Bits of Fun

Personality Theory and Character Development

I unabashedly love personality quizzes. Always have. From my earliest interactions with the internet, back on AOL, to flooding my LiveJournal with results from Quizilla, to newer iterations on Facebook, I just plain delight in them. It doesn’t much matter how ridiculous they are. I will cheerfully find out what flavor of ice cream I am, what city I should live in, or, as tonight, what character from Practical Magic I am (Maria Owens, as it turns out).

I’ve always had a particular soft spot for the somewhat more scientifically- and psychologically-sound tests, though (though with the admission that they’re not necessarily any more potent than one’s horoscope). Personality theory fascinates me — which is a good thing for a writer. My awareness of the patterns that people tend to fall into helps me to create a variety of characters and informs how they engage with each other. Whether Myers-Briggs or the Big Five, Enneagram or the humours of Hippocrates, I eat it all up and enjoy applying it to my work. Even the classical zodiac can be a way of examining twelve basic personality types and how they interact with each other. These are great tools to keep in mind as I’m writing. That isn’t to say that I sit down and build characters to fit the templates that personality theory provides — which, I suspect, would result in wooden and unnatural characters — but I’ll step back and analyze them later, and sometimes that opens up new avenues. I won’t specifically create a character to be a Capricorn, for instance, but figuring out that he is can give me something to fall back on when I’m deciding how to have him react to a given situation — or when he’s interacting with another character I’ve realized is, say, an Aries.

This week, my brain’s been on Myers-Briggs, as a flurry of test results started popping up all over Facebook and, in lovely synchronicity, I saw a blog post on INTJs as the type most often mishandled by writers. It got me thinking about that particular personality theory as it applies to my current cast of characters.

The two leading characters of Aven, Vitellia Latona and Sempronius Tarren, are an ENFP and ENTJ, respectively. I hadn’t really thought of them in those terms until this week, but it does give me a new angle on how they interact with each other: they are both comfortable in public, but in different ways. They both have strong intuition, particularly when it comes to other people — but what they do with that information differs. As an NT, Sempronius finds ways to work it to his political advantage, while NF Latona wants to use it to bolster people in themselves. Latona’s emotions can sometimes overwhelm her, while Sempronius isn’t always as willing to indulge his. Latona can coax what she wants out of others; Sempronius is more likely to drive them — to his goal or off a cliff, whichever proves easier.

The quiz on this site isn’t terribly in-depth, but I quite like how they phrase some of their results. For ENTJ:

If there’s anything ENTJs love, it’s a good challenge, big or small, and they firmly believe that given enough time and resources, they can achieve any goal. … This determination is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, as ENTJs push their goals through with sheer willpower where others might give up and move on, and their Extroverted (E) nature means they are likely to push everyone else right along with them, achieving spectacular results in the process.

Sempronius to a T (for Thinking!), really. As for ENFPs…

More than just sociable people-pleasers, ENFPs are shaped by their Intuitive (N) quality, allowing them to read between the lines with curiosity and energy. They tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle where everything is connected. If they’ve found a cause that sparks their imagination, ENFPs will bring an energy that oftentimes thrusts them into the spotlight… ENFPs will spend a lot of time exploring social relationships, feelings and ideas before they find something that really rings true. But when they finally do find their place in the world, their imagination, empathy and courage are likely to produce incredible results.

Not just Latona’s personality, but a lot of her personal challenge.

I haven’t given as much thought to some of the other characters, but it’s easy enough to suss it out. Latona’s sister Aula is probably an ESFP — a lot like Latona, warm and outgoing, but more practical than dreamy, keenly observant but easily bored. Aula worries less than Latona, living more in the moment and taking joy wherever she can find it. She isn’t always as tactful as she might be, though, and can be overly self-indulgent.

Sempronius’s sister Vibia, meanwhile, is an ISTJ — principled, sharp-witted, and responsible, but a bit reserved, less gregarious, and often perceived by our dear FP types as prickly and stiff. It also makes her the precise inverse of Latona. I was pretty giddy when I realized that. Knowing that Vibia and Latona are stark opposites in the way they process information and interact in the world will help me to further develop their dynamic moving forward. There’s a lot of potential for friction, since they’re so different — but also a lot of opportunity for them to balance each other out in beneficial ways. I already knew what I’m going to need them to do, but this insight gives me a little more how.

So — What’s your Myers-Briggs type? This site has a fairly standard test, if you don’t already know. (I’m an ENFP, like my dear Latona, though occasionally a test will put me on the J side of things instead). Do you use MBTI or other personality theory when writing?