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  • Writer's pictureJessica Van Devanter

A Writer’s Guide to Crafting Compelling Characters with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Close-up of a paper with text of a personality text stating preferences from the MBTI, with two selections checked and a fountain pen.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator aims to provide insight into individual preferences and behaviors, helping people understand themselves and others better in various personal, social, and professional contexts, but can also serve as a valuable tool for writers. In a previous post, I discuss the value of using personality tests developed by phycologists to help you write characters that feel real. In this post, I will focus on writing compelling characters with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to help develop characters that your reader will connect with. The MBTI categorizes personalities into 16 types based on preferences in four dichotomies: Introversion/Extraversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving. Here’s how you can use the MBTI to create compelling, believable characters.

 

Understanding the MBTI Dichotomies:

To apply MBTI to your characters effectively, first familiarize yourself with the four dichotomies. These preferences combine to form the 16 personality types, each denoted by a four-letter code (e.g., ISTJ, ENFP). Each type has its strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics, influencing how individuals interact with others, process information, make decisions, and organize their lives.

  • Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E): Indicates where individuals focus their attention and energy. Introverts are inward-focused, while extroverts are outward-focused.

  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): Describes how individuals perceive information. Sensors focus on concrete, present details, while intuitives look at patterns and future possibilities..

  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): Explains how individuals make decisions. Thinkers prioritize logic and objectivity, while feelers prioritize emotions and values.

  • Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P): Reflects how individuals approach the external world. Judgers prefer structure and decisiveness, while perceivers prefer flexibility and spontaneity.


The 16 Types:

The following summaries capture the core characteristics and preferences of each personality type as defined by the MBTI framework. Each type represents a unique combination of strengths and perspectives, influencing how individuals approach relationships, work, and personal growth:

  • ISTJ (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging):

  • Practical, organized, and dependable.

  • Prefers structure and clarity.

  • Values traditions and loyalty.

  • ISFJ (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Judging):

  • Caring, supportive, and detail-oriented.

  • Focuses on harmony and empathy.

  • Prefers stability and routine.

  • INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging):

  • Insightful, compassionate, and visionary.

  • Values authenticity and deep connections.

  • Seeks meaning and understanding.

  • INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging):

  • Strategic, analytical, and decisive.

  • Prefers independence and competence.

  • Focuses on long-term goals and innovation.

  • ISTP (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving):

  • Adventurous, logical, and adaptable.

  • Enjoys hands-on problem-solving.

  • Values autonomy and practical solutions.

  • ISFP (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving):

  • Creative, sensitive, and gentle.

  • Appreciates beauty and individuality.

  • Prefers flexibility and harmony.

  • INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving):

  • Idealistic, empathetic, and imaginative.

  • Values authenticity and personal growth.

  • Seeks harmony and inner meaning.

  • INTP (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving):

  • Analytical, curious, and logical.

  • Enjoys exploring ideas and theories.

  • Prefers independence and intellectual challenge.

  • ESTP (Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving):

  • Energetic, action-oriented, and adaptable.

  • Thrives in challenging situations.

  • Values practicality and immediate results.

  • ESFP (Extraverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving):

  • Spontaneous, friendly, and enthusiastic.

  • Enjoys connecting with others.

  • Prefers excitement and variety.

  • ENFP (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving):

  • Enthusiastic, creative, and empathetic.

  • Values exploration and possibilities.

  • Seeks inspiration and meaningful connections.

  • ENTP (Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving):

  • Inventive, witty, and curious.

  • Thrives on brainstorming and debate.

  • Values knowledge and intellectual challenge.

  • ESTJ (Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging):

  • Efficient, responsible, and practical.

  • Prefers order and structure.

  • Values tradition and leadership.

  • ESFJ (Extraverted, Sensing, Feeling, Judging):

  • Warm, sociable, and caring.

  • Focuses on others' needs and feelings.

  • Values harmony and cooperation.

  • ENFJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging):

  • Charismatic, empathetic, and diplomatic.

  • Inspires and motivates others.

  • Values personal growth and harmony.

  • ENTJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging):

  • Assertive, strategic, and efficient.

  • Natural leaders and organizers.

  • Values competence and achievement.


Assigning MBTI Types to Characters:

Identify which MBTI type best fits each of your main characters. Consider their behaviors, decision-making processes, and interactions with others. For instance, an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) character might be strategic and analytical, while an ESFP (Extraverted, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving) character might be outgoing and spontaneous. What personality traits best fit the story you are trying to tell?

 

Developing Consistent Character Behavior:

Using MBTI helps ensure your characters behave consistently. A character’s responses to various situations should align with their MBTI type. For example, an ISTP (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving) might approach problems with practical, hands-on solutions, while an ENFP (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) might use creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

 

Creating Dynamic Interactions:

MBTI types influence how characters interact with each other. Understanding each character’s type allows you to create realistic and dynamic relationships. An extraverted character might clash with an introverted one, or a thinker might find it challenging to understand a feeler's perspective. These interactions add depth and conflict to your story.

 

Informing Character Development Arcs:

Characters often undergo significant development throughout a story. MBTI can guide your characters' development arcs. Consider how your character’s type influences their growth. An ISTJ (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) might start off rigid and rule-bound but learn to embrace flexibility and adaptability over time.

 

Enhancing Dialogue and Voice:

MBTI types influence how characters communicate. Use these insights to craft distinct voices for each character. An ESTP (Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving) might speak in direct, action-oriented language, while an INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) might use more reflective and empathetic expressions. Tailoring dialogue to fit personality types adds authenticity to your characters' voices.

 

Balancing Strengths and Weaknesses:

Each MBTI type has its strengths and weaknesses. Highlight these traits to create well-rounded characters. An ENTJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging) might be an effective leader but struggle with being overly critical or controlling. Balancing positive and negative traits makes characters more relatable and complex.


Generating Subplots and Conflicts:

MBTI can inspire subplots and conflicts based on characters' traits. For instance, an ENFJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) might face internal struggles with people-pleasing tendencies, creating personal challenges and growth opportunities. Use these traits to develop compelling subplots that enrich the main narrative.


Applying MBTI to Supporting Characters:

Don’t limit MBTI to main characters. Apply it to supporting characters to ensure they are well-developed and contribute meaningfully to the story. Understanding their personality types can help you create memorable secondary characters who enhance the overall narrative.


 

Understanding and applying the MBTI types will help you to delve deeper into your characters’ motivations, ensure consistent behavior, create dynamic interactions with other characters and their environment, and craft meaningful development arcs.

Well developed characters add depth and authenticity to your storytelling, making your story resonate with readers on a deeper level.

 

Incorporate MBTI into your writing process and watch your characters come to life with greater complexity and realism. Happy writing!

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