Myers-Briggs: Break Out the Big Guns.

For my new series on developing characters using personality profiling, I thought it would make sense to bust out the big guns first. Namely, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. If you’re somehow not familiar with this, it’s the one where people are categorized into one of sixteen personality types, labeled with sets of four letters. Basically, you are sorted by your levels of introversion/extroversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perception. Your levels of each of these things essentially make up who you are and how you respond to the world.

For example, I’m an ISTJ. That means that I am Introverted, I trust my Senses and Thinking over feelings and intuition, and I tend to Judge rather than perceive. Yes, everybody freaks out and starts looking at me like I’m some sort of iron-backboned, judgey freak with a stick up my rear when I tell them that, but seriously people. Calm down. We’re people too.

If you’re looking for a nice, general overview of this Type Indicator, here’s a link to good old Wikipedia.

Here’s the plan of campaign:

  1. Discover what your character’s profile is. Take a test here.
  2. Learn more about the profile. Nice, detailed descriptions can be found here.
  3. Let me know in the comments, or through Twitter, or whatever, what your character’s profile turns out to be!

 

Now for the meat: I thought it would be fun to go through each of my suggested exercises with one of my characters. I’ve chosen the main character from my first NaNoWriMo novel, since I know him pretty well already, but he’s distant enough from my own self (hopefully… I guess I’ll find out, won’t I?) that I still have more to discover about his personality.

His name is Nate, and that’s all you really need to know about him, although you can find him in all his unedited glory here.

The first step is to discover what Nate’s profile is. To do that, I’ve found a nice online version of the test. It’s not highly official or anything, but since we’re only using it on our brain children, I reckon it’s good enough. I did actually take this for myself, and I came up with the right profile, so it’s presumably pretty accurate.

If you’re following along, remember to answer the questions as your character, not as yourself…

Huh. Nate is an ISFJ. So, apparently are Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Walken, Naomi Watts, and Rosa Parks. You’re in good company, buddy. This group is also known as “The Protectors.”

It was a little difficult at first to get into Nate’s headspace rather than my own, but once I did, it became a lot of fun. I started to experience his curiosity and anxiety on some of the questions that didn’t bother me at all when I was taking the test myself; and if there was uncertainty about how to answer one of the questions, it was his uncertainty rather than mine. Quite an interesting out-of-body experiment.

Now, let’s see what we can discover about ISFJs… The website where I took the test has some good info about characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses that back up what I already know about him. He avoids conflict, he has a warm and friendly nature, he likes to please others, he’s organized and responsible (Boy, is he ever… I made him OCD in response to his lack of control over his life.), he bonds with children and animals quickly, he’s practical and observant, but he can depend too much on others’ approval or be seen as overly emotional. OH, BINGO! In the “career” section, they mention an eye for aesthetic beauty, and suggest photography as a good career for ISFJs. Well, guess what talent Nate discovers in himself toward the end of the book?

Now, let’s see if the more detailed description from the second website has any surprises for me…

Well, first off, they’re called “nurturers” rather than “protectors,” but I suppose they’re just different aspects of the same thing, aren’t they? Interesting perspective…

The short description is “Quiet, kind, and conscientious. Can be depended on to follow through. Usually puts the needs of others above their own needs. Stable and practical, they value security and traditions. Well-developed sense of space and function. Rich inner world of observations about people. Extremely perceptive of other’s feelings. Interested in serving others.” True, true. I’m beginning to be rather proud of my ability to create cohesive characters.

“the ISFJ has an exceptional memory about things that are important to their value systems.” Well now, that is interesting… I’m not sure if I’ve highlighted that as part of his character or not, but it would certainly be a useful trait in this character. Worth thinking about.

“ISFJs learn best by doing…” Oh, yes. Excellent point. I hadn’t actually thought about it, but that definitely applies to Nate.

“The ISFJ has an extremely well-developed sense of space, function, and aesthetic appeal.” Throughout the story, Nate is strongly aware of the spaces around him, finding a place of comfort hidden under the tent-like branches of a cedar tree. Interesting to discover that this is a common trait in this personality type.

“More so than other types, ISFJs are extremely aware of their own internal feelings, as well as other people’s feelings. They do not usually express their own feelings, keeping things inside. If they are negative feelings, they may build up inside the ISFJ until they turn into firm judgments against individuals which are difficult to unseed, once set.” It might provide some good direction for this particular story if I make Nate more prone to holding grudges than I initially showed…

And so on and so forth. I hope my walk-through of this process has been somehow enlightening for you. I know I’ve enjoyed myself, and also hopefully provided myself with some direction for future edits.

As always, please please feel free to let me know what you think of this exercise!

 

 

Defined by Limitations.

Yet again, I am about to post a quote from a visual artist, because I think it’s relevant to the writing life.

