Tag Archives: personality

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


Personality Indicators

I flew away to visit my sister for Thanksgiving. We took the kids ice skating. I had a few minutes to myself where I skated alone — weaving through groups of strangers with no one’s hand to hold and no conversation to pay attention to. I had stripped off my jacket. The air was cold but the sun was warm. I thought, I love having a body. There’s so much I can do with it.

Babies are just starting to figure this out. I’m not used to babies. It took me a while to warm up to my new niece as a small person, rather than a fragile irreplaceable treasure that may shriek, shatter or cover me in vomit at any moment. She’s six months old and pretty chill. She smiles a lot. She’s interested in textures, and can tell when you’re nervous. She has a personality, opinions, problem-solving style and other reactions that came prepackaged. The only limitation she has on these responses is that she’s not quite used to driving her body yet.

Upon discussing the matter with my sister, we noticed the same about her son (six years). She was nine when I was born, and a lot of how I interact with the world hasn’t changed since then. We talked about how some people have a narrow range of passion, and some have a huge range (and will smash things, even if they’re overjoyed!) Some of these traits are prepackaged and clear from day one.

Her son sang songs about Minecraft for most of the weekend. He sings when he’s happy, my sister told me. The two times he came near tantrum were to do with too much advice crashing against his pride, and from wanting to participate but being exhausted. I felt for him. I’ve been there. So have a lot of adults I know. It reminded me of something brilliant my riding instructor once said, that’s helped a lot when working with personalities that get frustrated easily.

One of the first conversations I had with my now-verbal nephew went like this.

“I remember the first time I met you, you were only a little bigger than your sister. We were at a restaurant. You grabbed my elbow and tried to eat it. I couldn’t believe how strong you were! I had to pull and yank my arm away from you!” I said.

“Wanna try it again?” he grinned, as though to lunge at me.

My sister explained to him that I rough-house for real, and to be careful. Then she asked me to take it easy, and do my best to not wake up swinging when I get jumped the next morning.

8am rolled around, and I opened one eye when I heard little feet coming down the stairs. Rather than pouncing on me, as he does with all the other relatives, he leaned over the edge of my bed and said in a quiet voice, “would you like to see my basic Minecraft set up, or the full version?” After a short negotiation, we settled on the full version, once I’d fixed coffee and he’d fixed toast ‘n jam.

A personality is a tool like a flexible body is a tool. Having the tool is one thing, but perception and awareness of choices — is it more important to huff, or actually solve the problem — determine how we wield the tool.

This muddies the concepts of fate and destiny a great deal.

There are a number of arbitrary systems that have explained to me me my place in the world and how I should interact with others.

  • There’s Greek astrology, which tells me I should be a home-body.
  • Chinese Astrology, which tells me I am hard-working and persistent.
  • Phrenology, which tells me how strong my brain is and in what areas.
  • Physiognomy, which tells me I have an aggressive, dominating nature.
  • Palmistry, which tells me that my heart will split in two, and that I’ll have four children.
  • Mood rings, which tell me that when I’m cold I’m unhappy and when I’m warm I’m happy.

In addition to baby-meeting, Thanksgiving feasting, ice-skating and late-night catching up, we also pulled out our instruments and noodled our way through everything from carols and reels to Tori Amos and Rammstein (“Sonne for flute and two violins” didn’t go all that well). Personality traits again came to mind while trying to reconcile jamming between those who have lots of music theory and technical knowledge with those who can figure out any song they know after a try or two. Matching pitch was on my mind.

On the plane from St. Louis back to San Francisco, I thought of another arbitrary system. Imagine for a moment that your personality, disposition, and place in the universe could be determined by one precise and intimate occurrence:

The precise pitch,watcher

Of the buzzing in your head,

When you listen to silence.

Children are still people — willful small people with a full range of perception and a lack of experience.
– Anon

I’m basically here to entertain you while you figure it out for yourself.
Garyn Heidemann, my riding instructor.

Timeless Archetypes – Building Characters Independent of Setting


“Warrior” is a much broader term than you think.

We’ve heard it all before. Nothing is original. The same characters get recycled over and over into different times, worlds, and scenarios.

True, true, true.

While entertaining some foreign exchange students, I brainstormed what to do with them. I thought I should take them to touristy places, or museums. My friend shook his head at me. “Don’t get stuck on their background,” he said. “They’re your age. Go do stuff you’d think is fun.”

The point he was trying to make is that the person — the individual — isn’t tied to a time or place. As such, their interests and psychology should determine their character more than the setting. Setting determines what’s cool and fashionable, but you could say with confidence that the Teenager will want to assert her identity by being rebellious — pursuing that which is cool and fashionable.

With this in mind, it’s important to represent archetypes honestly. Let’s take, for example, a soldier. Her job is war. He must keep his gear in good repair. She must execute her orders with efficiency. He must obey superior officers. She may believe in honor, or be completely jaded; but generally speaking soldiers want to LIVE.

They “believe” in laying down their life for their country, their king, or their Alpha Centauri Consortium, but mostly they want to get themselves and their buddies out alive. Or they want to plunder. Or develop their career.

Vikings went a-Viking to bring home enough wealth to start a farm. The Baby Boom happened right after World War II. See what I mean?

When developing characters, start with setting but don’t  get stuck there. Think about who they are, and what they want out of life. A great character will be the same person whether they’re on the battlefield, or a boardroom.

No matter where you go, there you are.”
— Buckaroo Banzai

I am a person before I am anything else. I never say I am a writer. I never say I am an artist…I am a person who does those things.”
― Edward Gorey