Today is part one of my three-part series on using the Myers-Briggs Typing Indicator to develop complex characters.
If you’re not interested in using MBTI, well, that’s okay. It’s not for everyone—just skip these blog posts! However, I find that the pros far outweigh any cons I’ve heard.
Today will be a shorter part because I’ll just be sharing two ways to use MBTI as well as what MBTI is and how to type your characters!
Then for the next two weeks you’ll get eight more ways to use MBTI as well as real-life examples.
Let’s start with the obvious …
What is MBTI?
MBTI stands for “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.” Basically, there are 16 personality types that most of us loosely fit into.
I’m an ISTP. My mom is an ISFJ. My best friend is an ESFP. George Washington was an ISTJ—Albert Einstein was an INTP—Audrey Hepburn was an INFP.
Here’s a graphic featuring all 16 types and explaining the letter combinations:
I would recommend narrowing it down to a few options and then reading the descriptions on this site (clunky though it is, it’s also reliable) to find yours.
I’ve yet to run into an MBTI test that was accurate for everyone, and it’s hard to be honest when answering the questions.
If you have any questions about MBTI, feel free to ask questions in the comments below. But for now, I’m going to move on to typing your characters and then the reasons you should!
How should you type your characters?
As with finding your MBTI type, I wouldn’t recommend taking a test. The Personality Page is my recommended site for reading descriptions, so I’d start with that.
Their “portraits” (basic info about the type) are listed here and contain basic descriptions of each personality with links to “careers,” “relating,” and “growth” at the bottom of the individual type pages.
I would then glance at the types and say, “Is my character probably introverted or extroverted? Sensing or intuitive? Thinking or feeling? Perceiving or judging?” I don’t always know it all, but usually, I’m able to arrive at a decent conclusion.
With my character, Kirk Manning, here’s how my thought process went.
First of all, he’s introverted. It’s easy to tell that just by knowing him — and he’s definitely T, too. There’s not a feeling bone in his body.
The other ones are always harder for me. I ended up deciding he was a Judger, not a Perceiver, which got me down to ISTJ and INTJ.
After reading both types on the Personality Page, I still wasn’t sure. Some bits of each could be true, and I wasn’t done developing Kirk, so it was hard to tell.
So, I searched articles on Google specifically dealing with the differences between ISTJs and INTJs and eventually arrived at ISTJ!
After this, I read some different articles featuring ISTJs to get an idea if that was how I thought he’d react — things like “How Each Myers-Briggs Type Reacts to Stress” and “How Different Personality Types Deal with Sadness” to see if I felt it was accurate.
So that’s my way of figuring out my characters’ types! I may do different things for different characters — sometimes I’ll talk it through with friends, for instance, while other times I just want to go at it alone.
Well, now that I’ve defined some basics, let’s move on to two of our ten ways to use MBTI to develop characters!
1: Keeping their personality consistent
If you’re like me, sometimes your characters do one thing … and then another … and both those things are the types of things that two different types of people would do.
This is an issue because it jerks the reader from the story, losing their trust in your reality. Your dashing hero stops being a person and starts being a fictional character — which is the last thing you want!
Fortunately, there is MBTI. With MBTI, you can easily look up what your character would do in any given situation, and this knowledge will give you the ability to keep them on track.
2: Understanding their strengths, weaknesses, wants, and needs
As with before, you can look up pretty much anything with MBTI and get at least a range of suggestions if not some solid “yes’s” and “no’s.”
For instance, now that I know that Kirk Manning is an ISTJ, I can Google something like “strengths and weaknesses ISTJ” and come up with 535,000 results.
An article like this can be hugely helpful for developing a character. They’ve practically written the story for me!
On the other hand, you do have to watch for typecasting. I’m an ISTP, but when I Google “ISTP strengths and weaknesses,” this article comes up. Because not everyone is the same, I found myself not agreeing with some of this! For instance, I’m not regularly optimistic and energetic, and prioritization is not always my best skill. Also, I’m a bit more okay with commitment than most ISTPs are.
Other than that, it rung true, but every person is an individual. Both my best friend and my boyfriend’s sister are ESFPs, but they aren’t really the same — and my boyfriend and my sister are at least of a similar type (if they’re not both ISTJs, which I strongly suspect), and they couldn’t be more different in some ways!
Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. I’ll be back next week with a ton more information and tips for developing characters using this system as well as thoughts on how it practically applies to writing a novel!
Thanks & have a splendiferous day, writers!
Reveries Co. Manager