Laurie Schnebly Campbell
You’ve heard of the Myers-Briggs test, right? Maybe even taken it for school or work? Maybe even had one or two or 28 of your characters take it?
No worries if you haven’t done any of that -- it’s a pretty simple concept, which goes all the way back to Aristotle. (Actually even before him, but he’s the first famous person who believed in these four core personality types.)
Characters who drive each other crazy fit those types.
Of course each character is more, a LOT more, than just a personality core. But noticing what’s way deep down at their most fundamental layers is a handy way to know not only what’s making them tick...but also what’s creating problems for them in their relationships with other characters.
It’s what gets them sparking conflict with one another -- and sometimes even within themselves.
Why does driving each other crazy matter?
Because problems like North vs. South, or Dog vs. Cat, or Traditional vs. Modern, don’t always provide the kind of conflict you need to keep readers glued to the story.
For that, you need conflict that might not be evident from the first paragraph a character appears on the scene. That’s the kind of problem which goes beyond just Dog Versus Cat.
So let’s say you (or your characters) have already determined -- or will determine during the class in May -- whether each person is:
* More energized by being in a group or more energized by being on their own
* More inclined to notice what’s worked in the past, or to come up with ideas out of the blue
* More apt to base their actions on how they feel or on what they think
* More excited about embarking on the new quest or about successfully completing it
For each of those four choices, neither side is better. The greatest heroes and the worst villains are pretty evenly scattered among every possibility on the list.
Depending on what kind of story you’re writing, you could choose characters based on all 16 potential combinations -- and feel confident that they’re going to run into SOME kind of conflict along the way.
But what if you want to improve the chances for something important? Like:
A really compelling conflict
That’s where you get into the personality types which combine different aspects of those choices. And what’s amazing is that even though these four types are the same ones observed by Aristotle, they’re equally valid today.
When it comes to driving each other (not to mention themselves) crazy, people haven’t really changed that much in the last 2,400 years.
Sure, someone who’s a corporate raider today might have been a Viking raider in the eighth century. And someone who took bread to the leper colony a thousand years ago...
...might send checks to a charity today. But the deep-down personality which makes them behave that way? It’s still the same thing.
So, since people throughout the millennia have clung to the essentials of what makes them who they are, it’s no surprise that the types which combine various aspects of each core value are naturally gonna have some problems with one another.
Even more convenient, they’re ALSO going to have something else:
Problems with their own type
Take the Viking raider and corporate raider, for instance. Let’s say the Viking time-traveled to present-day Manhattan and is working with the executive who wants to use him in her new ad campaign. (Can you tell my day job is in advertising?)
Each one is going to have traits they admire in themselves and in the other person: strength of character, the ability to move quickly, skill at spotting potential problems, and so on.
But of course, they’ll also have traits they might like just fine in themselves and object to in the other person...like the assumption that “I’m going to be in charge.”
They might even have traits they dislike in themselves AND in each other, like the inability to stop planning for half a moment to appreciate the beauty of the sunset. And while all of those are very surface-level examples, you can see the opportunities for trouble between (and within) these characters who share the same type.
So, given that these reasonably similar people already have their share of problems, you can easily imagine the potential for...
Trouble between different types
We’ll talk more about that in next month’s class on Relationships by Aristotle, to which some commenter will win free registration (or a refund if you’ve already signed up for the class), but meanwhile here’s a question for you:
In a book you’ve written or read recently, what personality trait created the most trouble WITHIN one character or BETWEEN two characters?
If you’re pressed for time, it’s fine to say something as simple as “pride.” It’s also fine to go into more detail, which’ll give everyone else a reason to read that same book.
And while I’m taking off around 7pm Eastern time today for a workshop in New Orleans tomorrow, I can’t wait to check back before & after the flight to see what you have to say!
* * * * * *
After winning Romantic Times‘ “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing...if not more. Since then she’s taught online and live workshops for so many writers that she keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who’ve developed that particular novel (a total of 43 so far) in her classes – like the upcoming one on using Myers-Briggs for conflict.
Steps of the hero's journey: https://writersinthestormblog.com/2017/08/no-road-she-cant-travel/
(Note from Fae Rowen: If you've never seen the questions, six years ago I wrote a post that you might find interesting, with links to an online version of the Myers-Briggs test for you to take.)
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
I recently wrote a book where the core difference between the heroine and the hero is how they process time. She lives a lot in the future (she's a planner), and he lives strictly in the now (he's a seat-of-the-pants/go-from-the-gut kind of guy). He has a successful business as a dog trainer (often to celebrities, so he makes good money) but the way he goes about it is so haphazard it drives Little Miss Control Freak crazy. It was really fun writing them, because these characteristics impact almost everything they do, putting them constantly at odds.
Jeanne, I'm sorry I missed your First Post of the Day -- there was a bit of moderating delay, but it's fun finding you up here at the top! And you're right about how those traits will impact everything they do: perfect setup for conflict, isn't it?
