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 ūüėČ ).

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

FOCUS Your Writing in 2017

My word of the year: FOCUS.

Focusing is a funny thing for me. As someone who has sensory processing issues and who was once diagnosed with A.D.D., I’ve found that I actually focus better when I’m working on more than one project. The high pressure and constant stimulation of different activities keep me from losing interest.

At the end of last year, I decided to turn my multi-focused brain in my favor by splitting off into two brands: janeenippolito.com (fiction and book reviews) and writeinsideout.com (nonfiction writing help).

writeinsideout.com is now exclusively a place of writing and world-building help (and sometimes guest features) from someone who was extensively educated in ALL THE WRITING RULES and through years of experience as a writer and a teacher, knows which ones to break (which is most of them if you do it at the right time and in the right place).

As a part of that, my first series is

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In other news, apparently voters are a fan of both bunnies AND camels, because “put a bunny or camel in every blog post” came in second place on my reader poll. I am a woman of my word, and so here folks, is your first Bunny¬†of the New Year! ūüėÄ

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Meet Edgar the Plot Bunny! This wise lagomorph was rescued from a friend’s basement and he is eager to see the world and share all of the exciting plots he’s come up with over his years of solitude! Follow the exploits of Edgar at #EdgarthePlotBunny and #plothop for plot prompts, thoughts, ideas, and random!

What about you? Do you have a word for the year? What’s your current writing project? Please¬†share in the comments!

6 Fundamental Questions to Refine First Draft World-Building

You’ve now finished your first draft–or you’re getting pretty close to it! Or maybe you’re right in the middle, deep in the trenches, excited that you finished NaNoWriMo or hit your personal deadlines, but with no idea that after fifty thousand words the novel would¬†just. Keep. GOING. WHEN WILL IT EVER BE DONE?

In any case, it’s a great time to relax, sit back, and do a world-building integration check-up. This can be a welcome break from the daily word count grind and a fun way to celebrate your awesome creativity. All the while, you’ll figure out how to use elements like setting, superpowers, and space ships to make your story stand out from the crowd.

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Question 1 ~ What World-Building Elements are You Excited About?

When you start writing speculative fiction, you go into the story with these crazy fun ideas. This is where you tackle all the coolest “what-ifs” in your story and get thrilled about them all over again. Maybe it’s a tribe of shape shifting armadillos! Or maybe you have the¬†best¬†take on cytoplasmic alien invaders. Whatever it is, recognize those world-building elements that make you care about your story, because those will be the ones that fuel your passion all through the months of rewrites and editing and…more rewrites and editing. In the end, your goal is to actually get this thing published, so make sure you hang on to cool things that will keep you motivated all the way up until your author interviews!

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Question 2 ~ What World-Building Elements Got Lost In the Shuffle?

So, you thought the vampire slugs were a fun throwaway, but they just ended up, well, thrown away. Or you really wanted to do something with those five extra moons surrounding the planet, but they’re still orbiting and you have no idea why they even need to be there or why you spent an entire chapter on them. This happens. No worries! Maybe you have a plot hole later on that they could fill and all you have to do is connect the dots. Maybe you need to drop back to your pool of sciency advisors (or Google + Something More Trustworthy Than Google) and figure out if those moons have a place. Worse comes to worse, you now have extra ideas to toss in your idea box and bring out in a later story. Because I really want to know about those vampire slugs. *Googles* Wow, someone actually used vampire slugs! We live in a wondrous world, folks.

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Question 3 ~ What World-Building Elements are Crucial to Your Narrative?

Before you start tossing things on the cutting room floor, considering what elements are necessary to your narrative. Sometimes when we get into revision mode, we can forget how everything works together. Take away that opening surprise attack with ghosts because you decided you wanted werewolves instead can drastically change how that entire scene works. While your switch-out might not be as dramatic as werewolves and ghosts, any kind of world-building shift can have trickle down effects that alter the foundations of your story–and your audience’s ability to suspend disbelief. Figure out soon what world-building elements need to stay if at all possible.

Question 4 ~ What World-Building Elements Are Crucial to Your Characterization?