We are who we are as artists because of what we paint and how we paint it, but we are also defined by our limitations. It matters what we want to make and what comes forth as we work—intentions informed by knowledge and desire, subject to our best abilities and our limitations. I see my limitations as part of my identity as a painter, and I know the struggle involved in the making of any painting is necessary. I usually consider paintings that seem to have been made without struggle to be suspect. Painting is very difficult work, requiring endless patience.

-Alan Feltus

Just go ahead and substitute “write” for “paint” and I’m sure you’ll see why I like this so much. It’s nice to know that struggling is a necessary part of the creation of any art, but probably my favorite thing he talks about is the fact that we are defined by our limitations. Now, maybe it’s just me and my perfectionism, but I constantly feel like I need to master every aspect of whatever skill I’m working on. Rubbish. None of us are going to be able to write like Fitzgerald AND Shakespeare AND Austen AND A.A. Milne. The idea is preposterous. When our heads are screwed on straight, we don’t even want to write like all of them, do we? The ways in which we are limited are what give us a unique voice.

By the way, I got this quotation from an essay, which you can find here, if you’re interested. It’s definitely geared toward visual artists, but it has plenty of things to say which can easily cross over into any creative endeavor. I’m going to be chewing it over for quite a while, so you’ll probably be seeing a longer Thursday post on it at some time in the future.

Profile Your Characters.

My post is dreadfully late today, sorry about that… That’ll teach me to leave my research until the last minute, won’t it?

Anyhow, today I thought it would be fun to talk about one way to build a character. I don’t know about all of you, but I’m a huge fan of books with strong characters. In fact, plot is really of only small interest to me. I can be reading a book with a fantastic plot, but if the characters are wobbly, I’ll probably not make it to the end.

I’m also a huge fan of personality profiles. I get that from my mom, who has put my brother and I through every imaginable personality test, from Meyers-Briggs to The Five Love Languages, from the time we were kids.

So I figured, why not do the same with your characters???

Hold up, I just had a thought… I think instead of putting all my ideas into one long, boring post, I’ll do another series!

I like series.

Yes, okay, that’s what we’re doing. Hold your horses, this post is about to chuck a U-ey…

Every Thursday until I run out of profiling methods, I’ll be posting about different methods for developing your characters using personality profiles. For now, I’ll just leave you with some general tips, if you choose to follow along with me on this get-to-know-you trip.

  • You should probably already have a character in mind. I suppose you could try to build an entirely new character with these methods, but it might be easier if you already know them a bit… If you do try to build an entirely new character this way, let me know how it goes!  I’m curious…
  • Some profile methods will have quizzes to accurately identify the profile… If that’s the case, by all means take the quiz yourself, but remember to do it from inside the head of your character! It won’t help much if all your characters end up looking exactly like you… And then take it again for yourself, if you like! It’s fun!
  • Remember to write everything down! This should be an obvious for us writers, but let’s be honest… We’ve all been in that situation where we thought we would remember a thing, and then ten minutes later… wait, what thing? O_O
  • Don’t try to force your character into one type of profile or another… They know themselves well enough to choose their own profile. They just need you to write for them.

Holy moly, that last one sounded pretty woo-woo, didn’t it? But y’all know what I mean.

 

Fry + Gutenberg = <3

Maybe I’m just completely nerding out today, and what I have to share will interest nobody but myself; and yet… I just have to post this. It’s a documentary by Stephen Fry where he and others replicate Gutenberg’s original printing press, make paper and lead type by hand, and re-create a page of the Bible exactly as Gutenberg would have done.

I know. It’s quite possibly the nerdiest thing I’ve ever encountered, but I’m telling you… The first time I watched this (yes, I have viewed it more than once), I got tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, and blushed like a teenager seeing a hot boy walking her direction. Actually, even as a teen, I never reacted to a boy quite as strongly as I reacted to this video.

So my huge apologies if nobody else in the world is interested in seeing this, but I have to share it anyway. And I figure most of you lovely people are probably bookish people, and where would we all be without the printing press?

Add to that the fact that it’s lead by the inimitable and irrepressible Stephen Fry, and you have groaning, giggling, eye-rolling gold.

I counted seven puns last time I watched this. How many can you catch?

Let the Weirdness Out.

First off, my apologies for not posting on Tuesday. I’m housesitting for some point friends this week and it’s got me thrown off schedule.

Second, this will be a short post, since I’m typing on my ancient phone.

All I really want to say is this: Don’t be afraid to write stuff that sounds weird. Probably due to my change of scene and a lack of sleep induced by wifi, a home theater, and a cat who likes to socialize at two in the morning, I’ve been writing some pretty trippy stuff. For instance, day before yesterday I wrote a scene where some unidentified female discussed the point of suffering with an unidentified narrator. While swimming around in a pool. Fairly random and definitely unconnected to any project.

And that’s okay. I think it’s easy to get caught up on writing something “sensible” or “good quality,” and that can easily lead into fear and blocks.

So instead of succumbing to that notion, I have a separate notebook that I call “The Random Bubbling of my Mind.” There I can scribble down all those random bits that come to me, as bits do. In that notebook, I don’t have to worry about how much quality is in the subject matter. I can just get the words down.

