Revise It! Evaluating Your Story Revision Goals

Why are you revising this manuscript?

Writing inside out means always coming back to the goals, motivation, and heart of your story. It means owning your deepest truths and convictions and then infusing them in every aspect of the writing process.

It’s owning your Push.

Good revising takes good planning, and good planning starts with knowing what your goals and mission and Push are for your story. Even if you’re revising this story on a ‘have-to’ basis because you’ve been blessed with a contract, returning to your own motivations will enable you to tap into more enthusiasm, energy, and productivity when you’re in the depths of “where the crap did THAT sentence come from?” or its sibling, “who wrote this? A five-year-old? Oh wait, no. I did. Whoops!” or their cousin, “holy infodump, Batman!”

Yes, those are quotes from my own self-revision process, lest you think that editors and coaches are somehow superheroes who can crank out perfect manuscripts with breathless ease. While expertise can make story-crafting easier, every writer still has to travel the same journey in revisions and self-editing.

Evaluating the revision process makes ultimately your life easier and gives you quantifiable goals that can work within your revision schedule.

Evaluating Your Story Revision Goals

Why do I need to revise this story right now?

If you’re under a deadline, this is easy to answer. You committed to producing the product, and now you’ve gotta buckle down and do it. The next step is just to figure out how to fuel your brain and creativity to get the job done.

If you’re not under an imposed, necessary deadline, consider carefully what would serve you and the story best. Setting aside your manuscript and allowing it to breathe is a part of the writing process and allows your brain to rest–and this doesn’t just mean novel manuscripts.

A romantic spoof short story I recently released, Hearts Ablaze, was written three years ago in a flurry of satirical creativity. Then I set it aside and worked on other things. When I returned to the story this past March and realized it was actually good, I was evaluating the story with three additional years of experience, not just wishful thinking.

Three years is an extreme example, but always consider the possibility that setting work aside could be part of your process.

What are three reasons I wrote this story? 

These don’t have to be deep, complex reasons. They could be a message on your heart, a desire to have fun, or an excuse to entertain yourself. One reason could easily be “because the owner of the magazine asked me” or “because I want to enter this contest” (although in both of those cases: why that magazine or that contest?). The important thing is that you know those reasons and that you write them down (or at least keep them in mind). Your three story reasons are your focus and your encouragement as you revise.

What are my publishing plans for this story?

Your plans may already be decided by the publisher or the contest. Otherwise, what do you plan to do with this piece? Are you writing a short story to tease out a future release? A quick novella to experiment with a concept? Are you working on a series of books? How do you plan on publishing them? Once a year? In quick succession over a year? If you’re looking to query a series for traditional publication, I strongly recommend outlining as much as possible ahead of time to show the house, and if possible, have more than one book written.

Or maybe you wrote this story for fun and don’t have any future plans. That’s fine too! That was a main reason why I wrote Hearts Ablaze. Just tuck the story away for later or keep it as a fun brain-game–but always stay open to possible publishing urges!

What does my ideal reader look like for this story–and what would I want them to say about it?

Picture your ideal reader. What do they look like? What do they wear? What kind of activities do they enjoy? What do you want that reader to notice about your story? Picture your ideal book review from that reader. Other than “I just bought a hundred copies” 😉 what would you want that review to say? Sure, you can’t actually choose what reviewers say, but you can revise your content to meet reader and genre needs (while still honoring your vision). This is a really helpful exercise when submitting to magazines and contests, because in those cases you already have the readership in line, which makes them easier to target.

Who can I share this story with?

You know your story best, and your excitement for that story is contagious! Part of writing inside out is knowing your motivations and passions and sharing those naturally with potential readers so they catch the fire. However, this passion can get stalled if there is anything in your work that you’re not comfortable owning.

Consider now the reactions of friends, family, and your present/future fan base. If there would be disapproval or concern over you authoring your story, that doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead. It does mean you should evaluate how much you want to invest in the story, whether you want to adjust anything during revisions, and how you want to present it to others. If you’re in a job that mandates a certain degree of self-censorship, consider using a pen name. Otherwise, this question at least forces you to understand the core of your story and identify your audience so that you own whatever controversial subject matter you’re working with.

Why do I like this story?

