Wednesday, April 18, 2007

constructing characters

An interesting writer’s article appeared in the Jan/Feb issue of the SCBWI Bulletin, entitled “Character Building,” by Louise B. Wyly. Wyly discussed using the Myers-Briggs personality test groupings, to construct interesting characters that logically support or conflict with each other. For example, you want a boy or girl who places high value on cooperation from others—a born leader—one who takes for granted that he or she would be followed. For this, Wylie selects an ENFJ type individual. The test assigns four dominant personality traits for any individual:

E or I; Extrovert or Introvert
N or S; Innovative or Sensation/Practical
T or F; Thinking or Feeling
P or J; Perceptive or Judgmental

Once you’ve selected perhaps two dominant traits you’re looking for, you might complete the characters personality with two other tentative traits, and try to stay aware throughout your story how that character would logically react in each conflict or problem situation. Any grouping of four traits has a certain frequency of occurrence in the population as a whole, and this has been borne out in many years of M-B testing. That’s not to say that a fiction writer couldn’t have a character switch traits in a stressful situation, but it doesn’t run true to form, and the reader might need extra convincing.

My own grouping when I took the test years ago was INTP, which is something like five percent of the population, and representative of an engineer, my “other” profession. People can gradually change their grouping over time, though, as a result of changing life experiences. The book Wyly gives as a reference for her article is “Please Understand Me,” by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, available in bookstores. Might be useful stuff to think about for a writer.

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