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Why Understanding Personality Types Can Help with Character Development

I have to admit, I’m obsessed.

My family shudders every time I bring up the topic. I truly can be obnoxious about it. But, I have found that in life and in writing the study of personality is fascinating and essential. I’m going to use–one of my new favorite sites that my youngest son found during his own interest in the topic–to illustrate how personality type can help structure character development in a story.

  • Overview: As I get to know a character simply reading a description of a specific personality can be helpful. I may know if the character is introverted and likes to be organized (judging). But, does the character make decisions based on logic (thinking) or emotions (feeling)? Does the character focus on the big picture (intuition) or the details (senses)? I can determine what I don’t know by reading a description of the I-J types to figure out how the character should be depicted in general.
  • Strengths: Once I have the four-letter framework of a character, I study the strengths and weaknesses. Because story requires conflict, I need to understand how each character will respond in crisis and to the other characters. That response ought to be consistent with the character’s personality. I may go further and research how a specific type reacts to stress. I have also used the strengths or weaknesses of a character to choose a name that reflects a trait.
  • Career: Sometimes the career of a character becomes a defining part of the story. Sometimes it isn’t even mentioned. The importance of knowing what a character does for a living has just as much to do with what that character would not choose to do. For example, I know based on my personality type that I would enjoy a career in editing over accounting. In fact, my first job was editing career development materials for high schools. I can attest to the importance of the scope, education, responsibilities, salaries, and so on of various careers. Some careers were eliminated because they became out-dated in our society. How could that conflict play into a story?
  • Relationship: For me, this is the most intriguing aspect of getting to know my characters. How will each character respond to the other characters in the story? This website does a phenomenal job of highlighting which personalities are kindred spirits, intriguing differences, potential complements, or conflicting opposites. I also know as a writer how I will respond to the characters based on my own personality. I have to be conscious of my own biases and depict the character with integrity. The role of the character may cast him or her as a hero or a villain, but my understanding of the relationship dynamics allows me to reflect the hero’s flaws and the villain’s fine- points. Another fascinating discovery is when one character views another as an intriguing difference while the other character sees that person as a conflicting opposite.

So, while avoid a discussion about personality types around the Thanksgiving table might be a good idea, it certainly makes sense to listen in on the character interactions around the dining room table within a story. Who knows, maybe there are one in the same.

Some of my favorite personality websites and books can be viewed here.

Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter B. Myers

Please Understand Me II by David Kiersey

Personality Type by Lenore Thomson

Categories: Between the Lines: This Writer's Journal

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