Always come back to this. Your feelings towards the story will always come through. Yes, an editor can help filter those things out, but why force yourself through something you aren’t enjoying? Especially if you have to write this for a deadline, make a list of things you like just to remind yourself of why you’re at this. Invest in your delight of your story and ‘bank it’ in different ways so that you can pull from that passion when you’re in the depths of seemingly endless detailed rewrites and revision. Make Pinterest boards. Collect articles or objects that inspire your work. Make playlists. Sketch. As a bonus, all of this passion can make marketing easier when you get to that stage!

Your story is worth your investment of time, passion, and purpose. And if after all of this, you’re feeling flaccid and indifferent, I ask again:

Why are you revising this manuscript?

Greetings, authorsmiths! I’d love to hear your answers for any/all of the questions above in the comments–and if you’re in drafting mode, I’d love to hear what your WIP is about, and what makes it so awesome!

 

Revise It! The Miniseries: Six Steps to Unpacking Your First Draft

First draft story revisions are just like unpacking after moving homes–especially if you move the way I do.

There is a world where items are meticulously packed into just the right boxes and loaded with absolute precision into just the right location in the moving truck.

I’ve moved over ten times in my life, and I do not live in this world.

In my world, no matter how carefully I pack, for some reason there are all these little random bits and pieces everywhere that still have to go in boxes or something portable while people are loading the truck.

IMG_20170623_124106594
Actual boxes of random.

This is basically how I finish drafting a story too. I’m a plotter/pantser hybrid. Once I’ve outlined enough and have a list of scenes, drafting is mostly a straight-forward process.

Until the end, which is usually late at night because I’ve determined that I WILL FINISHED THE THING NOW. I cling desperately to the threads of the plot and shove all possible bits of climax and falling action and resolution in their spots, and then collapse with what is hopefully some kind of profound ending. Ish.

Then come the self-edits and revisions. Figure out where all those pieces are packed and hope that all of my best-laid goals and plans came through in one piece.

Rather like the toaster oven I’m still trying to find.

First draft book edits and revisions

 

Revise It! The Miniseries: Six Factors to Unpacking Your First Draft tackles six key areas in content revisions to get your first draft into great condition! And while there are a lot of different ways to revise, there are some fundamental sweeps that pretty much every manuscript needs to express your vision, please your readers, and, if your content editor is like me, get that lower rate due to being a fantastically-solid piece of self-edited work.

Maybe you’re a plotter that writes super-clean drafts. If so, then another checklist to make sure your revision goes super-quick can’t hurt so you can excel even more.

Maybe you’re a pantser who trusts that somewhere in that mass of words is a great story. I believe in you! But a great revision makes sure the world sees your brilliance.

And if you’re somewhere in between like me, welcome to the club! We have cookies. Once I find the cookie sheets and cookie mix to bake them. And probably a mixing bowl.

Cookie Quote

Ahem.

Revise It! The Mini-Series includes the following:

  • Get multiple flavors of readers (alphas, betas, etc) and learn how to process their input effectively.
  • Clean up your characterization and create three-dimensional characters who are irresistible to readers.
  • Sort out your plot with quick and easy organizer checks that clarify your original, beautiful vision.
  • Figure out how to identify and ditch boring parts (always keeping your genre and target audience in mind).
  • Learn to manage pacing, not just to speed up your story, but also to hold the pause button on significant moments of high emotion and drama.

Note: I’m not numbering these factors because everyone’s brains work differently, and if your process is working efficiently with your brand of creativity, then awesome! If your process isn’t working for you, then all I have to say is: 30 minute author coaching. Contact me and be there for the fun! 🙂

Greetings Authors! What are you working on lately? What is one area where you are strong in revising and self-editing? What’s one area where you could improve?

How to Beat the Blank Page and Write

We’ve all been there.

You sit down after a long day. You’re tired, but you made it. Your kids are at a sitter, or your dishes are getting ignored in the sink, or you’ve finally gotten off social media. You’re ready to write.

And then: nothing. Absolutely nothing. All of those brilliant ideas for your manuscript, blog post, article, or what-have-you are gone.

The screen is blank.

You glance at the clock. You’re down to fifty minutes of precious writing time before you have to get on to the next task, because you write in the margins. You don’t have the luxury of trying to wait for the muse. You have to get content onto paper NOW.

