Three Easy Ways the MBTI Enhances Characters

3 Easy Ways to Use

Here’s my confession: I’m a complete people nerd. I highly enjoy studying and learning about individuals, groups, mindsets, worldviews, cultures, and everything else that makes up the human race. One of the main reasons I got into writing was the opportunity to make more friends (literally, haha) and try out different scenarios to see how people can get along with each other (or not. Often not. Conflict is story, after all).

As part of this, one of my favorite methods for characterization is the Meyers-Briggs Typology Indicator (MBTI). This personality test divides people into one of sixteen possible types according to cognitive processing types. In other words, it categorizes people according to how they take in and process about the world around them, rather than just “introverted” or “extroverted.”

The actual MBTI theory can get complicated, and like most personality tests, there are naysayers. It also gets problematic when you try to categorize real life people, because shockingly we’re all the sum of our life experiences, beliefs, upbringing, physical limitations, and so much more than just the way we think. Using one single personality test to try and categorize the complexity of humanity is naturally going to have a few problem spots.

All that being said? MBTI profiles can be mighty handy for sorting out fictional characters. Unlike people in real life, fictional characters have to make logical, cohesive sense and characters within a story need to be sufficiently distinct from each other, while still having understandable reasons for their relationships (whether positive, negative, or apathetic). Using MBTI can give you a framework as a writer for basic “boxes” to put your characters in, which allows for consistency in characterization and gives you helpful ideas for weaknesses where they can grow (aka, character arcs).

Using MBTI as one aspect of your character creation process can also encourage you to be more complex in your character portrayals. Going back to the “extrovert vs. introvert” issue, here’s an example:

Extrovert: “this character likes to go out and is talkative around people. They don’t like to be alone.”
Introvert: “this other character generally doesn’t like to go out and very quiet around people. They need to be alone.”

Writer: I’ll have Character A and Character B contrast by having Character A go out and be social and Character B want to be alone. This way, I’ll have an extroverted character and an introverted character and tada! You’ve got a conflict.

Problem: I’ve known plenty of extroverts who get really tired around people and need to be alone to recharge. This isn’t necessarily an extrovert-issue. If you’re around people you don’t get along with or have a hard time understanding, you can get tired. Conversely, I’ve known introverts who light up the room around their friends or trusted colleagues. Going for this blunt introvert vs. extrovert division is pretty limiting in terms of your characterization and isn’t fair to the complexity of people.

Solution: one category of cognitive functions in MBTI is HOW you think and process. Introversion and extroversion aren’t just two categories; they can define multiple ways that people view the world. For instance, people who are Introverted Thinkers (Ti) go inside their own minds to figure out things, whereas people who are Extroverted Thinkers (Te) need to process externally (usually verbally). If someone uses Ti, even if they’re classified as an extrovert, they could appear more introverted because they have to go inside their heads to sort out life. If someone uses Te, even though they’re classified as an introvert, they could appear more extroverted because they have to get their thoughts out of their heads to understand them.

Writer: I’ll have Character A and Character B conflict by making both of them extroverts, but Character A has Ti and Character B has Te. So even though they should get along because they’re both extroverts, there will be friction over Character B (Te) wanting to talk out their thoughts after a party when Character A (Ti) just wants left alone to process. And I’ll have Character A (Ti) unintentionally keep something from Character B (Te), because Character A already sorted the issue out in their head and so considers conversation about it redundant.

Yes, this makes things a little more complicated to deal with. But great characters are complicated AND by going a little deeper, I was able to introduce a new kind of character dynamic that has unique contrasts, even with two extroverts (by the way, the Ti vs. Te? That’s me and my husband and yes, I do forget to tell him things sometimes 😉 ).

For more thoughts on cognitive typing, check out these websites:
Thought Catalog
8 Cognitive Processes
Simple Terms (Kinda–Depends on Definition of “Simple”)

Okay, mini-lecture over. Let’s move onto:

Three Easy Ways the MBTI Enhances Characters

1.) DO try to take the MBTI test as your characters. Do a little acting to get into the heads of your characters! Go to an MBTI online personality test and try to answer the questions as your characters. Even if the resulting profile isn’t one you agree with, the act of having to get into your characters’ heads is a worthwhile character development exercise.

DON’T merely accept the result that you get as your character. Remember, it’s still ultimately you at the helm (hopefully), so there will be some biases. Read through your profile test result, and if it doesn’t seem to match with your gut or your character notes, check out some of the other profiles to see if you can find a better match. Remember, the goal of this is to help you–don’t feel like you have to go for something that doesn’t fit.

