Using Myers-Briggs Personality Test to Make Better Characters

or

An Aspie Cheat Sheet Substitution for Cognitive Empathy

The Tragic Death and Half Life of Bob Bobberson

It is 2:07 a.m. The author has been writing for hours. Her eyes are blurry, her mind a fuzzy mess, but this is the last beat needed to make that sacrosanct nightly word quota and she has not missed it yet. Then catastrophe hits. She knows her A list main characters better than her own siblings but according to the outline a recurring C lister, Bob Bobberson, is finally up for his big moment. And she cannot remember who he is. A quick glance over Bob’s character sheet reveals he is a bald white guy in his mid thirties, but so what? That is what he is, not who he is.

She knows Bob will enter the scene via car wreck and that he will give his life to provide the clue necessary for the protagonist to bring the antagonist to justice, but that is not enough to keep a crisp manuscript rolling along. Bob has appeared a half dozen times so he would be recognizable to the reader at his climax but he never had the scenes to stand out as a person to the author. Now it is 2:39 a.m. and the author has wasted a half hour trying to figure out who this person is so she can kill him rightly.

Will Bob deal with the wreck from a position of rational detachment or emotional instability? Will he rush to the other driver’s assistance or hope for a karmically just broken neck? The specifics of his actions will add flavor to the clues left behind for the protagonist and the antagonist’s confession later. Writing mistakes about the nature of Bob’s personality at this point will result in massive rewrites later if she wants him to be a consistent living character, and of course she does. Worse yet, people will not cringe or cry if a half-formed Bob Bobberson dies. But it is closing on 3:00 a.m. and the day job fast approaches. She hopes for the best and a forgettable Bob Bobberson dies ugly in more ways than one.

Or it could have gone this way.

It is 2:07 a.m. The author notices on her outline that Bob Bobberson’s big moment is coming up so she keys up his character sheet and looks for the MBTI Personality Code: ENFP Extravert(91%) iNtuitive(22%) Feeling(44%) Perceiving(9%). A quick glance over the traits of ENFP people in her handbook tells her that Bob is an optimistic and people oriented guy who needs to be the life of the party. He will do all he can to help the injured antagonist until help arrives, and he will not notice the danger of his situation until he sees the tire iron swinging toward his face.

With the nightly word count deadline met the author goes to bed at a reasonable 2:37 a.m. thanks to having a solid grasp of the personality of a character she barely remembers creating.

ADHD Aside: If 2:37 a.m. isn’t a reasonable time for bed in preparation of the 8:00 a.m. day job then please let me know how you avoid this as a writer. Also, that unnamed author is as fictional as Bob Bobberson in case you were wondering.

Mindblindness and Aspie Writers

Using the MBTI personality code is a must for Aspie writers who want to bypass the mindblindness problem. Mindblindness is the inability for people with Asperger’s to accurately predict how another person will react to a given emotion and what emotion they will feel after a particular stimulus.

With this tool any writer, including those with Asperger’s, will know how their character will respond to a mugging, a come-on line, or winning the lottery. That makes this tool vital for the Aspie writer, and average writers too. Every story has its secondary and tertiary characters and they need consistent reactions more so than main characters due to how little exposure they get. An inconsistent half-formed support character will distract the reader away from the main character and plot every time due to how artificial they appear.

Make this a die hard rule: every character who is in more than two scenes gets an MBTI code. This step may be difficult for some as it requires the author to become that never-named waiter who always seems to attend the protagonist at the local dive. This rule has two benefits. If the character ever pops up outside of the restaurant, minor characters often wander around stories no matter where the outline tells them to wait, then the author will know how this nameless fictional server will react in this setting and moment better than their real life neighbor would.

Pick one of your characters now. Then take the MBTI test here. Once you have finished review the personality score given paying close attention to the percentages.

Is this who you intended your character to be or is the score off somehow? If the score did not come out as expected and the results are not workable that is okay and will be addressed in the next section. If this MBTI code works for you then copy the results including the percentages and save it on your character sheet under the heading MBTI. It should look like this one for Bob Bobberson, with different results of course.

MBTI: ENFP

Extravert(91%) iNtuitive(22%) Feeling(44%) Perceiving(9%)

Before starting the daily writing session review the character’s MBTI code. This will ensure the unnamed server or rarely used Bob Bobberson will have a consistent personality despite how mundane or thrilling the the scene may be.

myers-briggs-personality-chart-www-infographicality-com

Cheating the MBTI Test

I strongly suggest taking the test while role playing the character. It requires authors to ask “what if” questions for minor characters that they never would have otherwise considered. Not only does this add new depth to minor characters but it can inspire a much larger role for them in sequels or spin-off short stories. That being said, you can always skip the test and go straight to the answer key.

Instead of taking the test for the character an author may instead go through the 16 personalities and build the person in the reverse of my preferred method. There are thousands of breakdowns of the MBTI personalities on the Internet. Some give a generic explanation of the traits of each personality (see above image) while others use well known pop culture icons like the Avengers or Game of Thrones characters as more concrete examples. Search for the info graphic that best suits your style and the story at hand.

Drawbacks for this shortcut include not having a representative percentage score for each personality trait. Bob Bobberson has an extrovert score of 91%. Before taking the test the author never would have thought of him as being that outgoing. Had she started with the answer key she would have given him at most a 65%. If she skipped the percentage all together his outgoingness would never have been consistent.

For a minor character this cheaters form of forced brainwashing can work but for a main character shoehorned personalities will conflict with the character’s natural emotions and the reader will notice.

For your readers’ sake, please do not cheat on the test.

After Note

The MBTI can perform another important task. Are things going to smooth in the scene? Need to add conflict? Look over the character’s MBTI code. Does Bob need to be the center of attention? Not at this party. Is he compassionate? Let the readers know his good natured kindness is putting his life at risk. Does he always find a reason to smile no matter how dark things get in earlier scenes? Punctuate his death by stripping away that eternal cheerful optimism the moment before he dies alone in the snow. Or punctuate it by making his last thought a happy one of hope, maybe for his family or maybe that the antagonist will get whats coming to him because of the clue Bob leaves behind with his dying act. The MBTI spells out each character’s emotional equivalent to Superman’s Kryptonite and Popeye’s Spinach. Instant tension and relief at the flip of a page. Have fun with it.

 

 

Featured image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy at http://thegraphicsfairy.com/vintage-clip-art-antique-phrenology-head/

© 2016 Glenn Hawkins. All Rights Reserved.

 

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One thought on “Using Myers-Briggs Personality Test to Make Better Characters

  1. faransilverton says:

    Interesting post. I’ve done a bunch of personality typing tests over the years and I always think they’d be a good source for developing characters’ personalities, although I’ve never actually used them in such a deliberate way.

    Like

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