All of those thoughts only make you freeze up more. You decide to go on a walk. All you feel is relief that you’re away from your computer. Divine inspiration? Not there.

What about online writing gurus and experts? Surely they have an idea? You hop online just for a second, just to scroll through a few blogs and websites of successful writing experts and authors.

Man, these people look way more put-together than you. Look at those shiny websites! Even their posts look awesome. And who did those book covers? Yikes! How are they that famous that quickly? Is this normal? What are you even doing?

Maybe you’re not cut out for this. The doubts churn in your stomach.

Thirty minutes gone. What? No. How did time go so fast? This is not fair. Okay, focus. Gotta get this done. Otherwise, you won’t have any time until tomorrow. Professionals work best under deadlines, right? And you’re a professional. You’re making time. You’re doing things the right way.

The blank screen still looms large. You have nothing.

Maybe you are nothing. What’s the point? Clearly, others are doing this all the time. Let them do it. You can binge watch TV or scroll Pinterest.

What does it matter anyway?

I’ve been there. As one of those crazy writing-in-the-margins types, I know what it feels like to scrape away at that time, while wondering if it’s worth it. To fight for those hours and minutes and hope they add up to something meaningful to put out there to readers.

Good news: they do!
Bad news: only if you get actual words on the page.

And we’re back to that grand question of: HOW?

 

how to beat the blank page and write

 

1.) Remember your push
Write down the reasons Why YOU write, why your words matter, where you came from, what’s your story. Have these reason sticky-noted on your computer desktop. Get some writing partners who are there just to encourage you to keep going. Much is made of critique partners, but I’m a personal fan of the writing cheerleaders for the drafting process. Sometimes you don’t need feedback. You just need someone who believes in you, no matter what.

2.) Allow yourself to relax
Put on some music. Give yourself a little time to scroll your favorite Pinterest boards or research some new concepts. It isn’t wasting time, especially if that research is fueling your thoughts. Better fifteen minutes of solid writing than an hour of trying to stare at the screen without inspiration.

3.) Let your mind wander
Daydreaming is underrated. Humans are not, in fact, content machines. Eventually, we all give out. Take a bit of time to pray. Meditate. Breathe deeply. Do whatever you need to center yourself and clear out any issues from the day. If you’re having to write at a public place, put in earbuds to make your own inner space.

4.) Chase some plot bunnies
Got an idea you just GOTTA explore, but it isn’t on topic, but you just can’t stop thinking about it? Take 5-10 minutes and write it out to clear your brain. This isn’t wasting time. This is helping you to focus. Enjoy. Let yourself have fun and expand your creativity!

5.) Manage your environment
Earbuds are your friend. So is your favorite beverage or treat. Do whatever you need to get yourself in the mood, even if it feels weird or people don’t ‘get it.’ I tend to get bored with one location, so in college I was the Migratory Studier. I used to study one subject in the library, another subject in a friend’s dorm room, and a third subject in the girl’s bathroom in the student center (they had the comfiest couch there). Yeah, it was odd, but it worked for me, and it wasn’t making anyone else’s life difficult (actually got into some fun conversations in the bathroom).

6.) Accept that your process is different from everyone else’s
Process-development is discussed more in the visual arts field, but we writers need it just as much to free us from the pressure of perfection. You will never write exactly like your favorite writing expert. And you don’t have to. Even if it seems like they are succeeding out the wazoo, and if you just listen to their every thought and follow their every step, your life will get better. Learn what works for you, develop it more, take bits and pieces from others, and never be afraid to say “you know what, that method might have made you write five best-sellers, but it doesn’t work for me. And that’s okay, because we’re different people who have different brains and lifestyles. I will keep trying until I figure out me and make it work.”

7.) Accept that your work won’t be perfect
Stay away from books or blog posts or articles that make you insecure about your own writing. The authors wrote those books, blog posts, and articles, edited them, and proofread them. Trying to compare your drafting to their finished, polished work is comparing a mixing bowl of brownie batter to a fully-baked pan of brownies.
And give yourself some credit. Call in cheerleaders to point out where your drafting is excelling. Because brownie batter can taste darn delicious by itself.