2.) DO make a list of your characters’ MBTI types. Add it to your character profiles, right alongside physical appearance, skills, any special abilities, favorite color, etc. Your characters’ MBTI personality type is another potential facet to explore (and feel free to add other personality test results as well).

DON’T use this list to limit how your characters interact. With a little Google searching, you’ll find all kinds of “recommended” friendship pairings and relationship pairings through the MBTI system. Those can be helpful starting points, but allow your characters to develop their own natural affinities as well–and don’t be deterred if a pairing or friendship isn’t “recommended.” It’s your story and even MBTI creator Isabel Myers wasn’t married to her “ideal type”–and they had a great relationship.

3.) DO use MBTI as part of a starting place for your characterization. Often, a character will just show up in my head and start talking. After a while of getting to know them, I’ll start trying to figure out their type as a natural part of character development. Other times, I might deliberately go into a story aiming to try out a certain pairing or type, sometimes based off of a perceived challenge (it’s dangerous to tell me something can’t work). So if it works for you, go ahead and add MBTI type to your character growth process.

DON’T only define characters by their MBTI type. Like actual people, characters are more than their personality and processing style. Societal roles, gender roles (or lack thereof), upbringing, race (Fae, dragon, unicorn, Vulcan, cyborg, tentacled snow beast), culture, and a number of other factors can affect how a personality manifests. For instance, I’m currently doing a character study of a Fae royal who classifies as ENTJ: intelligent, commanding, protective, natural leader, total alpha male. BUT, he was raised in a pacifistic, simple life type of Fae commune which emphasized cooperation and group think over competition–and there is no way of getting promoted. This not only creates natural conflict, but it also affects his personality, since he’s telepathically linked to the group whole and is affected by them.

Bethany Jennings at The Simmering Mind has another great post on the benefits and pitfalls of the MBTI from a personal perspective.

Ahoy, #plothoppers! Are you familiar with MBTI? What types are some of your characters? What other personality tests do you use to figure out characters?

Free Content Outline/Revision Worksheet!

Free ContentRevisionWorksheetThere are a lot of revision checklists and guides out there. Just typing the words into a search engine will yield plenty of people with opinions about what you should and shouldn’t cut–and there are a ton of variables. Genre conventions, audience expectations, and use of voice are just a few items that can alter how you revise a story. Therefore, I don’t generally adhere to a certain revision checklist.

What I do adhere to is a content check. Out of everything you do for a manuscript, getting content locked down is the one area where your unique ability to tell a story shines through. A good proofreader can catch your typos. A good line editor can shred your grammar and sentence structure. A good content editor can pinpoint story issues.

But ultimately, you are the one who can best tell your own story. Your mind, your ideas, and your vision all matter and being able to sort out and fix content issues yourself (with the input of a crit group or beta readers) is a great way to ensure that your own voice comes through in the revision process.

Now, if you’re a plotter, you might have an intricate plotting chart that tells you exactly where you need to go. After you write, you’ll need to go back and see if that plotting actually did the job.

If you’re a pantser and have just free-formed a story, then doing a content check to make sure you have all the parts in working order is a smart move. What those parts constitute is again a bit fluid (since there are different story structure methods), but as part of the process, you need to find something that works for you and stick to it.

Naturally, as a writer, editor, and author coach, I do have my own methods of organization that I modify to suit the needs of a client or a story. And since I enjoy sharing and giving away freebies, I’ve attached one of my basic outlining worksheets at the bottom of this blog post and added it to my resources page. It’s in Word form, so feel free to use it, change it up, copy and paste it, or otherwise alter it to suit your needs. I certainly do!

And if you’re looking for someone to provide feedback, thoughts, or a solid sounding board on your work, whether it be motivation, drafting, world-building, or marketing, feel free to sign up for one of my author coaching consultations! They come with notes, customized content, lots of enthusiasm, and the first one is free with absolutely no strings attached.

Content Structure and Purpose Worksheet

Five Fun Ways To Use Plants in Your Fiction

Five Fun Ways to use in your fiction

Maybe it’s all the green from St. Patrick’s Day yesterday, or maybe I’m just tired of being in the frozen North where green things don’t really show up until mid-April, but today, plants are taking over the blog. Consider this one of those world-building/plotting mash-ups to give you a fresh perspective as you take on your weekend!

Note: this is slightly ironic because, despite two years of teaching basic botany, my personal plant-caring skills are less than awesome. However, I love finding ways to use plants in stories. At least they’ll thrive somewhere!

