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Thursday, September 24

Character Creation Made Easy-ish

By Jacqueline Myers 

Part of The How They Do It Series 


JH: Figuring out who your characters are is often harder than figuring out your plot
. Jacqueline Myers shares tips on how to create characters with ease.

Jacqueline is currently happily at work on her second mystery series (under the pen name, Gilian Baker) while sharing what she's learned with other writers. Using the synergy of personality theory and brain science, Jacqueline coaches writers using a proprietary methodology that helps them overcome their debilitating creative blocks so they can write un-put-down-able books.

If you are struggling, she'd love to see how she can support you! Schedule your free story strategy session here. You can also email her at jacqueline@intuitivewritingcoach.com.

Grab her first cozy mystery, Blogging is Murder, for FREE here. 

Take it away Jacqueline…

“Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do—”
~ Stephen King

Creating characters might just be the most challenging job a writer has. We can think up exciting aspects to a plot all day long, but unless we know how our characters will react to those unexpected bumps in the road, we don’t have a story that will keep readers up all night. 

Utilizing personality theory is a fantastic way to create characters readers care deeply about, and it makes our job much easier!

The Myers-Briggs Indicator Type (MBIT) is based on Carl Jung’s theory of personality and is a practical way to understand ourselves, others, and our place in the world. What better way to discover who our characters are than to delve deep into their psyches?

Personality profiling facilitates insight into our character’s:
  • Ambitions
  • Backstory
  • Wounds/Misbeliefs
  • Motivations
  • Goals
  • Attitude
  • Actions
  • Flaws
  • Responses to various situations
  • Interactions with other characters
  • Stressors…
Jacqueline Meyers
So that we know how to up the stakes with tension with the most significant impact. Using personality theory to create characters also assists us in coming up with the best plot points to enhance the evolution of our characters. 

Now, it’s impossible to cover everything about how writers can use personality theory for their fictional characters in one blog post. To give you an idea of how it can make your job easier, I will break down the parts of a personality profile. 

In an attempt to simplify this complex system, I’ll use examples of polar opposites for each function. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that in reality, we employ each of these, though we use our innate preferences more often.

MBTI uses four letters, or functions, to explain our personality preferences. These four letters tell us about our process and tendencies:

Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I) tells us how we focus energy and attention

Sensing (S) or Intuition (N) tells us how we gather information

Thinking (T) or Feeling (F) tells us how we make decisions

Judging (J) or Perceiving (P) tells us how we approach the outer world

Creating Characters with Personality Theory


Extroversion/Introversion

The extroversion/introversion function instructs us on the energy of a character. 

Like us, our characters have a preference for how much time they spend alone. This function may be the easiest to grasp because we can “see” it. For example, when we walk into a party, we can quickly ascertain who is an extrovert (the life of the party) and who is an introvert (in the corner of the room in an in-depth discussion with only one other person).

When distinguishing if your character is an extrovert or introvert, ask yourself:
  • Would your character jump at the chance to sing karaoke at a crowded bar (extrovert), or would they have to be dragged on stage?—Or not be caught dead in a crowded bar? (introvert)
  • Do they like to sit in a group and listen/observe (introvert), or are they right in the middle of the discussion? (extrovert)
  • Would they luxuriate in a weekend alone (introvert) or be antsy and bored stiff? (extrovert)
  • Do they need to talk through their ideas with others (extrovert) or prefer quiet time alone to ruminate on an idea? (introvert)

How This Helps Writers:

Perceiving your character’s energy preference informs how much internal dialogue will work best in your story. 

If the character is an introvert, they will need time alone to think through their problem. The reader will learn about the character’s inner conflict through internal dialogue. On the other hand, if they are an extrovert, they will more likely need a sounding board to talk through their worries.

Go here for more details on extroverts and introverts.

Sensing/Intuition

This facet relates to your character’s aptitudes for attention, or what they take notice of in their environment. Sensing characters tend to focus on facts and data, while intuitive characters are attentive to possibilities and their gut reactions.

When distinguishing if your character uses sensing or intuition, ask yourself:
  • Does your character want to know just the facts before deciding (sensing), or do they need time to discover how they feel about something before asking for the facts? (intuitive)
  • Do they think and talk about real-world applications (sensing) or theory and future possibilities? (intuitive)
  • Do they think and act in a linear way (sensing) or in a big-picture way and fill in the details as they go along? (intuitive)
  • Do they prefer to take action after getting all the details (sensing) or spend time dreaming up possibilities before they take action? (intuitive)

How This Helps Writers:

Knowing how your character takes in details around them informs what they should pay attention to as they are put in different situations. 