This ties into the narrative question. You need to identify key world-building pieces that are fundamental to characterization. While I’m all about making characters who have depth and layers separate from abilities, part of what makes speculative fiction fun is that the unique speculative parts of the characters are necessary to who they are. I may or may not have snipped ‘unnecessary’ superpowers from a character at one point — and then realized that those abilities were the only thing giving her the security to actually¬†act and be a protagonist. Without them, she suddenly lacked a ton of motivation. Whoops! First off, I needed to fill out her characterization more, and second, I gave her back the powers in a way that enhanced the story line.

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Question 5 ~ What World-Building Elements Make WOW Moments?

You know those moments. The ones that make you go “HAH, that was GREAT” or rub your hands together gleefully or grin at the computer. The ones that send tingles up your spine. Keep those scenes. You need them. Yes, revising and editing is all about cutting the fluff, but you’re writing speculative fiction and your readers like. Cool. Stuff. It’s one of the main things we bring up in word-of-mouth recommendations. So while you might not need all twenty epic battle scenes or awesome wizard duels, go through and geek out over your most exciting, scariest, and/or most thrilling moments and make sure they don’t go anywhere. Unless you plan on replacing them with even¬†better scenes.

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Question 6 ~ What World-Building Elements Need More Muchness?

This one will take another set of eyes, so wait until you’re chill with sending things out to your inner circle of beta readers. You’ve got to steel yourself and ask the dreaded question: what isn’t enough? What isn’t cool enough, clever enough, integrated enough, or explained enough? The upside is you get much-needed feedback and the joy of having other people appreciate your stuff. The downside is your ego takes a bruising as your readers go through your creative mind and heart and ask all kinds of silly questions, like: “how do the lightning blasts come out of trees underwater?” or “Wouldn’t those five moons affect the planet’s gravitational pull and climates?” or “I don’t know why you need eight kinds of dragon species. Are they going to be used at all?” All that common sense can be a cold shower on the creativity, which is why you might need to take a break from your story for a bit before critiques. Also, remember that sometimes critiques aren’t saying to get rid of the element – they’re just a challenge from your beta reader or editor to make it work better and prove its awesomeness. Although occasionally, you might just need to toss something back into the idea box.

What about you? Any other world-building checks you do? Share one of your world-building WOW moments!

3 Easy Tips to Use Dialect in Writing and World-Building

When you bring up world-building, one of the first things that comes up is language. People ask if you’ve made up your own language, or if you’re going to, or how you should do it.

Now, if you want to make up languages, go ahead! I’m not stopping you. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the world of phonemes, morphemes, etc. ¬†However, if you want to focus more on getting words onto paper, I’d suggest a different route.

Use dialects.

The different between a language and a dialect can be subjective.

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Officially (more or less) the difference between languages and dialects is that people who speak different languages can’t understand each other, whereas people from other dialects can at least hold a conversation (this Economist article does a nice job with a few more details).

For the purposes of writing, we’ll call a language something you have to make up and then translate for the reader somehow–context clues or a convenient translator repeating everything for the protagonist are common ways. A dialect is something that involves more of syntax (word order) and lexicon (vocabulary) than long strings of foreign language. The reader can still understand the dialogue more or less.

For example, the acceptable, grammatically correct way of phrasing a sentence might be this:

I like flute music.

Nonstandard speech might phrase it.

I like me some flute music.

Another way could be.

Flute music me likes.

(Yes, I used to play the flute).

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The second and third examples are both nonstandard usages of English that would get a red flag from any editor–unless those usages were intentional uses of dialect within a fictional setting. Then it becomes a matter of which usage best fits the voice of the character, the tone of the piece, and is easy for readers to understand.

Unlike the tips I’ve given you previously, messing around with dialect isn’t an easy trick. It requires time, effort, care, and a fair amount of YouTube videos (and if possible, some in-person reference or personal experience to draw upon). However, I’m all about action items, so here are:

3 Dos and 3 Don’ts of Dialect

1.) DO use dialect as a way of showing differences between culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic class.

You can also explore concepts of discrimination against certain dialects, ¬†the elevation of other dialects as superior, and the way that people make judgments based on speech. It’s also great for showing geographical distance. Any time a people group is isolated, they will develop their own manners of speech.

DON’T overdo dialect at the expense of clarity.

