I’m sure all of you have heard of the Myers-Briggs test. Some of you may already be using this test to really figure out who your characters are. Others have probably heard of this but haven’t applied it to their writing.
I’m here to tell you that you should, especially if you’re having trouble getting to know your characters.
Writing issues that are actually all about how well you know your characters:
- Problems with dialogue? You might not understand your characters - and thus know what their reaction would be - well enough.
- Readers confusing your characters. Besides the obvious reader mistakes, your characters might all be too similar or generic.
- Your plot is choppy. Those gaps between plot points should be filled in with your character’s reaction and action. You want your plot to happen to your character and your character to affect the plot.
Take a few minutes to sit in your character’s shoes and take the Myers-Briggs test. Some questions may be a little more difficult than others, but they’ll also help you get a better feel for your character.
The results will not only tell you how your character feels about idealism, perfectionism or logic, but it will also tell you the types of relationships or friendships they have, or even what career choices they would make.
Disclaimer: not all characters fit into just one category - you’ll hear a few of my examples that can fall into two, maybe three different personality types.
This post is intended as a guide for inspiration. Each type of character brings something different to the table, which mirrors reality. In listing these personality types, I hope to inspire some character building that could benefit your novel.
First off, for those of you new to the theory behind Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI), let me explain what each letter means.
The first letter indicates whether or not the individual is I
ntroverted or E
xtraverted, the next is S
ensing or iN
tuitive, then T
hinking or F
eeling, and lastly, J
udging or P
erceiving. Combinations of these characteristics allow for the 16 commonly known personality types.
So here we go: 16 rapid-fire MBTI types. ISTJ - The Detective
Introverted. Sensing. Thinking. Judging.
Very responsible, honorable and dutiful. ISTJs follow the rules to a T and can be quite stubborn. Fact checkers and researchers, they place great value on honesty and despise laziness in others. Making friends commonly comes slowly as ISTJs find it difficult to allow their emotions to show through.
Black Widow, Professor Snape, George Washington, Jason Bourne ISFJ - The Guardian
Introverted. Sensing. Feeling. Judging.
Reliable, loyal and humble. ISFJs will always come to the aid of a friend and find it easy to empathize with others. They rarely agree to burden someone else with their problems and can gradually overwhelm themselves. Their shyness hinders their relationship-building but once past that barrier, ISFJs are in it for the long haul.
Wolverine, Samwise Gamgee, Dr. Watson, Will Turner INFJ - The Advocate
Introverted. Intuitive. Feeling. Judging.
Rescuers, inspirational leaders, and perfectionists. INFJs are very goal oriented and consistently have a cause or movement to focus on. With the keen ability to solve the problems of those they care about, INFJs take action on their ideas. Able to read people well, they are on high alert for dishonest people and seek to understand the true motivations of those around them.
Captain America, Rose Bukater, Martin Luther King, Jon Snow INTJ - The Tactician
Introverted. Intuitive. Thinking. Judging.
Knowledgeable, rational, and confident. Often seeing no point to gossip, INTJs prefer intellectual conversation and hold steadfast to the right answer above all else.They are not easily swayed from rational answers and rarely give in to forms of bribery. Their confidence can come across as arrogant and snobby, which means they don’t often have large groups of friends, but prefer a few stronger friendships instead.
Littlefinger, Gandalf the Grey, Friedrich Nietzsche, Katniss Everdeen ISTP - The Engineer
Introverted. Sensing. Thinking. Perceiving.
Creative, under control and calm. ISTPs do well under stress, able to make decisions even when risk is involved. These people are constantly doing something with their hands and learning new trades, often teaching others along the way. Depending on what the situation calls for, ISTPs can balance steadiness with spontaneity.
Arya Stark, Lisbeth Salander, Steve Jobs, James Bond ISFP - The Composer
Introverted. Sensing. Feeling. Perceiving.
Artistic, charming and competitive. Although introverted, ISFPs are often quite popular - their laid-back, spontaneous lifestyle draws in those looking for uncomplicated fun. They’re action takers, not wasting time with theory or debate. Their opinion on something can make them either charitable and selfless, or self-centered and manipulative.
Jesse Pinkman, Michael Jackson, Hagrid, Davos Seaworth INFP - The Idealist
Introverted. Intuitive. Feeling. Perceiving.
Ever optimistic, reserved and confidants. INFPs are frequently writers or poets, having a gift for communication. For this reason, they’re often able to motivate and inspire the few that are lucky enough to be friends with them. Although not one for the spotlight, INFPs aren’t afraid to do what it takes to see their beliefs come to fruition. On the contrary, their naïveté can injure their idealism or lead them to danger.