If they prefer sensing, they will attend to the facts based on their five senses—what they can prove to be true. 

If they prefer intuition, they will notice not just what a person tells them, but also how they feel during the exchange. The other person may be saying all the right things, but if your character has a sinking feeling in their stomach, they will trust their instincts and take the other person’s words with a grain of salt. Learn more about the differences between sensing and intuition here.

Thinking/Feeling

The Thinking/Feeling preference distinguishes how a character makes decisions. 

Thinking characters focus on logic and have a strong sense of justice and fairness. A feeling character aims for harmony and is deeply compassionate. They will often do everything they can to make others happy, even at the risk of their own happiness.

When distinguishing if your character uses Thinking or Feeling, ask yourself:
  • Is your character value-oriented (feeling) or logic-oriented? (thinking)
  • Do they take criticism to heart (feeling), or does blame slide right off them like water on a duck? (thinking)
  • Is it more important to them to be truthful (thinking) or tactful? (feeling)
  • What’s more important to them: being rational and impartial (thinking) or empathetic and passionate? (feeling)

How This Helps Writers:

Determining how your character makes decisions will ensure they stay true to the reader. 

A thinker will appreciate when another character lays the truth out, even if it’s harsh. On the other hand, a Feeler will be devastated when misunderstood and blamed for something that wasn’t their fault. They will need time alone to lick their wounds and “feel through it.” 

A thinking character will make a decision that was based on facts because facts are impartial. They wouldn’t worry about how it made the rest of the group feel. A character who prefers feeling will keep the peace in a group, bending over backward to make everyone happy, regardless of what they want.

Discover more distinction between thinking and feeling here.

Judging/Perceiving

The final function explains how a character moves through life and how they tackle their goals. 

A judging character likes to plan ahead for any eventuality. They set milestones for themselves and work towards them as planned, even when changing the strategy would work better. 

Perceiving characters like to live spontaneously. They have goals but aren’t particular about how they reach them and will change course as needed.

When distinguishing if your character prefers judging or perceiving, ask yourself:
  • If your character were going on vacation, would they plan their itinerary in detail (judging) or see where the wind blew them? (perceiving)
  • Do they wait until the last minute to complete projects (perceiving) or reverse-engineer a project so they can finish it before the deadline? (judging)
  • What’s more important to them: stability, security, and order (judging) or flexibility, ingenuity, and spontaneity? (perceiving)
  • Do they like to keep their options open (perceiving) or prefer to settle on a decision and stick with it? (judging)

How This Helps Writers:

Comprehending how your character works in the outer world makes it clear how they would take action.

If your protagonist prefers the judging function—thinks things through before acting, your sidekick character will be someone who acts first and asks questions later. This combination naturally builds tension. 

Your lead will always be trying to catch up with the sidekick and feel obligated to smooth over the mistakes he makes by jumping in feet first. Fun times! Learn more about judging and perceiving here.

Our motivations, past experiences, goals, and attitude show others around us what we are really all about. While a strong plot is essential, it’s the characters who draw readers in and make them care about what happens next. 

As writers, our job is to comprehend all the dimensions of our characters to write them believably for our readers. Readers stay up late to read “just one more chapter” not because they know something big will happen but to see how the characters will handle the next big catastrophe. 

Using personality theory to create characters makes that job easier and ensures our readers will wait with bated breath for our next book to be released.

About Blogging is Murder 

Born with the instincts of a world-class detective, blogger Jade Blackwell never thought she’d solve more than a murder in a cozy mystery novel.

Jade Blackwell lives a quiet life, and that’s the way she likes it. Happily settled in a log home with her husband and daughter in the quaint village of Aspen Falls, Wyoming, she’s ready to dive into her new career as a ghostwriter and blogger and leave her life as a worn-down English professor far behind.

Jade’s promising career comes to an unexpected halt when a computer hacker targets her friend and fellow blogger, Liz, destroying her livelihood and reputation. But the intrusion doesn’t stop there. The mysterious hacker, known only as Connie, is a stalker, and now she has her eyes on Liz’s three children. Before Jade can even begin to investigate, Connie is found dead in Liz's kitchen. To the sheriff's department, the case is cut and dry. Now Liz is in jail, and Jade is the only one who can free her.

Determined to prove Liz’s innocence, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer, Gabrielle Langdon, and the two women sleuths dive straight into the heart of this cozy mystery. What they learn will break the case wide open, unraveling Jade’s faith in humanity and the safety she feels in the small mountain town she calls home.

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