Personality Theory in Fiction Writing II: Employing Type Theory
In part one of this series, we talked about why using personality type theory can be helpful in creating fictional characters, and even in writing itself. But, in practice, what does that look like? Let’s take a closer look at how incorporating personality type theory into character development can make characters more believable and realistic, including some examples.
By keeping in mind a character’s personality type, an author can craft reasonably consistent behavior, and thereby avoid confusing or irritating readers with seemingly erratic or incongruous actions. Let’s start with an example.
Referring to the personality theory model for a Turbulent Protagonist provides an understanding of how this character is likely to act in any given situation. She’s bold, forward-looking, idealistic, and restless. Knowing her trait-driven tendencies and behavior guides the author in deciding how she would react to a rift with a coworker, a lover’s quarrel, a death in the family, or even something as simple as a child knocking over a lamp. This supports consistency in the character, no matter what part of the story is being written.
Sometimes, a character needs to do something that seems unlikely for their personality type. In such cases, the author should be sure to explain or convey a reason why. (We’ll return to this topic in more depth in part three.)
Being mindful of trait-driven behavior can help authors give characters thoughtful reasons for acting the way they do and can dovetail nicely with the backstory and personal details of the character.
Why is Arman so unconcerned with the law and his parents’ wishes? Is he just a greedy jerk? Maybe not. As an Intuitive, Thinking type, he rationalizes his way around anything that limits his inspiration and prefers to be independent-minded because he’s somewhat insulated from others’ emotions. His Assertive Identity makes him self-confident yet unambitious in the structure of his life – he does what he wants, when he wants. The Prospecting personality trait drives his curiosity and enables him to feel comfortable with flouting rules. He’s an affable rascal, but unrepentant in his self-orientation.
Understanding how different personality types interact with each other helps authors find insights into how characters can engage positively or negatively, inspiring plots and scenes accordingly and colorfully.
Knowing that Luca is a sensitive, retiring type helps the author decide how he’d react to a more brazen yet blasé personality type like an Assertive Entrepreneur. Luca is terrified by looming possibilities of danger yet remains polite, whereas the American is confident in his own assessment of the present situation and gives little thought for other people’s concerns over “what-ifs.” With a strong enough sense of the characters’ polarities as laid out in type theory, the interaction virtually writes itself.
Deciding how characters feel about events is far easier when following the behavioral roadmap of personality theory, helping an author flesh out their reactions and internal thoughts. This can be a big help with exposition and internal narratives. For instance, let’s consider a story about a middle-aged widower who is tired of being alone and struggling to overcome his isolation.
Understanding trait-driven internal processes helps the author choose the personality type of their character, and accordingly, describe those internal processes. A Turbulent Architect fits this widower character nicely, since despite having a vivid imagination and inspired desires, this personality type is often reluctant to act, forcing feelings through a filter of rational examination rather than simply expressing them – a tendency that makes romance an interestingly tense story subject.
Fiction writers are limited to some degree by their own personality type, projecting themselves onto their characters and sometimes inadvertently muddying things with their own personalities. Thinking like a vastly different person is challenging, but understanding other personality types can help authors tackle this task deftly. It also enables them to differentiate characters so that they stand out from each other, despite being generated and written by the same mind.
It can be tough to believably write about characters who seem foreign, but personality theory is like having a tour guide through the strange landscape of a different person’s heart and mind.
When characters are defined using personality types, the fertile minds of authors can easily see how they might live, inspiring great plot ideas. Conflict or harmony between the styles, methods, and even the long-term goals of characters can become clearer if they have solid personality types. The probable interactions of various types are just a starting point, though, and authors still have great freedom to decide character actions.
Whether characters’ personalities bond them together or pit them against each other, authors can achieve greater depth when the reasons are shaped by personality theory. Of course, just because characters have depth and consistency doesn’t mean that they need to be predictable – and that’s the subject of our next installment.
Check out other parts of our Fiction Writing series: