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

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!

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

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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?

Why Your Writing Matters (Even If You’re Not Famous)

Once, there was a teenage girl who wrote for hours a day, yet knew she would never be a writer. Writing was for dreamers who couldn’t pay off their student loans and sat around all day in fantasy worlds. No, this girl had her head on straight and was going into a solid science or medical field. Even though she failed at math and spent her classes pondering plot holes and new content writing. She could come down to earth, put language arts aside, and make the sensible choice.

Considering that I’ve now been writing, coaching, teaching, and editing English for over a decade, we can see how well that turned out. 😉

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Keep running the race!

Writing is a hard field. Never let anyone tell you any differently. But while it has unique challenges, it isn’t any harder or easier than many other career choices. It takes guts and passion and drive. It takes focused creativity when you’re ready to quit and the ability to see new possibilities and opportunities–or even to create them. It isn’t for the faint of heart, although sometimes the hours part-time writers have to keep can make you literally faint.

A quote from a favorite childhood book:

“She was not as stupid as some I have had, and better company, but still perhaps her going was for the best. She was not what I needed.”

“Because I failed,” whispered Alyce in the shadows.

“Because she gave up,” continued the midwife. “I need an apprentice who can do what I tell her, take what I give her, who can try and risk and fail and try again and not give up…”

Karen Cushman, The Midwife’s Apprentice

Writing is art, but succeeding in it is also requires business smarts and critical analysis. It requires personal reflection and outward engagement. It challenges introverts to get out of their shells and extroverts to focus on the sound of their own heartbeats as they labor away at keyboards. It can be a part-time hobby or a full-time obsession, and sometimes neither of those will offer a whit of monetary reward or personal affirmation. At times, you may need to take a break and take a breath or twenty. Recharged your batteries. Sleep.

And yet, you go back. Because you get to create marvelous things out of nothing. Whether you’re writing a business statement or a short story or a blog post, it literally doesn’t exist until you get your brain in gear, say a final prayer, take a deep breath, and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. As an editor, you can walk hand in hand with a creator, delving deeply into their worlds and then getting the satisfaction of seeing those worlds touch hearts and minds as they are released into the outside world.

As a reader, I thank you for all of your effort in every endeavor.

Writing is one of the greatest gifts you can give others, and the ability to write has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

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Here is my toast to you, readers and writers! With extra protein!

Thank you, bloggers and followers and readers, for allowing me into your lives with what writing advice and snarky thoughts as I have. I’m humbled to get to serve you in this way, and I’m excited for what the future holds!

Keep writing (and reading) inside out, enjoying every step of the journey!

And while you’re at it, I’m keenly interested in how I can serve you better. I’ve expanded to two websites: Janeen Ippolito (Monsters, Misfits, and Mushy Stuff) for fiction and book reviews and Write Inside Out for writing and world-building help with unique insights. I’m working on shifting over content as necessary–so if you’re worried about book reviews disappearing, never fear! They’re just relocating. 🙂

As I expand Write Inside Out to be an even more epic writing haven, I have a ton of cool ideas, including series on world-building to increase readership marketability, using taboo topics in world-building (sex, drugs, death, and yes, taxes), and a series on world-building by the subgenre. Please vote in the poll below and let me know what you want to know more about! You’re welcome to vote for more than one thing.

How to Enjoy NaNoWriMo – Even If You’re Not Participating (or You’re a Rebel)

I am NOT participating in National Novel Writing Month this year. At least, not in the traditional sense. While I write steadily, 50K this November just isn’t a possibility, especially with working a full-time job, a part-time job, and other sundry endeavors outside this little blog post box.

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However, I am doing my first ever short-story contest with my students based on NaNoWriMo. Their minimum is 5,000 words in the month of November — and they can feel free to go all the way to 50,000! As long they, y’know, actually get all their homework done and remember to sleep now and then. 😉 In honor of their efforts, I’m going for 15K-30K, picking up a steampunk/fairy tale YA novel I ditched two years ago because distraction by another story (if this happens to you *high fives* and if it doesn’t — which is incredible and awesome — *high fives anyway* ). Anyway, what ended up happening was that unfinished story kept relentlessly seeping into other stories in inappropriate (re: totally against plot flow) ways, so I figure it was time to give Touch of Green its due.

So I’m:

  • Only doing 15K-30K instead of 50K
  • Using a story I’m already 10K into (and they are actually pretty good words so I’m keeping them)
  • Working on another novel or two on the side (because the busier I am, the more inspired I am – and the less sleep I get)

Why even bother getting involved, if I’m not following the rules? Because NaNoWriMo isn’t just about the rules. It’s about having a giant creating-fest and getting all of us peeps who usually hide behind our computer screens and type OUT INTO THE OPEN.

On our computer screens (or typewriters, or notebooks, or cell phones, etc).

Quietly.

Like EPIC REBELS!

And since I’m one of those less-common writing extroverts, I want everyone to get in the fun! So here are five ways you can enjoy NaNoWriMo, even if you’re not actually writing 50,000 words.

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Five Ways to Enjoy NaNoWriMo (Without Officially Participating or Following Rules)

1.) Do a Word/Editing/Brainstorming/SOMETHING CREATIVE Sprint

Word sprints are more than just word count. They’re about setting aside time and making an effort for disciplined focus. Don’t judge yourself by anyone else’s progress. Just do what you do and enjoy it — and then share it afterwards with someone, because these things are cool. And sharing them is also cool.

2.) Declare Your Goals

So you’re not going for the 50K. So you’re writing a short story or a novella or doing a proofread or making a quilt with letters (I have awesome quilter friends). Put it out there anyway! Let people know what you’re doing. Own it! And on the official NaNoWriMo forums there are a lot of homes for the unconventional. Although I’m not sure there’s a place for people who are sewing their words INTO quilts. But it could happen!

3.) Support the 50Kers (or more than 50kers)

They are doing epic things as well. It can be tempting to feel a little envious of those who can squeeze that in or write that fast, but hey, we’re all on our own journeys here. Get excited for them! Encouragement builds everyone up. 🙂

4.) Support All the Creatives

Find others like you and challenge each other! Use this as an extra-special time to celebrate all things writer/creative. Why not? It’s a lonely place, guys. Being a writer, artist, or creative in this world is increasingly difficult and underappreciated. If we don’t make our own parties or set milestones, who will? Besides, everyone needs a treat now and then!

5.) For 50Kers – Support Your Local Rebels

In the end, we’re all doing this writing/creative journey, just in different ways and at different paces. So let’s make this an awesome all-month party that can maybe, just maybe, last all the year round!

Which I’d totally love, as an extroverted creator. Because parties are fun – even the silent ones with lots of keystrokes and swipes and pen scratches. And whatever else you make awesome with.

Who’s doing NaNoWriMo out there? What other creative things are you up to?

Confessions of a Role-Playing, Collaborative Writer

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So I’m still recovering from an awesome time at the Realm Makers 2016 conference. I have a ton of things to catch up on and to share, but in the meantime, I’m featured on Ralene Burke’s blog as a guest author, so go ahead and check it out! Includes some never-before-seen info, including:

  • Why I’m so passionate about character creation (to the tune of 37)

  • What would happen if I had to write in pre-internet days (answer: parrots would be involved)

  • Why role-playing made me a better marketer

  • What happens when a social writer breaks her own rules (hint: it weirds people out)

Click here or on the graphic to learn more about role-playing and collaborative writing!