I was wrestling with some of my characters that are supposed to be very different from me. But I was having trouble figuring out how they would react and what they would say in certain circumstances. I kept writing what I would do and say. Yes, I had figured out their backgrounds and motivations, etc., etc., but for some reason that wasn’t working, or not completely anyway.
I remembered Myers-Briggs.
In the interest of full disclosure: yes, I did lose a whole day playing around with this. After all, I had to start with myself. To figure out how accurate it was.
Anyway, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is basically a personality assessment based on your answers to a series of questions. True MBTI “instruments” are available for a price and are supposed to be interpreted by a certified practitioner.
I found a free test online which I know isn’t as accurate as the real test, but it served my purposes. Basically, it breaks down to your choices regarding 4 sets of preferences: Introversion or Extroversion, Sensing or iNtuition, Thinking or Feeling, Perceiving or Judging. I tested myself and got a kick out of the answer. It said I’m “ISFJ.” I don’t think I fit that particular type completely, but the MBTI doesn’t claim to be 100% accurate anyway. It was fun, though.
I think this and other personality evaluations can give a person insights into their own quirks. Or give writers insights into their wayward characters.
Since I’m having trouble putting myself into my characters’ POVs, trying to answer questions as if I were the character wasn’t an option. After going through the test myself, I was able to figure out how my characters would score on the four basic pairs. Thus, I knew which of the 16 possible personality types each could be. Wikipedia has a good breakdown of these types, describing some general and specific tendancies toward certain actions.
However, the descriptions didn’t really go into negative traits. So, I needed to push the preferences further, even to the extreme, in order for them to work in a detrimental way.
For instance, one of my antagonists has my same type. Weird, huh? I figure that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know this personality. I’m older than the character and like to think I’ve grown and matured. But I remember how I was when I was younger. Also, this character is male, has a much different past than mine and is living in a different society. So I’m really pushing some of his tendancies toward certain actions, to the point of annoying those around him and falling in with the wrong crowd and making horrific decisions.
Before writing a scene, I read the type info for each character. I already knew what the scene needed to accomplish, but keeping personality in mind, the writing went so much easier – and included one or two surprises as well!
It’s funny. I always thought I was pretty good at putting myself into someone else’s shoes. For some reason, writing about it is more difficult for me. This idea seems to help.
It might help you, too.