I am REALLY close to starting work on my next novel. It’s an exciting time.
Last time, I didn’t do a lot of planning/worldbuilding before I started: I just had a bunch of general ideas and did the worldbuilding as I went along. This time, I’m doing something of an experiment: I’m doing most of the worldbuilding before I sit down and write the first chapter. Hopefully, this will help me figure out what kind of a writer I am.
Today, as I was thinking about my characters, I decided that I wanted to know them before I wrote about them. I don’t want them to be flat, I want them to be complex, interesting, and real. So does everybody, of course, but I figured that to do this it would be better to have an idea of who they are before I start writing from their perspectives. And what’s a better way to figure people out than personality tests? I love personality tests, especially the Meyers and Briggs test (the four letter one: I am an ENTP). How cool would it be to build your characters through Jungian personality types? Yeah, pretty cool. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun.
It’s tough, though, because the different sites I went to all said different things about the same personality types (I used the personality page, typelogic.com, wikipedia, and kiersley.com). The site that was the most useful was also the site that did the worst describing my own personality. I don’t know if that’s going to hurt the story, but the descriptions made sense and spurred my imagination the most, so I think it will work out in the end. After all, these are not hard and fast rules for my characters–they’re starting points for me to build off of. I’m sure that as the story progresses, the characters will come to life and defy my expectations.
I have three main characters that I need to model: Tristen, Mira, and Kayleigh (I might end up changing Kayleigh’s name, though). I already have a basic idea who they are, but I need to take things further in order to write really close to them.Tristen is someone who wants to be a hero. I’ve written about him before. He’s the kind of guy who would willingly put his life on the line to save a stranger. He has a strong sense of honor and is willing to make spectacular sacrifices to do what is right.
Trouble is, life is never that simple. More often than not, it’s more important to be consistent in the little things than to sporadically make the dramatic sacrifices. That means, of course, that Tristen needs a good-natured woman who is consistent in doing the small, daily tasks without needing recognition.
I might as well warn you, there will be spoilers in the rest of this post. Consider yourself warned.
The thing is, though, that before Tristen meets Kayleigh, he needs to be confused, burned, and tortured with regards to women and relationships. I can’t tell you why, I just know that that’s the way it is. And so, I’ve figured out EXACTLY how I’m going to do it. It involves a horribly awkward and painful falling out with Mira, which is mostly brought about by circumstances outside of either of their control, but also involves some key elements in her personality.
Basically, she has to be the kind of person who would be a perfect match for him–someone whom he feels he shouldn’t leave. They have to be good friends, understand each other well, be really close to each other, but then circumstances conspire, present two equally distasteful choices to Tristen, and he chooses the one that takes him away from her–all the while wondering “should I have stayed?”
Enough of the introduction. That’s basically who I need these characters to be for the purposes of the story. But who are they beyond that?
I started out by reading the descriptions of the four preferences, then working backwards to figure out Tristen’s Jungian personality type. Since he really wants to be a hero, I considered making him a J instead of a P. Trouble is, I’m a P and I don’t really understand Js all that well. If I’m going to be close to this character, he’s got to be somebody that I can understand. Call it taking the easy way out, but I decided to make him a little more like me.
I decided to make him an ESTP, “the Doer.” There were a lot of things I really liked about this personality type. He’s extroverted, thinking, and perceiving, all like me, but the sensing part of his personality means that he “lives in the here and now,” has a “do it and get on with it” kind of attitude, and is more of a “straight-forward risk taker.” Sounds like it has the potential for an interesting story. Besides that, ESTP’s “can sometimes be hurtful to others without being aware of it, as they generally do not know and may not care about the effect their words have on others.”
Even though they may disagree with the establishment, they have a “strong belief in what’s right and wrong” and “their own integrity mandates that they will not do something that they feel is wrong.” This gives me the impression that I can successfully write an ESTP character that feels real while having a very strong personal ethical code, something that I want Tristen to have.
Relationships-wise, things get really interesting. ESTPs tend to be weak on commitment and want to approach everything in a “big way.” Plenty of room for conflict here: difficulty settling down, combined with a tendency towards the dramatic and spectacular rather than the simple and consistent. That sounds just about right.
It was even more fun to figure out Kayleigh’s personality type. In fact, I learned quite a bit about her as I did this. The personality page says that ESTP’s natural partners are the ISTJ or the ISFJ. Again, however, the whole J thing kind of threw me off. Js tend to be planners and organizers, while Ps (like myself) take things one day at a time and can be impulsive and spontaneous. That’s the kind of person I can relate to easier, so that’s the kind of person I want to write about.
When I started reading about the ISFP, “the Artist,” I felt like I was reading an outline on this character that I’d written myself. I don’t even know Kayleigh’s exact role in the plot, but her character just jumped out at me. It was fun.
ISFPs (according to the personality page) are “warm and sympathetic” and “genuinely care for other people.” They also “have a strong set of values” and will “rebel against anything” that conflicts with their need to “feel as if they’re living their lives in accordance with what they feel is right.” They are quiet, don’t look for recognition, and don’t have any interest in controlling (or being controlled by) others, but at the same time can exhibit “carefree light heartedness.” One thing I thought was particularly interesting was that even though they appear light hearted, underneath it all they are quite serious and don’t share their thoughts except with their closest friends. I think my friend and former roommate Steve is an ISFP.
The thing that worried me, though, was that the main thing about ISFPs is their artistic flair, the thing that defines them. This is really what defines them, and it’s something I didn’t really have in mind for Kayleigh. However, as I thought about it, the more it made sense. Kayleigh lives on a spaceship with her family, and things can get a little bit monotonous and humdrum in such a confined space. Having someone who can pay attention to sensory details and add color and life to a place can be really refreshing. In fact, this might be the thing that really catches Tristen’s attention (besides her physical attractiveness). That’s a possibility I hadn’t thought of before–one that really leads off to a ton of exciting and interesting possibilities.
I haven’t really given a lot of thought to Mira’s personality yet. However, ISFJ, “the Nurturer,” really makes sense to me. First of all, ISFJ is one of the natural partners for ESTP. Second of all, Mira is from a planet-based culture that avoids the rest of civilization and is steeped in tradition. From what I read about ISFJs, they seem to be more homely, with “respect for traditions and laws” and a knack for homemaking. At the same time, they need affirmation and tend to blame themselves while putting others’ needs above their own. It’s important to the plot that Mira is used as a pawn by another character (her father), so this fits really well.
All in all, it was really fun to play around with personality types and build my characters a little better. There is still a lot of work to do, of course, and I really do expect that they’ll take a life of their own and do things I wasn’t expecting. Like I said before, this is more of a starting point–but I think it’s a good one! We’ll see how it plays out once I start writing.