Spiderman, Luna Lovegood, William Shakespeare, Daenerys Targaryen INTP - The Brainiac
Introverted. Intuitive. Thinking. Perceiving.
Logical, problem solvers and daydreamers. INTPs are often messy, not wasting time with upkeep and not needing to - they know exactly where everything is at. Able to think about the bigger picture, they can be lost in dissecting and solving anything big or small.
Hermione Granger, Leslie Winkle, Isaac Newton, Yoda ESTP - The Adventurer
Extroverted. Sensing. Thinking. Perceiving.
Risky, energetic and extremely perceptive. ESTPs can get themselves into a world of trouble, taking joy in the pursuit of risky behaviors. They typically act before thinking and constantly run from boredom. Rules are not their friend, and ESTPs have difficulty with tedious jobs.
Jaime Lannister, Ernest Hemingway, Han Solo, Ginny Weasley ESFP - The Entertainer
Extroverted. Sensing. Feeling. Perceiving.
Fashion-minded, playful and lovers of attention. ESFPs are at the center of attention, no matter how big or small the gathering and are usually the class clown. Not one for inward reflection, they’re the first to talk out a friend’s problems and can be quite insightful. ESFPs can be easily bored and lose focus in academics.
The Weasley Twins, Jack Dawson, Marilyn Monroe, Lydia Bennet ENFP - The Champion
Extroverted. Intuitive. Feeling. Perceiving.
Charming, philosophers and free-spirited. ENFPs are popular people but don’t feed on entertaining others - they’re people readers and truly enjoy getting to know those around them. They’re extremely friendly but hate to be micromanaged.
Peeta Mellark, Willy Wonka, Charles Dickens, Nymphadora Tonks ENTP - The Devil’s Advocate
Extroverted. Intuitive. Thinking. Perceiving.
Smart, curious and annoying. ENTPs find joy in arguing - so much so that they may argue a point that they don’t actually believe. Big thinkers, they find it difficult to do the grunt work and often delicate tasks to others. Being the devil’s advocate can burn bridges for ENTPs, so they may find it difficult to find the support needed to advance in life.
Tyrion Lannister, Mark Twain, Jack Sparrow, Tyler Durden ESTJ - The President
Extroverted. Sensing. Thinking. Judging.
Orderly, honest and hardworking. ESTJs are often in positions of power, recognizing the need for service or assistance and taking pride in leading others. They also keep their promises, developing strong aversions toward those who do not do the same. ESTJs often have difficulty relaxing, following the rules to a fault - if a better solution exists, they’re not likely to be the one to discover it.
Frank Sinatra, Robb Stark, Lisa Cuddy, Minerva McGonagall ESFJ - The Social Butterfly
Extroverted. Sensing. Feeling. Judging.
Caring, popular and loyal. Lovers of gossip, ESFJs are excellent at remembering the little details of a conversation and following up. They hate spontaneity and rely largely on lists or plans, but have difficult improvising when necessary. ESFJs are also very family oriented, taking great pride in caring for their loved ones.
Sansa Stark, Andrew Carnegie, Effie Trinket, Molly Weasley ENFJ - The Provider
Extroverted. Intuitive. Feeling. Judging.
Passionate, influential and trusting. A master of communication, ENFJs know just what to say to motivate someone to their cause and truly believe in the good of people. When met with adversity, they’re able to separate their emotions from the situation and remain rational. They’re often appointed to roles of leadership rather than seeking it themselves.
Morpheus, Elizabeth Bennett, Lois Griffin, Oprah Winfrey ENTJ - The Commander
Extroverted. Intuitive. Thinking. Judging.
Bold, strong-willed and decisive. Born leaders, ENTJs are excellent at setting long-term goals and reaching them on schedule. They are very determined and that determination is spread through expert motivation. Although able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in others, ENTJs can have the bad habit of calling others out, with disregard to their sensitivities.
Tywin Lannister, Voldemort, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Snow
- - -
Hopefully, my quick definitions sparked some inspiration in you. Even if you have all of your characters mapped out, take a minute and read some lengthier explanations on each personality type. You’ll be surprised at how accurate some of them are, which may help solidify your character as a real person in your mind.
What’s your personality type? I’m just barely an INTJ but identify particularly with the messiness of INTPs. Actually, while I was writing up this post, I identified with a lot of different aspects of each personality type.
Like I said, this list isn’t set in stone or black and white. Remember, even if your character fits really well into the ENTJ personality, don’t be afraid to throw in a little bit of ENFP.