Environments
One of the most obvious ways to use plants is in setting. Whether you’re creating entirely new flora and fauna for a fantasy world or inviting your readers into a new locale on this planet, using details about plants can help set the stage and make your story stand out. Plants can trigger all of the senses, which makes them a great thing for adding sensory detail–even the sound of leaves rustling in the trees or brush crunching underfoot is a great way to anchor your reader into the story. Using a city environment? Unless you’re in a post-apocalyptic, no-green world, plants are sturdy and adaptable enough to grow anywhere.

Food
From special herbs to succulent salads to delicious fruit desserts, there are plenty of ways to use plants in your food descriptions. While it’s easy to dismiss food as an unnecessary part of world-building and plotting, food has actually been used in pivotal ways throughout history. Sea travelers ate oranges to stave off scurvy. The colonists of America would have starved without a friendly Native American teaching them how to grow corn. And then consider the Irish potato famine and the origins of the Dust Bowl–both instances where poor plant farming drastically changed millions of lives.

Love/Romance
From love potions to pheromones, plants are a primary culprit in love and romance for many stories. A Midsummer Night’s Dream did this to great effect and humor (and yes, magic was involved as well), and a common trope in science fiction television is for the cast to find themselves on a planet with plants that send out frisky vibes. Supervillain Poison Ivy takes this to another level with her poisonous kisses. Even just using a lush garden as a surrounding or a bouquet of fragrant flowers as a gift can be a great way to add romance. And if that bouquet of roses is dipped in blood, suddenly you’ve gone from romance to horror, which can be a fun twist!

The Villain
From poisonous to people eating, plants can make the best baddies. Of course, someone using a plant-based poison to kill someone else else is a time-honored plot twist–and it helps that so many plants are both healing and poisonous. Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors has a taste for human flesh that makes for great tension. M. Night Shymalan’s The Happening has plants releasing spores to take out humans. In fact, plants run amok is a common theme in horror and is an aspect of the natural horror subgenre.

Medicine
From athelas in The Lord of the Rings to herbology classes in the Harry Potter books, the plants that can kill you can also make you stronger. Plants are used so much for medicinal purposes, especially in mythological and medieval story worlds, that it would almost be a cliche if it weren’t so accurate. However, the degree to which plants are used as medicine is also an easy indicator for the general anthropological period of your story, as in modern days over-the-counter medicines and chemical remedies are more common, and in science fiction stories the usage of actual leaves and roots in home-grown remedies can be viewed as suspicious. In addition, the way characters respond to the usage of plants in medicine can be a way to reveal aspects of their personality.

Edgar the Plotbunny is a fan of plants!

 What about you, readers and #plothoppers? How do you use plants in your stories? What other ways have you seen plants used?

 

Why Self-Editing Helps You Market Your Book

Why Self-Editing Helps You Market Your Book (1)

Writing is a delicate balance of writing your unique vision and communicating that vision to your desired audience (and hopefully to individuals who realize they’re in your audience). After the trials and joys of drafting comes revising and editing, when you have to look at every aspect of your story and rip it to shreds in order to make it better.

Or so every quote would have you believe.

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While it’s true that editing is a matter of making your message clear for others, sometimes the whole prospect can be intimidating. I know it is for me! As much as I crave improving and fixing things, I feel dread whenever I turn a work over to an editor (yes, I’m aware of the irony considering I am one).

The reason is simple: yes, my work is a product to sell, and my left-brained marketing side is eager to get it ship-shape and off to see how it sails.

But my work is also a part of me and always will be. So is yours.

And that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, that’s something that you, as a writer, need to own with everything you have. Because no matter if you sign with an agent, contract with a publishing house, or indie publish, in today’s market it falls on the author to sell their books. There have been debates about the fairness of this, but arguing theoretical fairness doesn’t change the facts.

One fact: this market that demands author involvement and promotion is a great opportunity for you to discover and hold onto the passion that makes you write your stories. Hold onto that passion with everything you have. Remember it when you have to face selling your story. Learn how to hone and shape it and use it in marketing schemes.

This is your Push: the reason that you keep putting blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights into a field that really doesn’t offer any guarantees of monetary success or lasting fame.

Self-edits are the first step of this journey of ownership, because in analyzing your story after a period of time (a day, a week, a month, whatever you need), you have the opportunity to truly see what parts of you are within each page of your work. Use the self-editing time not only to reflect on what needs to change about the story, but also on what needs to stay the same. Know what elements are part of your essential branding and theme. What common threads weave through your stories? There are always common threads. What are the aspects of your worldview, your life experiences, your personality, your dreams that shine through?

