Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#1
So, lately I've been highly interested in the subject matter of learning about the 8 cognitive functions and their interactions that manifest in an MBTI archetype. My motivation for doing this is to understand people better and also write MBTI consistent characters. 

There's a website here dedicated to this type of thing to type all sorts of characters from TV, anime, etc: https://www.personality-database.com/

This really has me wondering if the difference between someone who can write great characters versus someone who can't is some fundamental better understanding of characters and how they should act. Perhaps, people do it coincidentally, or with more awareness with more informal understanding of the personality theory without actual formal study of it. In fact, I spent some time typing my own characters for my fiction after the fact, and I could explain their behavior with MBTI, which is nice. I happened to write MBTI-consistent characters at least from the behind-the-scenes view.

But, it would be nice to just know the theory inside and out. I'm sure those people exist that understand it really well and put it into practice by designing and writing characters with that in mind. Someone told me that J.K. Rowling knew about MBTI and wrote Harry Potter with that in mind, although I have not bothered to verify this source.

So, I'm wondering how many authors really dig into this field of psychology for the sake of writing better characters.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#2
Those personality charts really should be venn diagrams as opposed to their usual graph form. People are rarely always the same personality type, and are more likely to switch between two or three different ones depending on their mood.

I think it's most useful when initially designing characters. The same tropes with different personalities can radically alter the type of character that gets created.

Once a character has had some decent in-story development, the chart shouldn't be needed. Background characters with few appearances are fine to use the chart for, but an author shouldn't need it to tell if their MC is breaking character or not.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#3
People only "change" personality types if they rely solely on taking a quiz to determine their type in the first place. Just so we're on the same page, the chart you're talking about is this, right? https://i.gyazo.com/thumb/1200/83547a1506faee506b31ac723486d43b-png.jpg

I think knowing your character's type can certainly be useful throughout the entire story. For an example, character growth. Just think of yourself. Almost everyone has room to grow. The personality theory stuff makes you more aware of those things and helps you determine what areas to work on. Just because a character goes through a few experiences in a story doesn't mean that they develop enough so that they're fully healthy in that they developed all of their cognitive functions. A character certainly does not start off with a perfect version of his archetype.

Also, I believe John Beebe's theory goes into the four sides of the mind. I haven't read his work yet, but basically you have your main personality plus 3 other sides which manifest as different letters which can also explain why people sometimes test differently depending on the state of their mind. In most cases, it's just that the personality test is only accurate if the person taking the quiz answers accurately and true to themselves. Even then, it's not fully reliable. Some of my friends who had taken the test indeed got different results, but if you know the theory behind the cognitive functions, you don't really need the test. 

I want to know in-depth of how each archetype should act. What about in times of extreme stress, how would each type normally be expected to react? If you don't know MBTI theory then it's just a random toss whether you actually accurately capture how your character should act in that scenario. Without the theory, you basically have an informal understanding of your character which can be sometimes hard to grasp. Of course, the system is not 100% of a person. You still have to take into account his experiences, environment, and possible mental illnesses. That's what the story is for and when a character has had development in a story you factor that in along with his archetype.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#4
I believe it is really important to know what the personality models represent because they have really severe limits. It is also important to be very careful about using pop psychology because most of them are erroneous stereotypes. Having said that, it's better to think about 'personalities' than to not, but it's a bit of a crutch for creating a 3d character. And worse, there is a real cognitive filter that occurs once you see the world through personality models.

The most common 'personality' categorization used is MBTI, probably followed by Socionics. Included in there is Keirsey temperaments.  Enneagram is different and popular enough to be included. To be blunt, I think they are not the best to use. The main advantage is that there is a lot of literature on them. The main disadvantage is that they are not very robust. Then there are a whole ton of more specific tests (eg: PF16, CPI) that are unsuitable because they were generated for a specific purposes.

I'm a big advocate that, if you are going to use personality categorization, stick with the Five Factor Model (FFM, aka Big Five, aka OCEAN). Here's my argument for it;

1) FFM doesn't presume anything like cognitive functions (MBTI), which are misleading and not well evidenced. Evidence, in this context, is actually important because your character's evidence is his actions/thoughts/feelings. When you presume a cognitive function would lead to sets of behavior that isn't in line with people's experiences, you get an inconsistent character. This applies doubly for Socionics. MBTI types are less prone to this (but categorization is poor because of the presumption of Types)

2) There is general consensus that there are five primary 'personality traits'. (Anyone researching this stuff will immediately say that this isn't clear, however, and I would agree if this was an academic debate.) MBTI presumes 4, and the rest aren't even close. Keep in mind that MBTI Step III is suppose to indirectly add the 5th - but this is because MBTI's research arm CAPT has been moving towards a more robust version of MBTI for a very long time. So there is a certain level of agreement even between competitors. Anyway, the 5th category is 'neuroticism', which is generally removed and/or renamed for "political" reasons. The lack of the 5th category is actually really critical because a lot of the tests correlate this category (something that we intuitively know exists) into other forms. For example, in the T/F divide in MBTI, F gets correlated with 'emotional reactivity' and gives the impression that they are connected personality traits.

3) Most tests do not follow a normal distribution. This is super evident in MBTI and Kiersey's Temperments. The N/S divide in MBTI is a tragedy of epic proportions, and the I/E divide in Kiersey's is is an even worse travesty. MBTI is directly responsible for linking N/S to intelligence to the degree that it is and Kiersey is responsible for publicizing (falsely) that there are more Extraverts than Introverts. The whole point is to get a proper understanding of the entire population and these two things are big violators of that premise.

4) The whole premise of finding multiple independent axes and then mixing them together to generalise something is like trying to generalise cake batter from ingredients. Like, if you put lots of sugar in, the cake will be sweet. Except a type doesn't know how much sugar you put in, just that there is probably enough to make it sweet, or maybe enough to make icing sugar, and then generalises the cake to be sweet-ish. Repeat for each ingredient. Anyway, an author is better off understanding each independent preference, just like a baker is better off knowing what ingredients went in. Short version: types are bad generalizations with only a hint of truth, or put another way, types have huge error bars around anything they claim.

5) The FFM uses clustering, meaning that you can literally get a bunch of descriptions that are associated together. I mean, it's a word cloud for your characters. That's super good. There are also some studies on subfactors. For example, this paper (page 126).  Keep in mind that if you have access to decent MBTI literature (Step II+), then you have sub factors as well. Wikipedia has them listed but not in any great detail.


Wait wait, you say, that's way too much for something casual! 

It's easier to get a good feel for FFM than the others, IMO. Simply go to the Big Five Wikipedia page. Right near the top are the 5 main traits. Click on each of them and read that page. I mean, are you going to find literature on MBTI N playing a part in sexual experimentation? No! (Well, actually, yes, but not as a robust collection of studies!) 

Now, if you are REALLY serious about this, you can go to the actual inventory measures/scales - IPIP is the place for it. There is a link to the IPIP-Neo test, and you can take the long or short form version. 

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#5
I studied psychology for a year and a half and can honestly say it's my fascination with human (and inhuman) behavior that led me to consider writing in the first place. Myers-Briggs is a decent indicator, but limited and specific. For example, it doesn't account for cultural variance and can easily call a whole nation introverts when their cultural values on how to express yourself differ from what is expected in the test questions.

Sure, use tools, but don't get stuck on them

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#6

ptgatsby Wrote: I believe it is really important to know what the personality models represent because they have really severe limits. It is also important to be very careful about using pop psychology because most of them are erroneous stereotypes. Having said that, it's better to think about 'personalities' than to not, but it's a bit of a crutch for creating a 3d character. And worse, there is a real cognitive filter that occurs once you see the world through personality models.

The most common 'personality' categorization used is MBTI, probably followed by Socionics. Included in there is Keirsey temperaments.  Enneagram is different and popular enough to be included. To be blunt, I think they are not the best to use. The main advantage is that there is a lot of literature on them. The main disadvantage is that they are not very robust. Then there are a whole ton of more specific tests (eg: PF16, CPI) that are unsuitable because they were generated for a specific purposes.

I'm a big advocate that, if you are going to use personality categorization, stick with the Five Factor Model (FFM, aka Big Five, aka OCEAN). Here's my argument for it;

1) FFM doesn't presume anything like cognitive functions (MBTI), which are misleading and not well evidenced. Evidence, in this context, is actually important because your character's evidence is his actions/thoughts/feelings. When you presume a cognitive function would lead to sets of behavior that isn't in line with people's experiences, you get an inconsistent character. This applies doubly for Socionics. MBTI types are less prone to this (but categorization is poor because of the presumption of Types)

2) There is general consensus that there are five primary 'personality traits'. (Anyone researching this stuff will immediately say that this isn't clear, however, and I would agree if this was an academic debate.) MBTI presumes 4, and the rest aren't even close. Keep in mind that MBTI Step III is suppose to indirectly add the 5th - but this is because MBTI's research arm CAPT has been moving towards a more robust version of MBTI for a very long time. So there is a certain level of agreement even between competitors. Anyway, the 5th category is 'neuroticism', which is generally removed and/or renamed for "political" reasons. The lack of the 5th category is actually really critical because a lot of the tests correlate this category (something that we intuitively know exists) into other forms. For example, in the T/F divide in MBTI, F gets correlated with 'emotional reactivity' and gives the impression that they are connected personality traits.

3) Most tests do not follow a normal distribution. This is super evident in MBTI and Kiersey's Temperments. The N/S divide in MBTI is a tragedy of epic proportions, and the I/E divide in Kiersey's is is an even worse travesty. MBTI is directly responsible for linking N/S to intelligence to the degree that it is and Kiersey is responsible for publicizing (falsely) that there are more Extraverts than Introverts. The whole point is to get a proper understanding of the entire population and these two things are big violators of that premise.

4) The whole premise of finding multiple independent axes and then mixing them together to generalise something is like trying to generalise cake batter from ingredients. Like, if you put lots of sugar in, the cake will be sweet. Except a type doesn't know how much sugar you put in, just that there is probably enough to make it sweet, or maybe enough to make icing sugar, and then generalises the cake to be sweet-ish. Repeat for each ingredient. Anyway, an author is better off understanding each independent preference, just like a baker is better off knowing what ingredients went in. Short version: types are bad generalizations with only a hint of truth, or put another way, types have huge error bars around anything they claim.

5) The FFM uses clustering, meaning that you can literally get a bunch of descriptions that are associated together. I mean, it's a word cloud for your characters. That's super good. There are also some studies on subfactors. For example, this paper (page 126).  Keep in mind that if you have access to decent MBTI literature (Step II+), then you have sub factors as well. Wikipedia has them listed but not in any great detail.


Wait wait, you say, that's way too much for something casual! 

It's easier to get a good feel for FFM than the others, IMO. Simply go to the Big Five Wikipedia page. Right near the top are the 5 main traits. Click on each of them and read that page. I mean, are you going to find literature on MBTI N playing a part in sexual experimentation? No! (Well, actually, yes, but not as a robust collection of studies!) 

Now, if you are REALLY serious about this, you can go to the actual inventory measures/scales - IPIP is the place for it. There is a link to the IPIP-Neo test, and you can take the long or short form version.


I'm not trying to start a debate here - only if other authors go into this type of research to assist with writing. It seems I'm the only one who can see the value in this. I'm not going to info dump everything just to convince people here, but I'll respond briefly.

It's clear to see that most people only have a surface level understanding of everything, which doesn't surprise me. I say MBTI, but really I'm talking about the Jungian cognitive functions. Studying strictly MBTI is pretty useless if you don't understand the cognitive functions. That part is the only part that is valuable. The overall generalization / descriptions that comes with MBTI is useful for just gathering a more easy to read format interpretation of the function interaction, but I don't like how people are made to think that if you're in this bucket, you have all these adjectives describing you, and that's the extent of it. I think the biggest misconception people have about MBTI in general is that it's a "personality bucket" like in the regular use of the word "personality" when in reality it's more about how a person prefers to perceive and judge information. There is a lot of misinformation and misconceptions on the internet. The second biggest misconception is that the words "Introvert" and "Extravert" directly relates to a person if someone is shy/outgoing, but that's incorrect. It's really just referring to the dominant function/top function in the cognitive function stack. Naturally, if it is extraverted, the person will be more inclined to be outgoing because it's based on the external world. You can still have outgoing introverts if they were raised in an environment that allowed them to develop good social skills early in life. Also depending on the rest of the function stack, some introverts are naturally going to be more inclined to be more social than others. The entire topic of "introverts need time alone to recharge" can be explained through this as well. Introverted functions obviously is internally based and you need to be alone to use it without distractions. In general, if a person does not use their dominant function, they have the potential to become depressed. Since for extraverts, their second function is introverted, they often need time alone to recharge as well, but not as much.

You refer to step 2 MBTI, but MBTI itself is only useful for the letters, but as for deriving the letters a page like this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_cognitive_functions is far more useful. Everything in a type profile can effectively be explained through the cognitive function stack. If you're not using the cognitive function stack when describing any type, you're doing it wrong. I'm aware MBTI has it's own dichotomy, but use their methods to determine a type. You don't just decide if someone is E/I based a series of question that effectively determines outgoingness.

I have heard of the big five, but I'm not really interested in that. I looked up the image, and I can see a lot of overlap with MBTI, except taking the cognitive functions in mind, it's far more generalized. I can't really do much with it in terms of anything, but I haven't done much research into this topic, so eh.

I haven't read this yet, but I heard this book tries to use some science to explain the underlying theory https://www.amazon.com/Neuroscience-Personality-Brain-Insights-People/dp/0979868475/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=neuroscience+of+personality&qid=1595825129&sr=8-2

I agree that it's still not a completely understood topic since it does deal with the human brain which is very complex, but even so, knowing something about MBTI and the cognitive functions is very helpful. It can explain at least 50% of someone's actual personality.

I do plan on getting into enneagrams later though because it's typically used in conjunction with MBTI for dealing with subtypes.

The reason I see a ton of value in this subject matter is because I have made many "dots connect" in my personal life after understanding the MBTI on a deeper level (with it's cognitive function interactions). I understand my personal self the best out of everyone, and if I can see how it's fairly accurate in describing me, it's likely going to be describing other types just as well. It's not that I'm reading and accepting everything at face value. It's just that there are a lot of observable "evidence" if you analyze yourself and other people around you.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#7

Skywind Wrote: It's clear to see that most people only have a surface level understanding of everything, which doesn't surprise me.



If you want people who are more familiar with it, you can check out Typology Central if you haven't already.

But just to correct one thing - Big Five is not more 'generalized', it just doesn't depend on the presumptive model of Jungian/archetypes. MBTI cognitive functions are losing ground to the empirical approach, which Big Five is the leader in. So cognitive functions and Big Five are pretty polar opposites in their fundamentals, and modern MBTI is kind of the middle ground between them.

In any case, use whatever tool is most useful for you.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#8
I learn on the go, reading stuff and such. But I think it's much more interesting to see characters do things, then explain the "why" later when it's relevant and appropriate to do so in-setting. I believe it's less strain on the author and more pleasing to the reader, at least the ones that appreciate such a mentality and approach to writing. Like attracts like after all.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#9
I've looked into those personality theories, but I'm sceptical about them. As other people have pointed out, the one that has the most scientific weight to it (maybe the only, if you consider methodological issues) is the Big Five. At least, that's what I remember from a psychology lecture, but it's been a while.
The issue with trying to get 'evidence' for a theory just looking at yourself and your environment is that it's anecdotal evidence, with all associated issues, and people are very good at interpreting what they see to fit what they think. I could probably take any number of crackpot theories and have my analysis of myself fit them just because I'm working in the context of those theories. Not saying that MBTI is 'just a crackpot theory', but it is an issue.

For writing, I've never needed to formalize my characters' personalities using charts or questionnaires, although they can help get a rough idea of what they're like. It's just important not to get stuck on them. Personally, my characters change pretty much automatically as the story goes on, anyway, and sometimes they turn out quite different from how I'd originally envisioned them.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#10

ptgatsby Wrote:
Skywind Wrote: It's clear to see that most people only have a surface level understanding of everything, which doesn't surprise me.



If you want people who are more familiar with it, you can check out Typology Central if you haven't already.

But just to correct one thing - Big Five is not more 'generalized', it just doesn't depend on the presumptive model of Jungian/archetypes. MBTI cognitive functions are losing ground to the empirical approach, which Big Five is the leader in. So cognitive functions and Big Five are pretty polar opposites in their fundamentals, and modern MBTI is kind of the middle ground between them.

In any case, use whatever tool is most useful for you.


Thanks, I bookmarked it. Will check it out later.

On a side note, I was doing some googling and found https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/myers-briggs-for-characters/

This person succinctly summarizes how I feel about MBTI and writing characters. In fact, I was also initially skeptical about MBTI in general when I first discovered it nearly a decade ago. It was a nice read because I independently came upon the same realizations and reaffirms that I'm not insane for attempting to do something like this. Also ironic that we're the same type.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#11
I studied M&B way back & when in my early college years. Before college, I read heavily the writings of Nietzsche and Jung for their insights into the human psyche (I was that kid).
To be honest, I find the former, due to its systemization and rationale-centric approach, to be less than useful, a hindrance even, when writing characters born of the imagination.
Nothing beats being around a lot of different people, engaging day by day and observing them in action, to stir your creative process, otherwise, you are likely to wind-up with paint-by-numbers characters too easily classifiable because that is indeed how they were created, through a system of classification. 
What is wrong with that? Any display of agency on the character's part is then tied to severely limited factors that also limit the possibilities and potential outcomes of the story.
A myopic thought hole is born. 
I was thinking about this last week while flipping through a book a colleague had of a collection of Jimmy Buffet songs and poems. Not really a fan myself, but I was struck by the complexity of what motivated the character's in his songs. 
They were far more deeply expressed than the characters in the vast majority of movies I have watched over the previous two decades.
What explained this? The best as I can figure, the book of poems and songs was written by an old hippie pulling from his life experiences and engagement with others so it spoke of the greater sphere of life and reality around us.
The majority of the Marvel Universe franchises seem, at least judging by their content, to be written by those who keep their heads buried in books on screen-writing theory and who don't get out much.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#12
My understanding of personality theory is a little more than just surface and I tend to look up such things when needed. All it is is really just a tool. And like all tools, there is place for it. However, a tool is only useful if you are using it correctly. It's not a particular useful tool to me. I certain circumstances sure, it may allow me to create a base from there. However, there are better ways to create a base for a character than personality typing.

It might be something that another writer find useful as a tool but, over the years, I still prefer my process for handing character creation and it doesn't rely on such things.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#13
Taking the dichotomies in the MBTI too literally leads to flat characters. For example, placing a preference for "Thinking" and a preference for "Feeling" in opposition to each other is a quick way to generate an easy conflict: "Character X is a Thinker! Character Y is a Feeler! How will they ever make this team work?!" But it's facile and not very satisfying.

Consider The X-Files, and the dynamic between Agents Mulder and Scully. If the showrunners had wanted to depict a static Thinker/Feeler dichotomy, they'd simply have written Mulder as a wide-eyed Feeler driven by hope, and Scully as a hard-headed skeptic Thinker. But at the show's best, the writers were far less reductive. Which character "preferred to work based on feeling" or "preferred to work based on thought" was highly contextual, and depended as much upon personal history as anything else.

Likewise, consider the split between introversion and extroversion. If I say, "Character X is introverted," and leave it at that, I risk flatness. It's more helpful to ask, "Under what circumstances does character X clam up? What makes character X want to be alone, if anything? Under what circumstances might character X feel energized by talking to other people?"

Character typologies in general should serve as conversation-starters, not a conversation-enders.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#14

ferdielance Wrote: Taking the dichotomies in the MBTI too literally leads to flat characters. For example, placing a preference for "Thinking" and a preference for "Feeling" in opposition to each other is a quick way to generate an easy conflict: "Character X is a Thinker! Character Y is a Feeler! How will they ever make this team work?!" But it's facile and not very satisfying.

Consider The X-Files, and the dynamic between Agents Mulder and Scully. If the showrunners had wanted to depict a static Thinker/Feeler dichotomy, they'd simply have written Mulder as a wide-eyed Feeler driven by hope, and Scully as a hard-headed skeptic Thinker. But at the show's best, the writers were far less reductive. Which character "preferred to work based on feeling" or "preferred to work based on thought" was highly contextual, and depended as much upon personal history as anything else.

Likewise, consider the split between introversion and extroversion. If I say, "Character X is introverted," and leave it at that, I risk flatness. It's more helpful to ask, "Under what circumstances does character X clam up? What makes character X want to be alone, if anything? Under what circumstances might character X feel energized by talking to other people?"

Character typologies in general should serve as conversation-starters, not a conversation-enders.



This is only true if you have a very basic understanding of typology. Yes, if you only take the dominant function into account, you'll have some very flat characters. In fact, many flat anime tropes are typically based off of the top two functions. The interaction between Jungian functions is far more complex than you think. A few more interesting side effects of an MBTI archetype would be how looping or being in the grip for an example would look like in the context of the character. 

Also, I already made a comment regarding extroversion/introversion that you should read above. At the deeper level, the I/E does not mean introverted and extroverted in the sense people think. And for your thinker/feeler example, there are 8 thinker types and 8 feeler types. How thinking manifests in each character is vastly different than the other due to the interaction of other Jungian functions... And yes, personal history does play a role...but MBTI determines early on how a person deals with situations in the same sense that some people are left handed or right handed and you have that early preference early in life. Due to your preferences, you'll develop two functions better than the other 6 functions by a significant amount and those are your natural tendencies that in the end affect your experiences.

Knowing a character's natural weaknesses is very helpful too. This sort of goes along with Mary Sue characters, right? Those are perfect characters with no weakness. No human being is without weakness or flaw. The MBTI system is also good for determining a reasonable weakness for a character based on the order of the functions. The shadow functions give insight more to what frustrates a character and how a character under pressure or stress might act. 

Understanding the interaction of functions is also very important of character dynamics. Why do you think you get along with certain people better than others in real life? That's because it's a conflict with preference of cognitive functions. The same could be said of characters inside stories. In fact, this was probably my initial reason of wanting to learn more about this stuff at an early stage.

Re: How many authors learn about personality theory / typology when writing characters?

#15
Skywind Wrote: So, lately I've been highly interested in the subject matter of learning about the 8 cognitive functions and their interactions that manifest in an MBTI archetype. My motivation for doing this is to understand people better and also write MBTI consistent characters.


If there is a model to which characters can be inconsistent to, then you are either misunderstanding the model or the model is pseudo-science.

Humans are multidimensional and typically are many things on the same time, especially in different contexts. They are also all things in shades instead of only sitting in the extreme colors.

A character that has only has one personality archetype and matches that fully is a comic character (in the derogatory  sense of the word, there are many comics without a single comic character). Comic characters can be useful if you want to make some silly (in the good sense of the word) comedy. If you want to tell a story, you are better off without them.