Tag Archives: character development

Stuck? Take the Myers-Briggs test as one of your characters.

Personality tests are everywhere from Facebook and Buzzfeed to corporate HR retreats. While I don’t think they define a person’s core nature for all time, they do create a framework through which we can better express, understand, and communicate with others. I don’t think they can be used to shape destiny beyond the microcosms in which they exist.

Story is one such microcosm.

When I was writing my first novel, I got stuck. My main character wasn’t advancing the plot. I had revised her, remade her, and split off part of her personality into an entirely different character. As a result, I felt like I didn’t know her anymore. I put myself in her head space as best as I could, and took the Myers-Briggs personality test. What I discovered was that she’s an introvert.

I am not.


This is the test I used. It’s relatively brief at 64 questions.

I got curious, and started re-taking it as other characters. My antagonist turned out to be an ENTJ, which surprised no one. ENTJ’s have the reputation for being the highly successful, cutthroat, corporate CEO sharks. Spot on.

The main character’s father, who also presents as an antagonist, is an ISFP. Introvert(100%) Sensing(38%) Feeling(25%) Perceiving(22)%. At first glance, it just looks like he hates people; but his habits, views and responses have been shaped by an ongoing trauma. It is possible that if I had taken the exam for him before his problems, I would have gotten a different result.

Similarly, my friend Lauren (an INFJ) took the test for one of her main characters. he turned out to be an ISTP, the “mechanic”. “So that’s why I find him so difficult! He’s a total clash with my personality!” she said.

Goals & Destiny

Now you’ve got a better sense of your character, who they are, and what they enjoy. Now it’s time to think about their own personal goals, which might enhance or conflict with the main plot.

Going back to astrology and even more arbitrary systems, I found this site that talks about “soul types.” This system breaks down human interactions in terms of social structure, with different people taking on different roles at different levels of maturity — by which I mean spiritual maturity — or access to deeper wisdom. The roles include priest, artisan, sage, server, scholar, king, and warrior.

The soul evolution talks about how this personality manifests during different stages of its maturity. Let’s talk about warriors as one example.

Baby warriors are at home in law enforcement and the military. Mature warriors, disillusioned with warfare and violence, throw their forceful personality behind more meaningful challenges, like writing or political activism. Old warriors, reflecting on these experiences, become more philosophical and seek to master their foreceful nature.

A character could be a ‘baby warrior’ for a lifetime. Or, they could be born an ‘old warrior,’ and never take an interest in the other activites as long as they live. Or, one person could go through different stages as they gain experience.

There are many types of warrior personalities, priestly personalities, and so forth. Where your character is on their evolutionary path will help inform their desires, their responses, and their flaws. I was once told that the two most important questions are “who are you” and “what do you want.” If you can answer those two questions, you’ve got a solid character — and they’ll be able to help you get unstuck.

In astrology the rules happen to be about stars and planets, but they could be about ducks and drakes for all the difference it would make. It’s just a way of thinking about a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin to emerge. The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they are, the better. It’s like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of paper above it that’s now been taken away and hidden. The graphite’s not important. It’s just the means of revealing the indentations. So you see, astrology’s nothing to do with astronomy. It’s just to do with people thinking about people.
— Douglas Adams


The Cave

BayCon is coming up, I’ll post my schedule and prep notes later today.

I’m hitting one of my favorite parts in the story I’m working on now. Kar’s been so tough for so long. “She carries the story on her shoulders, up a rope ladder and across a swinging tightrope into the sky!” said one of my beta readers.

As I’m writing, she’s really badly hurt, and there’s a good chance she’ll remain that way for the rest of the story. Since she has relied on physical prowess for so long, having that taken away from her is becoming a shattering experience. Especially, as with Kar, her expertise is something she fully embraced as a way to escape and ignore deeper fears and doubts.

Music is really important to my process. This smaller, scared version of a power anthem captures the fear, devastation, and last drops of determination remaining in a warrior heart when it realizes the body doesn’t work anymore.

Baiting Your Characters

Sometimes while writing, I feel like I’m walking through a derelict building. There are paper scraps and broken furniture all over the floor, buried under soot and ashes. Some of the windows are boarded up, and others hang open like slack-jawed monsters with broken glass teeth. Holes in the roof let sunlight through, but only in places. Sometimes I know exactly what I’m looking at. Other times all I can make out are footsteps and rustling.

It’s lovely when characters run up to you out of the debris. It’s so easy. They leap out, grab your wrist and yank you down to tell you what they know. Other times, they peer out, shyly, and you have to pick your way over to them. Other times — and this is the worst — you can hear them skittering through the shadows, calling out to you, but they never step forward into the light. You tell them to come out, but they don’t.

On the page, they stand in the crowd — the backdrop of your story — but don’t assert themselves enough to move the plot along. There’s got to be a way to entice them out.

Easy. Play games with them.

Word association. Twenty questions. Find out what they’re excited about, and leave it in a sunbeam for them to find.

Games are a way to translate left-brain logical progression with right-brain intuition. Take an established structure, like the hero’s journey, and bait your semi-visible character out with it. Coax out the facets even they didn’t know they had. Drop the questions in their path like slices of cake.

Where are you from?

Who raised you?

What are you afraid of?

What do you want to accomplish, and what would it take to distract you? To stop you?

This is especially useful with minor characters.

Wander around for a while, baiting them. Let them tell you. You’ll be surprised what they show you about themselves.

Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
― Ray Bradbury

You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”
― John Rogers