8.) Give yourself a day off. Yes, I mean it.
Consistency is celebrated in the writing and content-creation community. But seriously. People get sick. Life happens. Yes, if you have a deadline, you gotta buckle down and meet it. But days of rest are necessary for health and wellness. Better you take some time off, recharge, and deal with life than continue forcing yourself to try and create when It. Isn’t. Working. The world will not end. The internet won’t go anywhere (unless the zombie apocalypse happens, and then you have other problems to deal with). And you will be far more refreshed and ready to go. Concerned you won’t go back to writing? Call on your cheerleaders to hold you accountable and remember your Push.

Beating the blank page and writing can be a daily battle (or an every-other-day battle, or a weekend battle–call it a “whenever-you-have-time” battle!). But winning that battle is 100% worth it, because you are getting words out, having fun, and moving forward. And every step is worth it!

I love learning more about you! What’s an important part of your writing process? Got any other recommendations for solving Blank Screen Syndrome? Share in the comments!

Why You Should Write Unrealistic Fiction

One of the perennial questions on the internet is “how do I write for the opposite gender?” After that, you usually get the whole argument about who can (and can’t) capture the true essence and mystique of a specific gender. Then, the whole argument of “realism” is brought up.

Therein lies the core issue. Realism.

Writing fiction has nothing to do with being realistic. Authors are creators carefully crafting characters and scenes and stories to reach their readership. You don’t have to justify or impress anyone else other than yourself and your target audience.

why you should write unrealistic fiction

Realism doesn’t matter in writing – but here’s what does: author convictions, story plausibility, reader expectations, and genre conventions.

Author Convictions

You are writing this story. It is your story. You gotta live with it and at the end of the day, you’re selling it, either to an agent, a publishing company, or directly to readers. Ultimately, you have to be satisfied with how it turns out. Know your Push, your essential motivation, and use it to keep going.

Story Plausibility

This is where story structure and writing craft come in. Get your problem and solution sorted out, make sure your story follows an outline (either by plotting, or by self-editing after you finish pantsing), strengthen your characterization, and go over your whole manuscript multiple times. Bring in beta readers (preferably at least three for varied opinions), use a critique group, hire an editor, and try to fill in every plot hole and issue you can. Master those fundamentals of fiction as much as you can.

Genre Conventions

Now the concepts of realism and ‘proper story technique’ are turned upside down. You see, genre conventions are the general structures and expectations of specific genres. Is it realistic for people in novels to be incredibly attractive? Nope, but in certain kinds of genre romance, they both better be knockouts. Is it realistic for all of those urban fantasy men to be devil-may-care, gritty masters of snark or all of those urban fantasy females to wear tight leather and love swords? Nope, but it often goes with the territory.

You can of course thwart genre conventions, but depending on which ones you choose to overturn, beware that it could turn off readers, no matter how good your writing craft. Also, ‘telling’? That’s a bonus in some genres (and some authors are really good at it). What about the dreaded ‘purple prose’? Well, some high fantasy goes over the moon for all the lush over-descriptions, whereas some fast-paced adventure novels drop bits of description as if they are precious, rare diamonds. The key is to know the conventions of your genre and have confidence in how to keep them (or break them smartly).

Reader Expectations

Reader expectations are often tied into genre conventions. This is a good thing, because you’ll know how to deliver what your readers want, be it thrilling cliffhanger endings for suspense or happy ever afters for romance. To know reader expectations, haunt book reviews, book blogs, and book club discussion areas. Also, grab a second round of beta readers to give purely reader-response.

The good thing is that readers often expect different things than authors. They want to be entertained, pleased, surprised, comforted, thrilled, mesmerized, shocked, and/or anything else that is considered part of the deal. Depending on the market area, they may overlook typos, spelling, or grammar errors, but they can be far less forgiving if you fail one of the expectations (couple doesn’t get together, plot twists don’t twist, etc).

Marketing tip – make sure your book cover, blurb, and overall presentation hit the targets for your genre and reader expectations. Otherwise, you could be attracting the wrong kinds of readers and that does not lead to good reviews (consider how frustrated suspense readers would be to get a sappy romance, or how annoyed high fantasy fans would be to get a stripped-down action-suspense plot). Granted, you could still get negative reviews for other reasons, but don’t let off-target marketing be one of them!

So go ahead–write unrealistic fiction! Make your characters strong, potent, memorable. Make your stories incredible. Improbably probable. Weave your plots well and reach into the hearts of your readers. Revise, tweak, resubmit, refresh to get things just right.

And enjoy every minute of it.

What are your favorite genres? What are some genre conventions? Do you keep them or turn them upside down?

6 Tips for a Memorable Author Tagline

A tagline gives more information about you and about your purpose in a short, bite-size phrase that can easily sink into your reader’s minds.

Like you, I’m busy. I usually give a website maybe five to ten seconds to prove its worth before I move on. It’s nothing personal, but life’s short .

Taglines are a great way to hook the interest of busy readers and web-surfers–as long as that tagline is purposeful, snappy, and connects with your core message.

There are plenty of helpful articles with examples of taglines, but I’m going to pull out my English language know-how to clue you into one secret about taglines and then break it down.

It’s all about poetry.

What? Yeah, poetry. That stuff you had to learn in high school (or didn’t learn, because you were zoning out). Love it or hate it, poetry focuses on the rhythms, beats, and patterns of language, and that makes it an asset when it comes turning out a good phrase.

The best taglines are poetry. Here are some examples of how to put this into practice.

6 Tips for a Memorable Author Tagline

1.) Alliteration – Start each word (or at least a significant amount of words) with the same letter. My tagline for fiction? Monsters, Misfits, and Mushy Stuff. Ronie Kendig’s tagline? Rapid-Fire Fiction. Pam Halter has a great one with Fairies, Fantasy, and Faith. Alliteration sticks in the brain and creates a great starting point for your brand.

2.) Rhyming – Look at Katie Morford’s Create. Explore. Illuminate. She uses the One Word. method, but also sneaks in a rhyme between her first and third words. The second “buffer” word and the fact that all three of her words directly relate to her mission statement makes this tagline a home run.

3.) Syllables – Let’s go back to Monsters, Misfits, and Mushy Stuff. The first three primary words all start with “m”, all have two syllables, and all have the same stress pattern: MONsters, MISfits, MUSHy Stuff. This is getting a little more technical, but makes for a satisfying mouthful.

4.) Repetition – Repeating the same stress pattern, syllable pattern, or beginning word is a key aspect in many effective taglines. Just don’t do it too much or it can get sing-songy in a bad way.

5.) Short and PunchyWrite Inside Out used to be Building Stories From the Inside Out. I slimmed it down because it was too long to get through. Although I’ll never say a long tagline is out of the question, in general shorter is better.

6.) One Word. or Two Words. or even Three Words. – For my press, Uncommon Universes Press (note the alliteration?) our tagline is Be New. Be Bold. Be Uncommon. This encapsulates UUP’s emphasis on speculative fiction that is unorthodox, creative, and owns its unique vision on the world.

Ultimately, you can have all of the above and still not have a great tagline. Why? Because taglines are more than just clever poetry tricks. You know you have a good tagline when you can explain how it directly relates to your fiction and only your fiction.

Anyone can just throw together a few epic sounding creative words: Dream. Live. Believe. or Soft Words for Strong Matters (see there? Contrasting elements between soft and strong). But if that clever little phrase doesn’t really encapsulate what makes you, your mission, and your Push (motivation/angle) unique, then it might as well not be there. Better a less-clever tagline that resonates with your writing than a word gem that doesn’t really mean anything.

However, if you can nail down a great tagline, then you have one more expression of your authentic self and vision to reach readers and allow them to see into your world. And that is priceless.

A good tagline invites your reader into your passion, your purpose, and your perspective as an author.

My tagline is Write Inside Out, because I honestly believe inside every person is a great writer–and I want to coach and equip you every step of the way. Taglines are one of my favorite things to problem-solve, and I would love to help coach you through yours. We figure out your Push, your audience, your genre needs, and go from there on an exciting journey to awesomeness! Tagline coaching is $15/half hour or $30/hour over video chat, and you get a follow-up email with session notes, suggestions, and encouragement.

Show-off time! What’s your tagline? Respond in the comments!

