rather vivid image of their personalities early on because I’ve thought about them so much. For others, usually secondary characters or extras, it’s more difficult. It’s usually because I’ve always had a hard time understanding people with their personality types so I can’t empathize with them. When that happens, I use Myers-Briggs personality types.
First, I’ll identify that character’s personality type. You can use the test and answer as your character would, though it might be hard, at this point, since you might not know your character all that well. I tend to go with the main characteristic of a character and look up the personality types that could fit.
Here’s one example: popular party guy. I don’t know a lot of popular party guys so I don’t understand them much. I know enough about that guy to know he’s: 1) extroverted (E), 2) feeling (F). That reduces the possible personality types to 4: ENFJ, ENFP, ESFJ and ESFP. Now, the main thing about him (aside from his popularity) is that he fails at having a career.
This guy also has an ENTJ brother and they’re fundamentally incompatible. When I look in ENTJ “Friendship”, it says they can difficulty get along with observant (S) types. So now I just have to decide ESFJ, aka the consul, or ESFP, aka the entertainer? He definitely seems like more of an entertainer than a consul.
A look at ESFP’s strengths and weaknesses tells me that people with this personality type are poor long-term planners and unfocused. Sounds to me like a good recipe for failing at having a career. They also have excellent people skills and those are especially useful to be popular. The website I linked above even provides well-known examples any selected personality. An example of ESFP is Penny from Big Bang Theory. Spot on.
So it’s decided: that character is ESFP (interestingly enough, I’m INTJ, his absolute opposite – not wonder I can’t understand him!). Now I read all relevant sections (or all sections if I feel like I need all I can get) about that personality type and see how it sparks my creativity.
Now, if this guy was more important in the story, I’d go even further. I’d tweak his personality a bit: replace some of his characteristics with another personality type’s. No character should be 100% stereotypical, but with minor characters, the reader will know too little about them to know whether they are or not. With main characters, it’ll be clearly visible.
So I’d go and find a second personality type for him. You can make relatively any mix, so long as there are at least a few similarities. People can even be almost equally extroverted and introverted. One only has to think in terms of “range”, like in the image to the right (I took the test from popular guy’s point of view; I might have exaggerated the extraversion feature – few people are 100% anything). The more extroverted you are, the less introverted. The two highest percentages represent the most distinctive features of the personality, whatever type it is. The two lowest is what you might want to play with. In this case, his “second type” could be either ENFP or ENTP.
I would never, EVER have thought of making ENTP his second type, but as I’m writing this, it suddenly makes awful sense: he is an awesome debater. He is extremely charismatic and very argumentative; that’s how he manages so easily to get whatever he wants. He’d make an excellent public personality or… salesman. Yup, I always kinda pictured him a potential high achieving salesman. So when his father will “cut the cord”, which he will, he’ll struggle and then start selling stuff and be good at it.
You can also use Myers Briggs to “test” possible relationships, whether platonic or romantic. It can help you make sure your characters are compatible, or if they look absolutely incompatible, to find clues as to why it still works for them. For example, a friendship between an INFP and an ESTJ is improbable, yet because they are so completely each other’s opposite, they could be fascinated by one another. Both would have a lot to learn from the other, provided they care enough to try to understand each other. Or, you know, if they’re locked up together and have to cooperate to get out. Fun things.
Do you like Myers-Briggs? What type are you? I’d love to know! I’m an INTJ (T) with some INFP’s characteristics (mainly creativity, idealism, and impracticality).
I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.
– Marilyn Monroe (said to be ESFP)