Personality Theory in Fiction Writing V: Writing for Readers’ Personality Types
In the first four parts of our series on fiction writing (beginning here), we explored how personality type theory can help authors create deep, believable characters. And how such characters, in their realism, distinctness, and complexity, can reflect ideas about the story back to an author. All of this can help create works that readers connect with.
But depth, quality, creativity, and reader appeal are distinct aspects of a work of fiction. In this article, we’ll discuss using personality theory to make fictional works more appealing to the personality types of readers – in other words, writing for types, not only about them.
This is especially important when trying to share an underlying message – some writers want to reach people on a deeper level. Stories with layered meaning can range from simple children’s tales with morals (like Aesop’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”) to novels with philosophical, political, or social commentary (like 1984 by George Orwell).
Truly connecting with readers depends heavily on a writer’s talent, among other things like cultural compatibility and timeliness. But the perceptions of readers are a major factor as well, since a reader’s personality type influences their response to a fictional work, just as it does most everything else.
When readers relate profoundly to a story or a character, it isn’t necessarily because the author created a sublime work. Sometimes it’s simply because there’s significant overlap between content and the mind-set of the reader. This connection can be strengthened by using personality theory to better understand different types of readers.
It’s certainly not necessary for authors to consider reader personality types when writing fiction, but we think it’s an innovative idea worth exploring. After all, we at 16Personalities are the personality type people. And if you’re here, you probably already know how valuable personality theory can be in your life; we think it can support your creativity as well.
Reasons to Write for Readers’ Types
It may seem obvious why an author would want to make their writing appeal to readers, but let’s consider a few different goals in tailoring works of fiction – and any deeper meaning within them – to readers’ personality types.
Widening the Audience
Artfully modulating content that is likely to be a turnoff for specific personality types can broaden a story’s appeal, as can including diverse elements that tend to appeal to many different personality types. But this may not be easy for authors to do without diluting their vision of the work – or compromising any deeper message.
By understanding personality types, it’s easier to reach readers with a message that they might not naturally be very open to. Such efforts take different forms depending on the message and the recipients, but putting concepts into familiar-to-type language helps get any message across.
Targeting a Mind-Set
As a contrast to the first two goals, it can sometimes be desirable for authors to shape a message specifically for minds that are compatible with their own. But crafting a message for a narrower band of personality types requires an in-depth understanding of those types.
Whether the goal is connecting with people of many different perspectives or those of a certain mind-set, understanding personality theory can help. It’s a way of assessing a potential audience that goes deeper than demographics like socioeconomic status or geographic location. Personality type theory gets at the heart of the way people think and feel – and how they might respond to a story.
The Unique, Multifaceted Reader
There are many fascinating correlations between personality type and beliefs, habits, lifestyle, and other aspects of people’s lives. We here at 16Personalities strive to reveal such connections in our research, articles, and Academy – all great resources for learning how people think, feel, and behave, and we encourage writers to study these statistics-backed truths.
But as fiction often relies on fantastical or speculative elements outside of reality, the broad strokes of probability can be balanced with insightful nuance – and sometimes a little artistic license. It’s limiting to assume absolutes or to view readers only as generalizations, no matter how accurate. With that in mind, here are a few things that may, in readers’ minds, be distinct from (though not unrelated to) personality type:
Culture: Culture involves too many complexities and moving parts to cover here as more than just a broad, strong caution. An Advocate (INFJ) from Saudi Arabia might react very differently to a story than an Advocate from Australia. We can assume that they’ll both be idealistic and somewhat firm in their beliefs, but those beliefs may differ greatly.
Politics: Political beliefs may stem just as easily from a reader’s upbringing and personal experiences as they do from their personality type. Associating a character’s personality type with a particular political stance (even a very believably compatible one) may repel certain readers who would otherwise relate well to that character’s type.
Age: Readers of different generations may have different views on life, having matured amid specific experiences, historical events, societal trends, and technologies. Portrayals of otherwise appealing character types in a particular time may not ring familiar to readers whose hearts and minds resonate elsewhere.