5 Basics of Authentic Book Marketing

Marketing. Love it or hate it, it’s how your work gets into the hands of more readers. There are a lot of great marketing books, blog posts, articles, webinars, Facebook groups, and email newsletters to help you sell books and reach readers. I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, but I am a college-educated people-nerd (communications, intercultural studies, ESL), experienced teacher, and a pragmatist who loves doing things better in less time.

So here are some basics to authentic book marketing for encouragement, edification, and enlightenment (alliteration rocks).

5 Basics 0f Book Marketing

1.) Know Your Push.

Your Push is what motivates you to write–what pushes you along, no matter how you’re feeling or what’s going on in your life. You have to be confident of your motivation and your goals before you launch. Does authentic book marketing mean you put everything out there all the time? Nope. But it’s still helpful for you to know it so you can make wise decisions.

Years ago, I had a publisher request a manuscript for a contemporary romance. During final edits before submissions, I started having issues because I couldn’t picture myself selling a contemporary romance. I rarely even read contemporary romance, except out of occasional curiosity (nothing personal, just lacking in dragons or vampires). I’m a speculative fiction, dyed-hair, monsters-and-misfits kinda gal. While the story had misfit characters, that lack of speculative element was a deal-breaker for me in terms of putting the book out there.

When you’re considering your writing goals, have fun imagining where you’d like to see it published and marketed, and who you’d like to be reading your work. Make sure that lines up with your own Push and that you can see yourself going into those areas.

2.) Play to Your Strengths.

Some people do better in text. Some people do better in podcasts. Some people shine in videos. Some can do more than one thing–which is great if you have the time! The goal is to find out where you shine and focusing on that area.

Love pics? Instagram might be your thing. Master of the witty one-liner–or just too succinct for your own good? Twitter might be your spot. Enjoy connecting across a broad array of people and hopping in and out of groups? Try Facebook. LOVE talking? Try podcasts or YouTube videos.

While I think everyone should give a shot at in-person sales and appearances (because nothing connects better than actually meeting with others) and email newsletters appear to be with us forever (and for good reason, if only to allow you step outside of Twitter and Facebook algorithms), everything else is up for grabs. Research, find out where your readers are, and go for it. See what works for you–and don’t be afraid to try something new!

3.) Get Your Name Out There.

As much as possible, put your name out there–or at least the name you write under. Make the Amazon Author Central page, make the Goodreads author page, make an author website (even if it’s just a basic landing page and some links to other places), etc. Anywhere that you can make a static, leave-it-and-forget-it author page, do it. Yes, ideally you’ll want to be active in these places, but even if you can’t be, put your name out there with links to where people can find you. Be available online and on Google if people type in your name (or pen name).

4.) Do What You Can. 

Preferably, focus on a few areas and invest in them. If you’re an indie, you’re a one-person creative machine, so chances are, there will be days when you can’t get on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to post. That’s fine. The worse thing you can do is beat yourself up over it. Just be as consistent as you can and relax about the rest.

Now thankfully you can set up posts in advance using Buffer or Hootsuite, but if you’re crazy busy, those time-savers still require you to sit down and spend precious minutes and/or hours organizing the posts–plus, you’ll want to get online sometime to engage with others and maybe put up something spontaneous in response to a current event or new development in your writing.

Authentic book marketing means acknowledging that you can’t be everywhere or everything all the time. And that’s okay.

5.) Make Your Product Good (Enough).  

Whether you’re indie publishing, going through a small press, signing with one of the large traditional presses, or something in-between, it’s important to have a good story, solid editing, and a good book cover that meets the conventions of your genre and readership.

But it won’t be perfect. Your ebook or print copy might have typos, because even at publishing houses, people aren’t perfect. Your cover may not look the way you imagined it (because you’re on a budget, because of poor communication, or because it’s literally impossible to transfer the most glorious image from your head onto a cover image–yet).

Authentic book marketing isn’t about perfection. It’s about doing the best you can, where you are, with the tools you have and the passion inside you, and always seeking to improve.

I’m always looking to level up as well, so post in the comments with your favorite marketing books, gurus, and articles!

And if you’re looking for free, personalized, one-on-one feedback on your book marketing ventures, sign up for a free 30 minute video coaching session! Lots of getting to know how your brain works, what pushes you, and fresh ideas on your future, plus notes and encouragement to give you a jumpstart.

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?