My gosh! I'd never heard of all these....now I wish I knew how to write 16 books so I could try each one. I've always kind of thought of shy vs. outgoing, pretty vs. smart, tough vs. gentle as being the gamut. This is like a whole new playing field. And any of them are opposite, so it's all these fresh ideas racing through my head. Thank you!
Lisa, no need to stop with 16! Because all those traits you mentioned can expand the Myers-Briggs basis even wider -- which is great for generating ideas. For the narrowing down from hundreds to a manageable amount, that's where Aristotle's come in handy. 🙂
Rachel Morgan (THE HOLLOWS series by Kim Harrison) who was an adrenaline-junkie. It made her take unnecessary (and unreasonable) chances, putting herself and others in danger. This example stands out for me because the author did a fabulous job of showing why that was a huge part of the character’s personality. Over the series (again, kudos to the author for doing this so well) the character recognizes her problem and does a complete learn/grow/change and turns that trait into a solid strength.
Kathleen, it's so cool seeing a character grow-learn-change over the arc of a series -- and your description of turning "that trait into a solid strength" is perfect; that's exactly the way to show how someone's evolving! Thanks for the Kim Harrison recommendation; I love books like that.
This makes me think of the hero in my WIP who is super attentive and protective of the people he loves. It's a wonderful trait until it becomes a burden to others. Left unchecked, his doting quickly goes from making people feel secure and loved to making them feel suffocated and rebellious.
The more they pull away, the more he feels something is wrong and the more he tries to help 'fix' the problem...and the more they pull away in that circular behavior. It takes him a while to understand they're not pulling away, as much as he's pushing them. It causes grief between him and others *and* within himself because he's forced to accept that 'fixing' things sometimes means doing nothing at all...which is an almost-impossible situation for my hero. Poor guy. 😉
Debbie what a wonderful example -- that kind of attentive protection CAN be delightful or annoying, and it'll be easy to see why he (and the people around him) are all being driven crazy at the same time. "Poor guy" is right...not to mention his fellow characters!
Hi Laurie! I just finished writing a book which is in content edits right now so I'll use that for my answer to your question: what personality trait created the most trouble WITHIN one character or BETWEEN two characters? One of my main characters is a heart surgeon and the conflict he has with his wife is that he believes she should be so thankful for all the fantastic work he does with his patients, saving their lives, that he's allowed "minor" indiscretions with other women. His wife is faithful to the core and takes their wedding vows seriously but he believes he's above all that, he's special, and marital rules don't apply to him. He pictures himself as almost god-like and the rest of those around him too lowly to understand the fantastic work he does on a daily basis. Naturally this causes a heck of a lot of conflict in his marriage. His work comes before everything.
Patti, wow, I'm already cringing on behalf of BOTH these characters! It'll be fascinating to see what finally convinces one or both of them "this isn't working" and what they'll do about that realization when it happens. All kinds of turmoil ahead...
In a book I just wrote, one brother's desire to commit to a goal over everything else conflicts with another brother's lack of commitment to any goal.
Wonderful article, Laurie!!
I use your BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS CREATING WITH ENNEAGRAMS a lot when I'm creating my characters and putting them together.
In the story (that was plotted in one of your classes!!) I just turned in to my editor, my hero believes he's protecting the heroine by not mentioning he was wounded on the job. It's just a scratch...the tetanus shot was worse. Why upset her? Except she has trust issues and sees this as a breach of trust.
Have fun in New Orleans!
Carol, I loved that story! And I'm delighted the enneagrams book is still useful; there's sure nothing like finding that one fatal flaw that'll create problems galore. His line about "just a scratch" is wonderful, and plausible for HIM...but I can see why it doesn't work for her. 🙂
Dee, I like how each brother has a very clear attitude in mind -- and how they'll drive each other nuts by embodying the exact opposite of what the other guy values. Anytime one's attitude pays off, the other will feel even more frustrated...and yet CHANGING will be the last thing they want!
Thanks for sharing a great tool for building both characters and conflict in a natural way—from the inside of our protagonists and antagonists. In P.R.I.S.M., my debut book, the protagonist wants her life to stay exactly the same. But to accomplish that she'll have to create a huge conflict and upheaval in her society, starting with convincing the leaders to throw out the only law on her planet.
Fae, talk about a fabulous setup for trouble...this poor heroine is dithering between what she wants and what she wants! Which, come to think of it, could be the way to describe ANY good conflict within a character, and she's sure got it all over the place. 🙂
I remember taking Myers-Briggs in school (ENFP here) so I’ve always been interested in how people feel and how interactions can affect the overall environment. Personally I tend to have 2 reoccurring types in my stories one is a people pleaser that gets tired of putting everyone first and a narcissist who sees the people pleaser as their personal servant. They aren’t always main characters but they’re in there in some way or form. I think our stories end up being mirrors to our real lives whether we do it intentionally or not. It’s funny that writing can be like one huge therapy session where we can work out ways to deal with people or situations without consequence until we figure out our best course of action. I whole heartily agree that you must have friction and conflict using personality differences, just look at the odd couple or really any show, movie or book. Your missing piece may be part of a person that just works your last nerve but pushes you to achieve new heights. Thanks for another well written, though provoking article
Margie, you're SO right about a good writing session being very much like a good therapy session...sometimes for the writer, sometimes for the reader, and sometimes both. That's the perfect definition of a win/win situation...even when it "works your last nerve."