Religion: Personality type doesn’t demand a specific religious belief or any religious belief at all. But it affects how readers express their beliefs and react to contrasting ones. More rigid personality types may dislike story content that isn’t aligned with their religious views, and even very open, tolerant types may simply be disinterested.
It’s worth noting, however, that people’s imagination and capacity for vicarious enjoyment can be a surprising departure from how they usually behave and sincerely believe, think, and feel – and from the personality type corresponding to those realities.
For example, adults who are contentedly reserved in their own sexual behavior may enjoy fiction containing explicit or adventurous sexual content. And children with well-developed moral and ethical behaviors may enjoy comic books containing wanton violence.
Stepping outside of oneself is one of the great reasons for reading fiction – and doing so is not necessarily unhealthy. Authors needn’t adhere rigidly to what a particular personality type seems likely to enjoy or dislike. It’s more productive to tap into what enthuses readers than it is to worry about what might offend them, because the former may adequately offset the latter.
Paint Anything with Personality Type
Subjects like politics and religion can be a minefield of considerations, but let’s stride forward with confidence in discussing how knowledge of personality types can create a safe path to connecting with readers, even in such fraught areas. Here are a few ideas:
Culture: Authors can consider how different personality types might feel about living in their own culture, regardless of what it may be. Forward-thinking, imaginative types might enjoy a story about escaping cultural boundaries. Types who value existing social structures and traditions might prefer a story about exploring, affirming, or improving certain aspects of culture.
Politics: Since readers express their politics in ways that relate to personality type, they may find even a story with a political message that contradicts their own views to be relatable, if it matches with their particular mode of expression. Types who value systems and order might relate well to a complex story of political intrigue. More rebellious, change-oriented types might enjoy a story of revolutionary political action.
Age: Generational differences tend to fade if a story appeals properly to readers’ personality types. Types who especially value warm social interaction will likely find a story about interpersonal bonding appealing, whether it’s set in the future, cutting-edge modern times, or a bygone era. Likewise, intellectual, technically minded types may enjoy stories rich with technological or procedural detail, regardless of setting.
Religion: Strictness of religious belief – or a lack of rigidity about such things – relates to personality type. People-oriented types with high empathy may be open to human themes even in stories that don’t reflect their beliefs. More detached, rigorous types may relate to stories containing principled logic, even if they disagree with its conclusions.
These are just a few examples of how awareness of reader personality types might influence the way an author treats certain subjects. In our next installment, we’ll think about broad approaches that an author can use to help a story appeal to many types, regardless of subject. Please join us as we continue this journey into more fascinating – and useful – ways that fiction writing and personality theory can intersect.
Until then, we suggest a little “homework” to help you explore the connections between your own personality type and fictional stories that you’ve enjoyed. Feel free to perform a quick mental version of the following exercise if you prefer:
Pick one of your longtime favorite fiction books. Be honest – personal enjoyment is not an intellectual competition.
Refresh your memory about the plot and characters. We won’t stop you from a complete reread, but quickly thumbing through the book or perusing an online synopsis is enough.
Jot down some notes about what you enjoyed about the book. Focus on your inner, subjective reactions – less about why the book is good and more about why you liked it.
Some areas to consider might include:
Which characters you especially liked or didn’t like, and why. What did they do or say that made them endearing or repulsive to you?
Specific scenes in the book that notably evoked feelings or particularly stuck in your memory. What mental and emotional impressions did they leave you with?
What you enjoyed most about the overall writing and story. Other than basic entertainment and escapism, what struck a chord with you and made you want to keep reading?
What overall messages (if any) you think are in the book. In your mind, did the story make a broader statement? And did you relate to that message more than, less than, or equally to the story itself?
If you haven’t already, take our personality test and read about your type.
Look for connections between your personality type and the notes you’ve made. Think about your own unique way of expressing your personality as well as the general type description. Don’t be surprised if some aspects of why you liked the book seem counterintuitive for your type – you are unique.
In the comments below, let us know the book you picked, your personality type, and how you think your type relates (or doesn’t relate) to why you liked the book.
If you haven’t already, check out the first four articles in our Fiction Writing series: