Monday, June 15, 2015

If Vladimir Putin Married Mother Teresa by Alison Henderson

Most of you are familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I'd venture a guess that you know your type and perhaps those of your loved ones, too. The test, based on the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, was devised by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, beginning in the 1940's. It is now a standard personality type indicator, used in everything from career counseling to Internet quizzes. If you haven't done it yet, just Google "Myers Briggs" and take one of free online tests. They might not be as accurate and detailed as a complete evaluation by a trained professional, but they can be impressively accurate.

Out of curiosity, OG and I recently took one of the more detailed on-line quizzes. He got what he always gets - INTJ. Mine was a bit of a surprise. I though I knew my type, based on a career book OG had bought several years ago. It turned out I was just fooling myself. I had answered a number of questions the way I presented myself to the work world, not the way I truly am inside. Removing that bias and looking deeper, I discovered I am an ISFJ - much more the real me. 

After the test there was a list of famous people who had the same personality type. OG and I discovered our union is the equivalent of Vladimir Putin marrying Mother Teresa. Really. That explains a lot. It also didn't come as a big surprise to many of our friends and family. What surprised me is how we've made such glaring incompatibility work for thirty-two years. Must be my saintly nature. LOL

Interesting, you say, but what does this have to do with writing? I've used the Myers Briggs personality types for many years to create characters. I start with one character - usually the heroine - and write down everything I know about her. Then I try to match her with one of the sixteen personality types. That gives me a head start creating the hero. 

I've never been a big believer in opposites attracting - not complete opposites, anyway. I try to give my couples at least one or two similar character traits so they'll have something in common. Two opposite traits create plenty of opportunity for conflict. Trust me. Just look at me and OG. You can't get much more opposite than Putin and Mother Teresa, and we have two traits in common.

Using the MBTI personality types also helps flesh out characters. If you're wondering what your hero or heroine would do or feel in a particular situation, re-read their personality type info for a clue. You might worry that using "types" will turn your characters into flat stereotypes, but I've found the opposite to be true. People, and fictional characters, are much more than four personality characteristics, but these categories are broad enough to encompass the infinite variety of humanity. For me, typing helps keep characters consistent and realistic. 

Have you tried this method? What are your favorite tips for creating vibrant characters?

Alison
www.alisonhenderson.com
http://alisonhenderson.blogspot.com 

15 comments:

Liz Flaherty said...

I wish I were this methodical, but I'm not. I haven't takent he M-B test in a long time, but it's interesting. Putin and Mother Theresa, huh? That's interesting, Alison!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Love the pairing - yours in real life - not the characters'. Haven't tried this test yet, but I definitely plan to. Bringing my own OG along as well. Thanks for sharing.

Rolynn Anderson said...

I use any heuristics I can in order to 'find' my characters...love MBTI. It does help me (raise conflict) when the heroine and hero THINK they want different/competing things. Resolution comes when they realize what they think they want isn't quite on target. They help each other get to the truth of their desires.

Jannine Gallant said...

What a terrific idea. Usually I don't know my characters well enough when I sit down to start writing a book to do this. Their personality quirks come through as I progress into the story. (For example--my current hero is showing chauvinistic tendencies 50% into the story. Who knew!) But occasionally I do have a strong sense of one or the other--like in a series where I've used the character before. Might be a great way to find them their perfect match!

Alison Henderson said...

Liz, I have to do a lot of pre-writing before I start a story or I waste a lot of time floundering around. And interesting, yes that's one way to describe my relationship with OG. LOL

Alison Henderson said...

Margo, you and your "OG" should definitely try the MBTI. You'll find it fascinating.

Alison Henderson said...

Rolynn, I completely agree about conflict. I struggle to incorporate enough conflict in my stories, and using MBTI types helps me build it in.

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, my characters always surprise me, too, as I go along. But if I don't know them reasonably well before I start writing, I waste a lot of time until I do.

Allison Morse said...

I also do a lot of pre-thinking about the characters before I write a story. I'll think about personality traits, personal and family history and ask what to me is the two all important questions: What does the characters think he/she wants? And what does the character really want/need. This helps me a lot.

Susabelle Kelmer said...

I have never tried this with characters, but what a great idea, especially if I'm having trouble giving them curves and edges.

I'm an ESTJ, by the way. Never put two of those together. Bad things happen. ;)

Alison Henderson said...

Allison, I'm with you. I'm frozen until I know those things.

Alison Henderson said...

Susabelle, it works for me. Try it, and it might work for you, too!

Diane Burton said...

Like Jannine, I don't know my characters well when I start writing. I let them reveal themselves. My guy in my WIP seemed so Beta--patient, understanding, letting her take the lead for a good part of the book. Then he showed he can be an Alpha when necessary, surprising me & the heroine. Loved it. In a way, that's sort of like my Hubs. Patient, understanding, etc. But push him so far and then look out.

Anything that helps us understand our characters better is a great aid. Thanks for reminding us about Myer-Briggs.

Alison Henderson said...

Diane, I often wish I could let my stories and characters reveal themselves as I write, but it just doesn't work for me. It's a sure recipe for writer's block.

sydney st. claire said...

I've used various personality and character archtypes to create personalities but I usually know a little about one of them to begin wiht then add from there.