I'm really intrigued by your example of when people think it's fine when they do something, but hate it when someone else does it. I'm laughing because that's my male protagonist all over! It's okay for him to be in charge, to take the reins, be domineering and make all the decisions, but when he sees the same behavior in her it drives him up the wall! In his case he thinks it's because he doesn't believe women should act that way, but the "you can't copy me" attitude is almost comical to watch as he tries to justify it in his mind even as his misogynist ideas begin to crumble.
Heather, it'll be a treat watching these two go at each other's throats...or various other parts. I'd be willing to bet that she has her own issues with his behavior, even if she doesn't phrase it as "you can't copy me," but they're definitely both coming from the same type!
Hi Laurie, I recently (just this morning) read a lovely piece of work where privacy and embarrassment, as well as a language barrier, kept the two protagonists from sorting things out. One of them couldn't speak English very well at the beginning and the other was just too private and embarrassed (also a celebrity and worried about the issue getting around) to find someone who spoke both languages to translate.
Jen, the language barrier is a great Practical reason to avoid communicating, even though it's brought about by an Emotional reason -- I like books where the internal AND the external situation both make the conflict worse!
Remember the four temperaments? Choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic and sanguine. Just another type-assigning system that's been around for eons. Temperaments aren't changeable, or always recognizable, and incompatible temperaments are often attracted to each other. On another axis, everyone falls somewhere along the autism spectrum, from tendencies toward autism to tendencies toward ADHD. That spectrum is an aspect of brain development, and also unchangeable and often unrecognized. My writing recently has been about the interactions - intrapersonal as well as interpersonal - among the various combinations of these ways of behaving.
Meg, you're right about those four temperaments -- those are the same ones Aristotle called out, along with Empedocles and Galen and Plato and a whole bunch of other guys. (Probably some women, too, who've gone unnamed.) I like the autism/ADHD axis as well; it makes sense everyone is SOMEWHERE along there.
Opposites attract is a cliche that needs to be changed to opposites add conflict to a story! LOL. In my current WIP I am exploring two such characters. The Heroine is the quiet, homely type who gives into her family's wishes, even at times when she doesn't want to. And her opposite is the Hero who has done things only on his terms. The ensuing conflict makes them both aware of each other's shortcomings but also about their own.
Adite, it's wonderful that they become aware of their own shortcomings at the same time as (or, more likely, a bit later than) the other's. And while they'll probably never meet in the exact center, the tug-of-war that brings them closer to center will be a treat to watch!
The hero and heroine have different personalities creates a wonderful story with some great conflict. In the story I just published (Perfect Harmony), he is a no-nonsense, uptight attorney who wants to keep those he loves safe even if they object to his trying to control their lives. While the heroine is laid back and enjoys the adventure we call life. Their differences created so many opportunities for conflict and character growth. FUN!
Rose, that DOES sound like a fun story -- two very different types coming head-to-head is always a treat to watch. Or to read about. Maybe not so much to experience in real life, though... 🙂 Hmm, I wonder why?
Laurie, thank you for all these insights. I am currently writing something where the two female characters are longtime best friends. One is free and spontaneous, the other rigid and controlling. But as the story progresses, they switch those traits due to tumultuous life experiences hitting them unexpectedly. I’ll approach my next draft with your thoughts in mind. So helpful. Thank you!
Nan, the good thing about each one switching traits is they'll be better able to appreciate where the other one is coming from since they KNOW that kind of attitude from firsthand experience. Which is a great setup for the relationship to improve beyond how it started. 🙂
I'm currently working on a short (I hope!) story wherein the antagonists are the noble heroes, and the protagonist is the savage beast that lives deep in the woods. So my answer actually is "Pride", though "a strong tendency to use violence as a method of problem-solving" figures pretty prominently as well.
I'm still not sure whether this is going to end in murder or in parley. I'll see how it plays out, I guess.
Michael, deciding whether it'll end in murder or parley indicates your hope for a SHORT story may not come to pass -- but I'm curious which way each one's sense of pride is directing them! Hmm, talking or tackling...talking or tackling...
It's this exact point that pushed my novels to a different level: personality traits that cause realistic conflict with other characters. The most successful for me are siblings because you have that competitive rivalry on top of their differences. Like an ex-SEAL, oldest brother of five trying to understand the geeky, Beta, youngest brother- an introvert with OCD tendencies who prefers classical literature over relationships.
LOVE how you explore personality traits and SO appreciate how generous you are sharing them with us, Laurie!
Sarah, what a great description of your tipping point to a different level -- you've sure NAILED that. And I like your observation about siblings, because that really can heat up the internal (and sometimes external) conflict, depending on those characters ARE!
Laurie, your enneagram course has been one of the most helpful classes for creating conflicts and a character’s fatal flaw. In one book, the heroine was an adrenaline junkie and the hero had decided to let her go rather than watch her die as he was a control person and had no control over her.
I’m curious how this class can work in relationship with the enneagram class. Let us know.
Have a great time in NO if you get the chance. Safe travels.
Leslie, good question about how the enneagram flaws match up with the four temperaments -- there IS some connection. You'll recognize types like the Nurturer, Observer, Perfectionist, Adventurer, Peacemaker, Guardian, Leader, Achiever and Romantic in all of those.
Great post, Laurie!! One of the most recent pieces of fiction I've read is The Handmaid's Tale. And I see the conflict as between the ideas of control - an apparently neat and tidy thing, and freedom - in all it's glorious messiness. I can see this as a conflict between people, as well - one person liking to follow lists, for instance, who feels that as long as they follow the rules and reach for perfection all of the time, everything will go their way, and another person thinking they never need any structure in their lives at all, just go with the flow, lets things happen. I'd see both of these people needing to adjust!
Charlotte, isn't that a great set of opposites? And sometimes it seems like everyone winds up with somebody at the other end of the spectrum. 🙂 Maybe because it keeps the world in a better balance overal...who knows?
Thanks, Laurie - you beam fresh thoughts into my brain 🙂 Your example made me think of Pride and Prejudice in which, despite the title, I'd argue both characters have the same big character flaw, pride. And yet their personalities are so different, they set off a timeless romance. Nifty!
Vicky, that's a wonderful example of common-flaw-disparate-persaonlities working beautifully together. Er, once they get past the pride & prejudice part. I love Elizabeth and Darcy as illustrations of same-type appreciation AND discord!
This might be one of the weaknesses in my writing, because I'm having trouble coming up with an example. LOL I have one from real life, though! I started working for my husband several months ago, and he has a tendency to progress slowly through an explanation and in an order that doesn't match the order I think he should go. And I tend to anticipate what he's trying to tell me, or to ask questions about what he just said that doesn't make sense because his order is wrong (in my head). It's led to some frustration. LOL
Natalie, I'm so glad you're not the only one whose husband's process doesn't go in the right order! That's a fabulous example of NT vs NF types, or SJ vs SP types...the other person's way of doing things simply doesn't make sense. And by golly, they need to KNOW that. 🙂
He would say it's MY brain that doesn't go in the right order, not his. LOL But it helps that I'm a writer and prone to analyzing such things and understanding each other and ourselves helps a lot. 🙂
Hi Laurie! I love this stuff and your classes. My recent example just happens to be a Viking raider in my book Kept by the Viking (but no time travel). The shared flaw came from how the hero, Rurik, defined love and commitment versus how the heroine defined love and commitment. I guess that's more point of view on a subject than a characteristic. Your post immediately made that issue come to mind.
Gina, I have to admit I thought of you when I said "Viking raider" -- if anybody knows those heroes, it's you. And your observation that both characters hold a different view but with the same degree of certainty "this is how it IS" is a great illustration of conflict!
A long term marriage finds Boomer Rhose Guerin (Yellow Pansies in a Blue Cobalt Jar) in a precarious relationship with her spouse, Brun. Rhose possesses a vibrant mind and is passionate about contributing to society in her professional practice and everyday life and family. Brun -- well let's say his drive for sound, dependable stability and security conflicts big time with Rhose's need for personal growth. His mantra about uncontrollable actions, "It's out of hand, Rhose" is now at that place where she harbors anticipatory dread of him speaking the words that drive her beyond the edge. She longs for freedom and escape. How a resolution can be melded between these character types stirs the conflict to a frightening climax.
Nancy, just reading that description I'm thinking "there's no WAY those two are gonna achieve a resolution" -- but it was a treat seeing all the conflict along the way. Rhose and Brun typify so many couples of that era, and for that matter so many of EVERY era.
Excellent topic, Laurie, because one of my bugaboos is coming up with flaws (I want everyone to be happy! I know, I know...). So it's always nice to read more about it. The first thing I thought of was my current favorite TV show, DC's Legends of Tomorrow. The main character, Sara Lance, believes she has a darkness inside of her that will ruin the lives of anyone who's around her. So she pushes everyone away, and refuses to acknowledge or believe what her team sees--that she was born to be a leader and that she's nearly conquered the darkness in her soul. At first, as I started to type this, I thought, "No, it can't be pride that makes her that way," but in a way, it really is. She's been alone and fighting the darkness so long that she kind of wears it like a badge of honor, even though the facade is starting to crumble and she's developing familial relationships (and a tentative romantic one) with her teammates.
Linda, I love your insight about pride -- talk about a nice coincidence that it matches the example! Really, though, it sounds appropriate for Sara. Because of course she has the noble motive of not darkening others, but there's also that slightly selfish one...
I love the Myers-Briggs concept, but I tend to think of my own characters like what was written in The Complete Guide to Heroes & Heroines (which gives key words for each type and is easier for me to remember.) For instance in my book, my hero is a professor; and my heroine is a crusader. (So he's in introvert, she's an extrovert. He's likely more sensing while she is more intuitive. He's thinking and she's judging. So it breaks down about the same, but I find the key word to be a helpful label because when I think the word Professor, immediate traits come to mind, where as thinking in Myers Briggs takes more work for me to figure out the differences.) Of course since the guide can lead to stereotypes, I think the Myers-Briggs is important in fleshing out nuances so characters are individual and not a caricature.
I also like your enneagrams class (and book), which I also think gives good "labels" so I can visualize what traits would be associated with this type. For instance, #2 is a nurturer type--a giver--and this is a good trait, a lovely trait, which can easily get out of control and become great sources of conflict in fiction (and real life!) when the nurturer ends up being Mommy Dearest and is smothering rather than mothering. Or the peacekeeper who is so intent on keeping the peace, they refuse to make a stand when it does matter, even if it creates conflict. The romantic who is creative and artistic and brings joy to everything, but is also irresponsible, plays the victim, and doesn't create appropriate boundaries. What I like most about Myers Briggs and enneagrams is that on the whole, you know these are good people. Their traits that make them good people can also make them bad people. So character growth and character arcs that come from dealing with these good traits gone rogue is great fiction to me.
Fran, what a fabulous summary -- good traits gone rogue IS great fiction. Because, by and large, most people are pretty decent to begin with; it's just that sometimes their traits which started out being good / useful / helpful wind up going a bit...too...far...
Ah, yes, the Meyers-Briggs. The first time I took it, I did my best to skew it so I would wind up a good partner for my current boyfriend. Yes, it is possible to do that, but the boyfriend still didn't last. I'll have to think more about using it positively for characters.
Jackie, I love your plan for using the test to give the Right Impression -- and what a relief you didn't have to keep faking it for a lifetime! A friend's husband did that on a test for work, and wound up with the job he wanted but wasn't terribly good at...sigh.
I'm pretty sure that applying this concept is what made my most recent release my best book yet. (Also thanks to taking your classes.) In Falling Star, Naomi is a fixer. If there's a problem, she'll go through, around, under, or over to get to a solution, which she believes will not only make the situation better, but make those involved happier. The problem throughout the book is that every time she fixes something, she ends up making things worse. It doesn't help that Chance (her hero) doesn't truly believe, deep down, that he's fixable. (An addict with a seriously messed up childhood.) Needless to say, getting them to that HEA was not easy, but totally worth the effort.
Terri, I'm glad Chance and Naomi wound up with that HEA...they're both working so hard to make life the way it should be / oughta be / has to be that they deserve to see things come out right at least once in their lives! Or, well, maybe more than once. 🙂
Laurie, I still use your enneagram book and your class worksheets when I work on my books and develop my characters. Digging into characters and what is inside them and between them to cause this conflict is the hardest thing but creates the best books. In my last book, Something New, I had a very prickly character who no reader liked in the first 2 books. They thought she was a bitch (and she was). But I had to dig deep to show why and show her internal conflict and why she conflicted with everyone around her. And it all came down to a deep seated fear of losing her position, her worth. She seemed to very arrogant and proud but deep inside, she was terrified that she would lose everything without that bravado. I love your stuff and thank you for reminding about this again in this valuable post!
Megan, way to go on getting the most out of those worksheets and book -- you sure did the job well in Something New! And isn't it fun making a virtually irredeemable character turn out to be someone readers will actually be rooting for in the end?
PS: I just went to look for Something New and couldn't seem to find it -- want to give me a clue?
Sure Laurie! Here is a link: https://www.amazon.com/Something-Lone-Star-Match-Book-ebook/dp/B073HPVGB8
My first book was started with the idea that all my characters were pretty perfect. That idea didn't last long. A couple of chats with friends and a writing class soon convinced me that if I was bored with them, everyone else would be, too. It wasn't the writing that was bad, it was me. Well, darn it. Since then, I've tried to live by the Greek (or perhaps Egyptian) mantra of "Know Thyself." According to Wikipedia, the philosopher Socrates taught that "The unexamined life is not worth living." Putting that in writers' terms, "The unexamined character is not worth writing about." No one will read the book if those conflicts of character are not introduced, probed, and worked around to a point where the reader is able to connect with the character and keep on reading to the end. All praise to Laurie for many excellent lectures and classes. This column and all the replies are definitely on my keeper list for reading later this evening. Happy Trails, Laurie, on your upcoming trip.
Nita, I remember that "pretty perfect" stage -- I think most of us who believe in happy endings start out thinking that way. (And some continue forever.) Your Socrates quote is a perfect addition to the Aristotle take on personalities...I can't wait to mention that; thanks!
Hi. Thanks for the article. In my own book, yet to be completed, the main conflict is between a greedy/prideful neighbour against over an ashamed introvert.
Jay, that sounds like an interesting conflict -- in theory it seems like the neighbor is Wrong and the introvert is Right, but I suspect it's not quite that simple. Do you know what type each of them is? Even if you don't have a name assigned, we know it'll come through in the story.
I’m going to run them through the test now - just went back to the older post link. I’m an INTJ -
No kidding? So am I -- and that's THE rarest type of them all! Something like 2% of the population...I wonder if most of them become writers? 🙂
ESTJ vs INFP. Great for character conflict! Interesting I took this test version and rather than a TJ I got the FP - the same as my main character (the nice little old recluse)! Fun. I’ve done a workshop on the enneagram but haven’t looked deeper into that. Might do for future books, but my current novel formed out of the image of these two rival characters. It started with a short story and now looks like heading to book 2 and beyond. Thanks again. J.
Such a simple way to create conflict and one that is overlooked. I can think of a number of ways to add conflict to enliven the story. He prefers to dress casual;she's formal. Dates, family dinners, etc. are sandpaper for the senses. She prefers the hands-on approach to home repair, while he hires professionals. In both cases, the work gets done, but scheduling, budget etc conflicts arise. Thanks for sharing the insight
Cate, "sandpaper for the senses" is a wonderful phrase. My mom, a marriage counselor, says that marriage is like one of those polishing machines where you put the stones in and they come out gleaming shiny because they've been battered by so much contact with each other. 🙂
Laurie, It's always a delight to read your posts! New insights or new information, or both, are present in each one. Thanks for that! I created my protag, strengths and limitations, and then set out to create her BFF who was the opposite. They complement one another while frequently driving one another crazy! It's a beautiful marriage. LOL
Sharon, it's impressive that you could create an entire character from head to toe before embarking on the complementary one -- in theory, of course, that's the cleanest way to do it but very few of us manage to keep from embarking on the second before the first is all the way done!
Well, yeah, I did attempt to know EVERYTHING about Alli at first, but, as you noted, not likely. I discovered tons of things as I wrote, and for those, I retrofitted contrasts and overlaps with her BFF, Gina. I see them as a Venn Diagram. They couldn't be best friends and business partners if they were totally opposite. So they have components of one another that allow them to be simpatico, too.
======= TEMPORARY GAP IN REPONSES =======
Okay, just about to board the plane but I'll check back as soon as I get to the next WiFi spot -- thanks to everyone who's posted so far; I've really been enjoying all these comments!
lie of omission--the unintentional lie which happens over a misunderstanding and not rectifying it right away when it is realized
Denise, that's a conflict which could apply to just about any two characters -- their different personality types will show how they got into it, and how they react to the situation. So it'll make a big difference what drove 'em TO that unintentional deception.
Hi Laurie, I'm writing a story where one character has a need to control and the other is a spontaneous risk-taker. The controller will be the one who changes--after lots of conflict. 🙂
Janet, it'll be cool seeing how the controller changes -- and whether the spontaneous risk-taker changes at all. It'll be cool if they both change SOME, showing that each one needs something they can only get from the other person...at least if it's a romance!
I left a comment earlier, but it hasn't shown up. Hmmm!
Sharon, sometimes there's a moderating delay -- I started reading from the bottom up this morning so I'll hope to find your earlier comment as I keep scrolling. Fingers crossed... 🙂
Hi Laurie, this is a lovely post that I will use to go effect. My Heroine and her hero are both very careful and controlled so they automatically try to manage the other person's life. Plus, as you say, anything that the other person does that they don't like about themselves totally drives them crazy. So drama happens when they see something that their opposite does that they wish they could quit. I hadn't been completely aware of all the potential for conflict between two similar personality types. Thanks!!!
Oh dear autospell shortened good
Laura, I'm glad you spotted the autospell glitch -- I read your second message first so I was prepared! And it's always such fun seeing people strike sparks against each other when at first glance they might not seem inclined that way...sounds like you have a good story in the works. 🙂
In my current WIP, he's more gregarious, while she's introverted. He's really into image. She recognizes that appearances can affect her life, so she doesn't ignore them, but what matters more to her is what underlies outward appearances. He just sang her a song about a man loving his beloved as much or more after her physical beauty fades as he did before. He chooses the song because it sounds good. She likes it because of its meaning. She hasn't asked him yet but will: would he actually love her as much even if she lost her looks? Well...
I just realized that the last adult fiction I read was in early October. Wow! I've read some good children's books since then, though, among them The Three Little Wolves and the Big, Bad Pig by Eugene (or possibly Eugenios) Trivizas, in which the little wolves and their nemesis share such major traits as persistence and innovation, although they use them for different purposes and don't appreciate those same traits in each other. The little wolves keep building themselves bigger and better homes where they hope to live happy and safe from the pig's depredations, but no matter what new method they try to keep him out,he thinks up a new way to bypass their barriers, until, finally, they know they have to try something totally different and seemingly counterintuitive.
Varina, their views of his song are heartbreaking and endearing. And it's impressive that you're finding great children's books; isn't it amazing how many pithy Life Lessons there ARE in the really well-done ones? (I just finished re-reading Betsy-Tacy and still love it!)
One ofmy recent pairings had a hero who was strictly order, control and routine while the heroine liked to make plans that left room for spontaneous fun. This grid can be very helpful during the planning stages.
Tracey, that seems like a VERY realistic pairing -- a perfect example of how each one of them needs something they can only get from the other one, because together they're closer to a perfect balance than they'd ever be on their own. After, of course, a bit of struggle along the way... 🙂
I would say for my current WIP that the heroine's paranoia is creating trouble since it conflicts with hero's desire for trust.
Chassy, good observation about the tendencies toward paranoia vs trust -- they're both on that same spectrum, just coming from opposite ends of "trust is essential" vs "trust is pointless." The fact that it's such a big issue for BOTH of them is a wonderful setup!
When I'm looking for the "shorthand" way to think of my main romantic couple in each book, I use several different "type" definitions: M-B (I found a web page that casts all the types as Harry Potter characters!), character archetypes (e.g., Charmer vs. Professor), personality type from Nicholas Boothman's "How to Make Someone Fall in Love with You in 90 Minutes or Less" (e.g. Promoter vs. Analyst), and sometimes even learning style (e.g., visual, kinesthetic, auditory). Nothing like overkill, eh? But as I'm thinking of those, usually the main conflict between the two guys (I write M/M romance) is their problem-solving style. Even if they both want the same outcome, the way they go about it will be vastly different! One of my favorite pairings in another author's books is Davy Dempsey and Tilda Goodnight in Jennifer Crusie's "Faking It"--both are...hmmm...less than totally law abiding? And it's their "bentness" that eventually brings them together!
EJ, good for you on using all kinds of definitions! It's such fun having a whole toolbox of choices, and even when you're not using one of 'em just KNOWING about them comes in handy. Good observation on the problem-solving style...and, boy, I'm right there with you on Davy & Tilda.
Ah yes, Marie and John could use some Aristotle in their relationship. Stopped by to say "hey." Love the column. JoAnn
JoAnn, you're SO right about Marie and John -- good heavens, if ever a couple needed some personality education, it's those two! But, heck, even without it at least they still wind up holding hands... 🙂
In my current WIP, the main character's biggest personality flaw is her inability to allow others to help her. She is self-sufficient to a fault, likely because she's had to be. But when confronted with another character whose biggest goal is to help, it causes some problems for both of them.
Alicia, the self-sufficiency is an easy trait to sympathize with AND an easy one for creating trouble -- although it's pretty close in easiness to the trait of other-centeredness. So putting both those characters together is gonna lead to all kinds of fireworks!
This is a great article, Laurie! You have seen both of my WIPs, but the most recent one involves a hero driven by control and a villain driven by fear. I have realized that with both of my WIPs, I need more conflict and to have characters that are deeper, more fleshed out. This class sounds like something I need to check into! While I still have plot points to work out, I need to focus more now on character development and learning how each person interacts with others in the story, how they think and feel, and knowing their personality type would sure help with that. I want to be able to confidently say, "Jackson would never do that because xyz." Or "That's not something Sarah would think because abc." To know my characters that well at their very core would be awesome!
And it's very cool that you keep a bookshelf for books that have been published and that started in one of your classes. I hope to add to that!
Beth, I like your observation that character depth will help your plot feel richer and more complex...you're absolutely right about that. And I'll look forward to the possibility of seeing you in future classes, with your book on my shelf one of these days. What fun!
Oh my goodness! I'm so late! I took my kindergarten class to the zoo yesterday and was exhausted when I got home. Then my 2 year old granddaughter showed up, so now I'm even MORE exhausted, lol. But I digress. I love this post! Right now I'm working on a conflict between 2 characters that are more alike than they know, but they havne't figured it out yet. Both are stubborn, self-sufficient and determined to prove themselves to others. The differences is, she doesn't mind using others to get what she wants and he hates deception. Haven't figured out how that's going to work out yet, lol. 🙂
LeAnne, what a challenge your characters are going to have! It sounds like she's clearly wrong & he's clearly right in his approach, but I suspect there are areas where she's right & he's wrong, which'll mean they can BOTH learn from each other.,,which is lovely.
In my WIP, teenage thief Angela needs to be trusted. She doesn't see the hypocrisy in herself, but does see it in the boy she falls for. He's a straight shooter, tired of all the lies from his stepmother, and he expects Angela to go straight. Then he needs her help catching his stepmother in the biggest lie, and to do it, he asks her to steal. That opens the door to other "white" lies she'll tell. And holding her secret identity back from him, well, that's a rather pesky breach of trust as well.
Shari, wow, seeing the story laid out this way is a great illustration of all the trouble Angela's going to face. A thief being asked to steal, and a lair being asked to lie, and the whole question of who can trust & BE trusted adds up to a fascinating set of questions!
Thanks, Laurie! I'm deepening this conflict in D3 thanks to a course from last summer, and looking at my notes from the series workshop I took with you. I'll look into your Meyers Briggs course--it might align nicely with the other book I'm using to deepen character traits of my two main characters before I layer it into the secondaries--Writers Guide to Character Traits by psychologist Linda N. Edelstein. It takes her observations from years of being in the field, and traits she notices were often bundled together. Amazing how many of those traits go together in me, a person with a mild case of OCD. Do you still have space in that course?
Oh, Shari, I loved the Linda Edelstein book -- isn't it a treat finding tools that make character-building easier? And yes, the class won't start until May 7 so there's still plenty of time to get on board...just click the link on the title up above, and it'll be nice to see you in my mailbox..
I love this so much: I’m looking at how to layer in all those little details that flesh out the conflict (and the scene) and make the progress and growth of each character ring true over the arc of the story. Since I want my WIP to develop into a series it is all the more complicated. I’m curious about the character arc over multiple books and what gives the reader enough satisfaction that the ending in book one feels true while leaving room for there to be a bigger evolution over the arc of a series. I’m definitely interested in checking into your class. By the way, Back in film school, Aristotle’s Poetics was the main book recommended for their screenwriting class... Story telling has been with us for centuries.
Catherine, how cool that Poetics was recommended for screenwriters -- gotta love classics! And for the arc to evolve over the course of a series, you might want to show a character moving from one type to another...or at least moving from one END to another. 🙂
I love the idea of using Myers-Briggs to define character types. As to your question -- what personality trait created the most trouble in life or book? I'd say control. This is related to power which bumps up against creativity and allowing people to express themselves.
Nancy, good call on Control being a trait that can cause all kinds of problems, both inside a character and in their relationship with someone else. Self-control can be a fine line between perfectionism and responsibility, and control of others? Whole other ballgame!
My heroine has always worked alone, and she has a proven track record of success. Suddenly she's on a team headed by an alpha male. She's no longer in charge of her work and has to answer to some an expert in a vocation she distrusts.
It's a battle of wills as she tries to get herself booted from the team, but her boss can't afford to lose her expertise as his goals take center stage.
Karen, wow, this sounds like a captivating story -- I love her trying to get herself booted from the tam, and.the boss knowing he can't afford to lose her even though he wants to remain on top. Talk about a fabulous setup for conflict... 🙂
I often think about the MBTI for my main characters and how those traits conflict. It's a great tool for considering characterization and exactly how characters will misunderstand one another or push the other's buttons. Great stuff!
Julie, isn't it a treat to find a tool that WORKS for character development? I like Myers-Briggs a lot, and the four core types from within it even more for shaping conflicts between characters no matter what their personality!
In my book, one of the three protagonists, Magnus, has a highly successful career as the chief homicide detective in the Seattle police department. He is, quite literally, calm under fire, and is supremely confident about his abilities of observation, problem-solving, and the ability to handle all sorts of stressed-out people.
A friend once told me, "your boon is your bane". Magnus is no different: the very traits which make him such a fine officer often wreak havoc with his personal life. There, thanks to being abandoned by his wife on Christmas Day - in front of their children - he is not so confident emotionally. He is still working through deep hurt (and often shoving it away) at the beginning of the first book in the series.
So when he meets Kidra at the scene of a murder in a Seattle theater, he initially thinks she's a suspect but later realizes he is attracted to her. She, on the other hand, is generally a nurturer/listener type with occasional feisty bursts which she blames on an Irish temperament. She is a thirtysomething widow, terrified of betraying her husband's memory if she begins a new relationship. Through several books and mysteries, however, they do eventually come together.
I hadn't thought of using Meyer-Briggs to go deeper with my characters. I think it's a great idea. I've taken the test myself, and as a teacher also used a related test found in "Please Understand Me". My colleagues and I took the test, and then gave it to each student, with amazing results. We found that not only was the knowledge useful for interpersonal reasons with family and colleagues, but also for classroom and group dynamics. Knowing the personality markers made us better teachers.
Great article with food for thought. I look forward to your Aristotle class soon!
Sarah, what a great quote about your boon being your bane -- I've never heard it stated so poetically. 🙂 And it'll be fun seeing what the Myers-Briggs scales, at least the part of 'em at the center, tell you about Magnus and Kidra.
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