Friday, May 25, 2012


Different people are different. Albert Einstein's brain
was wired differently from Al Gore's. Both of them are
wired differently from you. And all three of you are
wired differently from the characters in your novel.

And yet people are alike in a lot of ways. One very
useful way to classify people is by their "personality
types." Certain personality types behave in
characteristic ways. If you know the personality types
of your characters, you know very roughly how they'll

For several years, I've been using the "Myers-Briggs"
personality types as a convenient way to think about my
characters. This is not a way of type-casting
characters. It's a way of making sure that I've thought
of all aspects of my characters before I turn them
loose in my Storyworld.

In the Myers-Briggs terminology, there are four basic
questions you ask of each character.

* Are you an "introvert" or an "extravert?" (Myers and
Briggs spell "extravert" that way, so I'll follow their

* Are you an "intuitive" or a "sensor?"

* Are you a "thinker" or a "feeler?"

* Are you a "judger" or a "perceiver?"

We'll define each of these shortly, but first let's
make one thing clear. Each of these questions is about
a tendency or a preference. "Thinkers" are perfectly
well able to feel, and "feelers" are perfectly capable
of thinking. But each group has a preferred pattern of

Now let's look at each of these questions in turn.

An "introvert" draws energy from time spent alone. An
"extravert" draws energy from being with people. This
does not mean that introverts never hang out with
people or that extraverts are never alone. Introverts
can often be quite warm and friendly, and extraverts
can be harsh and critical. The key question is where
you draw your energy from.

Extraverts do well in people-oriented careers. The
great majority of used car salesmen are flaming
extraverts. That's a tough job, and it takes someone
with a real talent for exuding warmth. Cops are often
extraverts. So are nurses.

Introverts do well in jobs where they have to work
alone for long periods of time. They don't mind this;
they thrive on it. Accountants are often introverts. A
lot of writers are introverts, because both writing and
reading are solitary activities.

An "intuitive" likes to get the big picture before
getting the details. A "sensor" prefers to get the
details first and then work up to the big picture.
Sensors are much more common than intuitives -- about
75 percent of the population are sensors.

Intuitives tend to be theoretical types who think in
abstractions. Many scientists are intuitives. Al
Einstein was a quintessential intuitive. People often
think of intuitives as "having their heads in the
clouds." This can be either good or bad. If you want
somebody to solve the world economic crisis, an
intuitive is a good person to have on your side.

Sensors are practical and detail-oriented. They are
able to understand the big picture, of course, but they
want to start with the facts and work up to
abstractions. Sensors can be annoying because they want
to "get the facts all straight." But if you want
somebody to do your taxes done right the first time,
you want a strong sensor.

A "thinker" prefers to solve problems rationally. A
"feeler" prefers to solve them emotionally. Let's
emphasize again that "thinkers" do have hearts and
"feelers" do have brains. It's not a question of
ability, it's a question of preference.

Feelers do well in jobs that require somebody who can
connect emotively. Oprah Winfrey excels at her job
because she's a feeler. Psychologists and social
workers are often feelers. Bill Clinton is a
quintessential feeler -- "I feel your pain" was
practically a mantra for him.

Thinkers gravitate to jobs where they need to use their
heads. Science and engineering are obvious thinker
occupations, but a mechanic needs to be a thinker too.

Certain occupations require people who are equally
adept as thinkers and feelers. A doctor needs to be
good at diagnosis (a thinker) but also have a good
bedside manner (a feeler). Likewise, an attorney in
court needs to make a great case (as a thinker) and yet
connect well with the jury (as a feeler).

About two thirds of men are thinkers and two thirds of
women are feelers.

A "judger" reaches decisions rapidly and decisively. A
"perceiver" delays making decisions as long as
possible, constantly looking for new evidence.

Judgers are often criticized as being too quick to make
decisions before all the evidence is in. The fact is
that sometimes making a quick decision (even if it's
"wrong") is better than no decision. Soldiers on the
battlefield can't afford the luxury of waiting for all
the data to come in. They have to make tough decisions
with limited information.

Perceivers are likewise criticized for dithering. Yet
there's a time for withholding judgment until all the
evidence is in. When you're trying to decide if a new
drug is safe for human use, you want to make sure
you've taken every scrap of data into account.

When I create characters for my fiction, I always ask
each one all four questions. Since a character can give
two possible answers to each question, there are
sixteen possible sets of answers. Once I know how a
character answers the four questions, I know quite a
lot about him or her.

If my character is a CSI investigator and he's an
introvert, a sensor, a thinker, and a perceiver, I'm
confident that he'll do a good job. As an introvert, he
won't mind pulling long hours in the lab alone. As a
sensor, he'll look at every detail on the scene. As a
thinker, he'll use his brain to come up with the
answer. And as a perceiver, he won't jump to
conclusions, he'll wait until he's got a complete

If, however, that same CSI investigator is an
extravert, an intuitive, a feeler, and a judger, I'd be
worried. As an extravert, he's going to get restless
alone in the lab. As an intuitive, he'll form a theory
early and fit the facts to that theory, whether they
work or not. As a feeler, he may be swayed by the fact
that he doesn't like the main suspect. And as a judger,
he may jump to a decision before all the evidence is in.

How well do you know your characters? Can you answer
the four basic questions for each of them? If not,
spend some time getting to know them better. You may
want to interview your character or just have a long
imaginary conversation.

When you've assigned personality types to each one, do
some research online. You can find general descriptions
of each of the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types.
You may be surprised to find that these descriptions
fit your characters surprisingly well. Or you may find
that your characters are a bit muddled in your mind and
you need to rethink them.

In any event, I strongly suspect you'll find the
exercise very much worth your time. There are online
Myers-Briggs personality tests you can take to learn
your own personality type. You may find that the reason
you click so well with one of your characters is that
he or she is your type.
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the
Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced
Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 31,000 readers.
If you want to learn the craft and marketing of
fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to
editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing
and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Feature Fridays runs every Friday on this blog. Stay tuned for tomorrow's article

No comments:

Post a Comment