Try using personality types as a kind of scaffolding when you set characters in scene. Put them together and see how they are different, and where they are similar.
When I was exploring Eleven and Lilian’s characters in my novel Radiant Shimmering Light, I made notes on their Myers-Briggs personality types. Lilian is an INFP, and Eleven is an ENFJ. This gave me ideas about how they might react in certain situations.
The last letters of the 4 set refers to how others tend to see a character’s behaviour — in this case, P or J (P= perceiving, or flexible and J = judging, or structured). I leaned heavily on these differentiations, because this I knew I could show character by externalizing their actions through scene.
“I have no time to connect! I have to take care of the five hundred emails from people who were felt up by their yoga teachers! I have to plan the Ascendency Oahu retreat! I have to take care of the chocolate backorders! I have to edit the audio for your podcasts! I have to finish painting my commission for Nana Boondahl! I have to write my newsletters every week! I have to do my laundry!” I begin to hyperventilate.
Lilian felt panic about all of the deadlines in her to-do list because for Ps, having too many dates set in stone can be a source of anxiety. I knew that Lilian preferred to take things as they came, so she could remain open to possibility.
Her affinity to watercolour — one of the more unpredictable artistic mediums — was also an homage to her personality type.
“That’s what the delete button is for,” says Eleven. “You’re not here to make everyone happy.”
“So you think I just delete it, and don’t respond?” I ask.
“Do you know how much hate mail I receive every day?” Eleven beams. “Delete them, and every time you press delete, treat it as a meditation bell. Delete — and think of all you’ve accomplished.”
Eleven, however, was a J. She made decisions and booked things ahead of time because this gave her a sense of control. Eleven could make order out of chaos. She could make decisions in a flash without worrying about consequences.
And because she was an E — extrovert — she had ample energy and charisma to lead Ascendency.
I also knew that both women were NFs, and that this was where they connected. NFs are described as idealistic, generous, and intuitive. Both Eleven and Lilian are visionaries — flawed and human to be sure, but absolutely passionate about what they believe in.
Personality quizzes like Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, or even the zodiac can be really helpful as you write characters, especially if they aren’t anything like you.
They can also be great resources if your characters get stuck in passivity, and you don’t know what kind of action they would take in any given scene.
Story always comes out of character. Knowing your characters is the best way to write a story that feels real and true.
Photo credit: Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash