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.)
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.
So let’s say you (or your characters) have already determined -- or will determine during the class in May -- whether each person is:
* 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!
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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.)