Yes, you need to write in a way that reaches the market. Yes, you should absolutely clean up that manuscript with at least three editing passes (bare minimum). Yes, you need to make your vision accessible.

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But there are a lot of books getting published every single day. Not even being part of a major traditional house will do anything to ensure your success. Solid cover art, good formatting, top-notch editing, and money thrown at the right marketing ventures can all play a part.

There is one selling point of your story that no one else can duplicate.

You. The deepest inside part of you that seeps into everything you write whether you want it to or not. Your themes.

Your Push.

Know it.
-When self-editing and working with beta-readers, don’t just note what you need to fix. Make a list of things that you really want to/have to keep and why. You may have to negotiate on how you show those aspects, but it gives you a solid footing with an editor (and they’ll appreciate your self-awareness and foresight, as long as it comes with humility).

Own it.
-Understand these key aspects of yourself. One reason you might get stuck or having writers block is that something you’ve written or a plot line you’re using is in violation of an aspect of your Push. Knowing what are your deal-breakers goes a long way to solving your writing issues!

Use it.
-When you know your Push, it is a powerful way of marketing because you can authentically connect with others who have the same values, passions, experiences, and/or favorite things that you do! Plus, it helps build authenticity in your brand, and that is a potent, natural way of selling. Relationships are the way to build trust, and it is a lot easier to form natural, unselfish relationships with others as your genuine yourself.

What’s your push, #plothoppers? What makes you get out of bed in the morning and write? Feel free to share in the comments! And if you’re unsure about what any of that is and/or you want to know more, sign up for a free thirty-minute coaching session with me. Getting awesome books on their way to publication is one of my main missions (besides eating a fried tarantula), and I’d love to help!

How to Increase Tension in Stories Using Character Contrast

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Contrast is one of my favorite buzzwords when it comes to character creation. Using opposites to force character growth and make characters stand out is one of the easiest and most effective ways of getting reader attention and making sure your story keeps moving.

Today I’ll give you an easy way to implement that in your own stories. It involves using what you already know about your characters and turning the tables to make those qualities pop.

Here’s how I often organize characterization:

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The fun thing about characters is that, like people, they have layers, and a great way to create a layer is to create a clash or conflict between at least two elements of characterization.

Superheroes do this all the time. Take Superman/Clark Kent, for example:

1.) Appearance – Handsome
2.) Career/Job/What They Do – Saves the world (a lot)
3.) Personality – Strong and determined, generally introverted in most incarnations
4.) Motivation – classic Hero Archetype – because someone has to + because he can + to prove his worth
5.) Worldview/Beliefs – classic down-home American values combined with whatever he got from Krypton

In order to do achieve his goal and try to live a normal introverted life (which his personality demands) and to show humility/protect loved ones (which those down-home American values dictate), Superman has to lie about his alien identity and live as Clark Kent. This deception is totally at odds with the rest of his all-too-heroic demeanor and is often something played for humor and conflict as he sneaks around to save the world (and different versions of Superman emphasize the Clark Kent side vs. Kal-El side to a greater or lesser degree).

Superheroes often use dual-identity to create conflicts and layers within character, but this concept can work in any situation. All you need is to tweak one aspect of the environment or one essential layer.

Tweaking your characters’ core layers to oppose each other is a great way to create internal and external conflict (Click to Tweet).

Another example is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games:

1.) Appearance – Ordinary
2.) Career/Job/What They Do – Takes care of family, hunts, spends time with Gale
3.) Personality – Strong and determined, generally introverted in most incarnations, not interested in being heroic
4.) Motivation – The Explorer – individualist + wanderer + freedom to do what is necessary to get things done and operate their own destiny
5.) Worldview/Beliefs – rugged American individualism, plus independence, personal freedom, and devotion to family

So of course, author Suzanne Collins plunks Katniss in the middle of a dangerous political/literal game that requires playing within the rules of a flashy world comprised of the socially-adept. Of course Katniss’s entire being opposes this, but her core worldview means that her family must be kept safe. Threaten Primrose Everdeen, and suddenly Katniss has to bite the bullet and endure a host of trials and difficulties. To make it worse, she manages to gain a following based on public perception of her personality. For this reason, I’ve always found book two of trilogy, Catching Fire, to be the most compelling, because it features the strongest conflicts for Katniss in terms of characterization.