I read a YA book with the standard love triangle with two guys after one girl. This was actually a decent love triangle.¬†Both males were fully-fleshed characters who had their own lives and goals apart from the female protagonist. However, a main reason I shipped one guy over the other was due to dialect. This writer went¬†all in¬†for piratey dialect in such a way that made it really hard to understand what the guy was saying–and even harder to imagine his voice in my head. All of the commas and apostrophes used to indicate his particular way of speech made reading his dialogue more of a decoding session instead of an enjoyable¬†experience.

2.) DO use resources online. Google references and sources on the dialects you’re using. If possible, go bother a linguist friend.¬†

DON’T just think you can do this on your own. Even if you are writing from personal experience and your personal dialect, still check some YouTube videos, online reference guides, and resources. Google is your friend. My current WIP draws heavily from my personal dialect and my experiences with Appalachian dialects. Plus, I’ve had linguistic and cultural training. However, I still have at least three different tabs open when I’m drafting for easy access to sentence structure, idioms, and unique lexicon. Writing is different than speaking and still requires intentionality.

3.) DO feel free to borrow different linguistic aspects from existing languages to substitute for fake languages.

Languages borrow from each other all the time–English being one of the worst offenders! Go ahead and Google ideas. Just be respectful and intelligent in usage. Having a linguist help out is invaluable.

DON’T forget to keep track of your own rules!

Each time you borrow a sentence structure or a type of spelling or a slang word, write it down or copy and paste into a document. Make sure you’re consistent in usage as well. In my current WIP, I’m managing the interactions of three different levels of Appalachian dialect: the super thick, archaic dialect of immortals who have lived there for over a century, ¬†the mixed dialect of a descendant who wants to break away from his ancient clan, and then the dialect of AJ, the main character who moved to the valley when she was a young teenager and picked up a lot of the syntax to fit in but is a little self-conscious about it and will code-switch into more educated speech. Those little touches are easy ways to distinguish between character roles and deepen each character naturally.

What about you? Do you use dialect in your writing or world-building?

What do you think of books that are heavy on dialect? Any great pieces of advice?

 

 

Balance Your Story With Disaster and Hope

It doesn’t matter how carefully you plot–your story will always surprise you. (Tweet This)

Sometimes those surprises are good. In the horror/romance/suspense I’m writing, I had slated the main protagonist to face a terrible tragedy throughout the plot.

The tragedy got better. In one scene. Whoops! There goes that side plot!

Now I don’t always take plot surprises well. However, in this case my beta readers loved the plot twist. And after a skim of the outline, I realized why. This protagonist had been put through the wringer, and she was continually dealing with oppression from the Big Bad.

The plot twist gave hope. And in doing so, it also motivated me to keep writing. Hopefully? It will keep the readers going through the next disaster that the character will face.

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Stories are a balance of disaster and hope. (Tweet This)

A lot of books and websites tend to focus on the disaster part, perhaps assuming that authors enjoy coddling their characters and so aren’t willing to make them hurt. While this can be a temptation, it can be equally tempting to veer too far in the other direction and leave out the hope. After all, the best way to end a scene is uncertainty, right? Ladle on the disaster and darkness and peril, and readers won’t be able to put it down.

But after a while? Darkness gets, well, dark. Sneaking in tidbits of hope, whether it’s a brief romantic moment, a few snarky one-liners, or even a spiritual realization, can give the reader just a bit more to go on, to cling to, while they ride out the next wave of frustration. And if you’re mean enough, you can create that moment of disaster by yanking away the hope. Just make sure there’s another hopeful moment coming on down the line.

Examples:

  • The Hunger Games: Katniss meets Rue in the arena, and gets the brief reprieve of companionship.
  • Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back: Luke survives confronting Darth Vader, AND gets a neat cyborg hand – which shows he is moving forward.
  • Les Miserables: Jean Valjean repeatedly has moments of peace and tranquility before the Javert tracks him down (again).

Depending on the genre? Some stories need more disaster (thrillers, suspense, dystopian). Others thrive on the hopeful moments (romance, comedy). But in most cases? You need a mix of both. It will help you and the reader keep turning pages.

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Here’s a writing challenge: tell a story with a calculator, a potato, and a spoon.

Have you seen a movie, book, or television show that does this well? How about your own work? Please share!