Ink-Stained Scribe

The Four Temperaments for You and Your Characters.

Lately, I've been thinking more and more structurally in terms of character and story--in part because it requires great effort for me to take the undisciplined, malignant mass of "creation" and put it all together in a coherent form, and in part because I have to take shit apart and figure out how it works before I fully appreciate what it does. Thus all the meta-writing.

You might have noticed recently how often I reference Myers-Briggs personality types. Though we first discovered this personality and temperament test in high school, it's more recently wiggled its way into all of my character development rituals.

Raven and I have spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to figure out which of the Myers-Briggs personality types most resemble our characters. As you may or may not be aware, Wikipedia isn't the only source of information. Frustrated with the lack of cogent explanation of the temperament pairings and detailed analysis, I purchased this book: Please Understand Me - Character & Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates.

I might have gone overboard with this, to the point where I babbled about the difference between "Sensing" types and "Intuiting" types for an entire hour when my dad took me out for sushi.

Overzealousness aside, studying this has helped me understand and focus some of my more difficult characters, particularly in terms of behavior, and also gives me a way to predict how characters whose types are different from my own might react in given situations.

Here's an example of how it works:

I couldn't figure out how Shiro (INFJ) might react when he meets the man whose disappearance caused his friend a lot of pain. I kept trying to have him get angry, because I get angry when people mess with my friends, but it wasn't working. It wasn't jiving with his character, and I couldn't move on with the scene. Then I realized something: Shiro belongs to the NF (Idealist) temperament, and they probably wouldn't react the same way as me, an NT (Rational).

...and sitting across from me was a real-life, bonafide NF. Skrybbi.

My emotional
North Star *
"He should be confused at first--why would Alukale have disappeared? Did he not realize how much it would hurt Bay? We (NF's) look for the reason, and we always assume there must be a good one. And if there isn't, we totally judge you, and probably feel bad for judging."

Whereas my NT (Rational) reaction upon confirming the dude's identity was:

"You hurt my friend, therefore you are a douche-nozzle."

...and the NF (Idealist) reaction was:

"You hurt my friend. Did you know you hurt my friend? But why did you hurt my friend? There must have been a reason! No? Okay. You're a douche-nozzle! ...but I feel kind of bad for saying that."

How did this help me in the scene?

"Why?" turned out to be the appropriate response. Suddenly there was a lot more tension in the scene as Shiro tried to pry information out of this man because he wanted to assume the best of him, and the man (who has his own motivations) refused to explain, leaving a character that is generally temperate both confused and angry. I finished the scene in the next half hour, and because of that one shift, was able to reveal a lot more about the other characters.

...I kind of hadn't expected it to work that well.

In the next few posts, I'll be explaining my take on the four temperaments and how you can use each of them to help you deepen your characters, differentiate them from yourselves, and keep them behaving the way they should (or shouldn't). Though the full-blown Myers-Briggs 16-type test is super interesting and helpful, I'm going to focus on the four temperaments as my starting point.

Do you like personality tests? Have you ever tested yourself? Your characters? What other methods (psychology, astrology, dice rolls) do you use to try to focus your characters' personalities?