My Characters Act Too Much Like Me

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.


9 comments on “My Characters Act Too Much Like Me

  1. Oh gawd don’t get me started on personality tests, quizzes or surveys! 😉

    I know how easy it is to lose a day doing them, too. At least you found a solution to the problem. Not long ago I was having a similar problem with two characters in a short story. In that case music helped me set the mood and then I was able to step into their world and tap into their minds, hearts and souls. My problem though wasn’t that they were too much like me, it was that they were reading very similar to each other.

    But I like your suggestion of using a personality test — it could prove useful in the future — and, if nothing else, a fun time suck.


    • ekcarmel says:

      Time suck is right 🙂

      I remember when you posted about music – I’m all for whatever works for us as individuals to break through our mental barriers. I like music as background when I’m writing, but it has to be instrumentals because words get stuck in my brain. It really doesn’t help that I have a budding American Idol in the house singing pop tunes! I have to get away or hum another song or the words reverberate for hours, days even…


  2. Kari Marie says:

    I hadn’t thought about using MBTI before. It’s an interesting idea. I’m an INFJ. Hmmm. I wonder what my characters are.


  3. Diane says:

    Yes, I automatically pick which M-B group each of my characters fits into when I develop them.
    I love comments from my beta readers about why my MCs take certain actions, meaning the readers wouldn’t act that way. I know straight away which groups the reader fits into in Myer-Briggs, especially between the F/T groups.
    I also read another author’s blog where he is using M-B to develop his characters because he was hopeless at making them all different before he followed MB. (think it was who dares wins, but don’t quote me on that). 🙂


    • ekcarmel says:

      That is so cool! Particularly the comments from your beta readers.

      Yesterday I debated between 2 M-B types for one character because I already had an idea of him in my head before trying this. It would be so much easier to plan them using M-B to begin with. 😉


  4. curiocat says:

    Oh, this is so interesting. I use something I learned at work called Behavioral Analytics. It basically says when people get stressed they go back to their basic personality. So they could be emotions based, thought based, reflective, reactive, opinions and so on. I tried to look it up on line but I couldn’t find anything so this was probably something geared to that particular company. Anyway when I create my characters I try to picture where they fit. So far most of them are in the emotions and thoughts based like most people are. My antagonist is opinions based and somehow that fits.


  5. Took that test. I came out as INFJ, too. Lots of fun.


    • ekcarmel says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Angela! It sounds like the program you had at work could be a variation on Myers-Briggs or one of the others out there. LOL, don’t we all kind of fall back on old patterns of behavior when we are stressed? That’s absolutely something I’m working with in my MC.


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