The more you tweak a character to be out of odds with a fundamental part of their own personality, their required role, or their environment, the more tension you build into the plot, and the more you provide opportunities for growth and change.

What about you, #plothoppers?  Anything to add on characterization? Who’s your favorite character with strong contrasts?

Drafting 101 – There’s No One Right Way to Write

why-obsessing

As I considered the next stage in the Fundamentals of Writing: Inside Out series, I got a little hung up on drafting, because drafting ultimately is up to you. The writer.

You can read all the writing craft books you want, but ultimately, your writing process is unique to you. And that is 100% okay (Tweet This).

There are plenty of books to teach you the “winning way.” Trust me, I’ve read through a ton of them. I’m a massive improvement junkie who is always eager to learn new ways of doing things.

Crank out 5,000 words an hour! No, wait! Five pages a day. How about the “write something every day” method? Surely that works? But what about on days when there’s a death in the family, or you’re revisiting your lunch in the bathroom, or you just can’t find the words? Do you just force it? Maybe not. Maybe you should just slow down. Maybe you should outline more. Maybe you should–

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This is where I ended up going to Twitter or Facebook or getting chocolate or potato chips. Or exercising (irony there, I know). Or doing anything other than facing that blank screen with all those well-meaning voices in my head, trying to sincerely to help me, the same way I try to help you.

Here’s the best piece of drafting advice I can give you: have fun. Life’s too short for anything else (Tweet This).

Center yourself. Do whatever you need to do. Pray.  Write and try and fail and make mistakes and start all over again. Throw things if you need to. Eat chocolate. Give someone a hug. Watch TV. Be alone. Be around people. Mix things up. Try again.

Never forget to enjoy your writing, your research, your art. Whatever you want to call it. Find reasons to fall in love with your worlds all over again (Tweet This).

And never give up.

3 Reasons to Add A Little Love to Your Story (and World-Building)

3-reasons-to-add-a-little-love-to-your-story-and-world-building

All right, I’m still going forward with the Fundamentals of Fiction: Inside Out, but my world-building side has been itching to make a comeback, so why not do both?

I gotta admit, in my other life as a fiction writer, love is a must in my stories. Even if it’s not the focal point, romantic entanglements offer ways to mess with character motivations and complicate plot points like nothing else. Now, in the speculative fiction world, romance can be viewed with suspicion–I was right there griping when paranormal romance starting ‘invading’ the urban fantasy section of the bookshelves. How dare it disturb the purity of science fiction and fantasy?

Then, I got over myself and realized that using romantic complications can be a great tool in all fiction writers’ tool boxes, including speculative fiction writers. I’m not saying it has to work out, and I’m not saying that it has to be more than a few hints here and there, but using romantic elements really can fit into any story.

Note: when I use the word “love” here I’m referring to desire, attraction, and romantic feelings. I’m aware of the other types of love and the nuances therein, but I’m keeping this to one manageable blog post. 😉

1.) Character Growth

Love makes people do dumb things in ways that the audience can believe. This is fantastic if you need an otherwise intelligent character to go off-kilter. It doesn’t mean they have to give in to the feelings or that those feelings have to take over the plot, but the existence of those feelings makes them more relatable and adds another layer to the character. In Blood Mercy:Thicker Than Water, protagonist Melrose Durante has to unlock the mind of an insane vampire to save a city; the fact that she’s his wife and he still loves her adds tension and stress to the workings of his otherwise rational thought processes.

2.) Major Conflicts

Love/lust makes things messy. Helen of Troy’s swoon-worthy beauty caused more than a few issues in Ancient Greece. Henry VIII partly broke off from the Catholic church because he wanted a second wife. Cleopatra’s political machinations and messy affairs with Marc Antony and Julius Caesar made all sorts of fun things happen between Egypt and Rome. And in The Three Musketeers, D’Artagnan’s poor choices with Milady de Winter (as well as her past with Athos), makes her a great foil and troublemaker in the story.

3.) Cultural Issues

Introducing romantic affection can add really fun complications if the connection is cross-cultural. Love and affection can mess with divides of race, ethnicity, societal boundaries, religion, or whatever else. Or it can be something that goes against the dictates of society itself! In Voiceless, my steampunk fantasy, two main characters are deeply in love, committed, and destined to be together, but they have no idea, because their militant society has eliminated the concept of romantic love and devotion from the culture. It takes going to another culture (and having another man show up) to push this couple to see the truth.

 

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Edgar the Plot Bunny is feeling the love!

 

What about you #plothoppers? Agree? Disagree? How do you use love in your story?