If, like me, you have a tendency to self-censor your own subject matter, then I highly suggest keeping a special notebook for those really weird things that show up sometimes. Because nothing you write is worthless, and you never know what you might need someday.

Well, that’s really all I have to say. This was a lot of words to type on a tiny phone. I hope it all makes a bit of sense, because I’m literally falling asleep right now. If not, more apologies will be due.

Unexpected Bubbly Feelings.

I have yet another unexpected post for you, which incidentally means that I can still save last weeks planned post for a rainy day. (What am I talking about, I live in the Pacific Northwest; it’s always raining…)

Double huzzah.

Today when I opened my emails, I saw a message from the contest that I submitted an essay to earlier this year. My stomach started to churn, as it always does when I’m faced with news that I’ve been waiting for, and I considered not opening the email until… you know… later.

Well, I’m glad I sucked it up and adulted, because I found some lovely news. While my essay didn’t win the contest (and let’s be honest, I would probably have died of shock if it had), the contest manager was kind enough to let me know that my essay made it onto the semi-finalist list! That means that my little essay was in the top third of all the non-fiction work submitted.

The churning quickly turned into fizzy little champagne bubbles. Not that I know anything about champagne bubbles, being a teetotaler, but I’ve heard that they’re little and fizzy.

september-champagne

Know why?

Because that means that I didn’t write garbage! And that means that I can pull it out, dust it off, and fix it up for another market. And that is dreadfully exciting. It’s the first time I haven’t felt like “Oh, dear, somebody please put this thing into cryogenic stasis so I don’t have to look at it again for about two thousand years.”

That’s an important thing for us creative types, isn’t it? I mean, some of us are incredibly blessed to have thick hides and an everlasting well of enthusiasm for our own work, but I’m guessing that a lot of us are more the shrivel-up-into-a-dark-little-hole types, and we have to develop the hide.

So for me to be not only not lying on the floor whimpering in a pool of my own tears (exaggeration for effect, don’t worry), but to actually feel energized by the news is really, really exciting.

And I mean, hey… top third is nothing to sneeze at, right? As long as there were more than three entries.*

 

 


 

 

*There were 180 entries.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a Woman.

Scrolling through the International Women’s day hashtag has me, as a woman, slightly confused. I’m not sure whether to feel empowered or slightly disgusted. While many amazing women are being celebrated, I’m seeing just as many posts that are using the topic as yet another excuse to over-sexualize women, or to post vague “rah-rah” messages like “Smile at yourself, ladies. You’re crushing it.”

Well, that’s very nice, but actually, I’m not crushing it today. I didn’t sleep well last night, and I’m only just barely crawling toward the start line. I’m not a pioneer in some daring field. My resume is tiny and unimpressive. Should I not smile at myself, then?

Or the posts that really drive me up the wall… posts that seem to equate “female empowerment” with how many  foul words you can string together in one sentence, or that seem to think today is International Let’s-All-Make-Fun-of-Men Day.

Since when does gender equality require me to either flaunt or suppress my femininity? Since when does it require me to pump myself up with empty slogans rather than evaluating myself honestly? Since when does it mean I can’t be content with a quiet life? Am I not enough exactly as I am; a human being with a personality and dreams that have nothing to do with my gender?

Anyhow, rant over. Time now to celebrate a woman who is truly inspirational to me, and who has been one of my main role models since I first researched her for a history project when I was thirteen years old.

Sarah_Hale_portrait

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) was a writer, a schoolteacher, the first woman to become editor of a magazine, a single mother of five children, and a tireless worker for women’s rights.

And history remembers (or rather, doesn’t remember) her primarily as the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and the woman responsible for the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Probably because she wasn’t a muck-raking suffragette.

Let’s talk about some of her other accomplishments, shall we?

She received her primary education from her mother (homeschoolers, raise your fists!), and as a pre-teen gained a second-hand college education through her brother, who would teach her everything he learned at Dartmouth during his summer vacations.

Her marriage was a happy one, as she found a man who believed her to be his true equal, but he died in 1822, leaving her to support five children on her own. At that time, the only options for a widowed mother were to open some sort of genteel millinery shop or throw themselves on the mercy of relatives.

But those options weren’t good enough for Sarah Hale. Oh, no. Her choice was publish a book of poetry, and later a novel, Northwood, which dealt directly with the issue of slavery, highlighting its dehumanizing effect on not only the slaves, but also the slave owners.  She was not only one of America’s first woman authors, but also one of the first writers to challenge slavery head-on.

Following the success of her novel, she became the first woman editor, first of the American Ladies’ Magazine, and then of Godey’s Lady’s Book. She used her subsequent influence to work for women’s rights, publishing the work of many woman writers, employing women in every aspect of the magazine’s creation, and campaigning for many causes, including both physical and higher education for girls. In fact, she helped to found Vassar College. She also founded the Seaman’s Aid Society to help support the wives and daughters of Boston sailors who had died at sea.

She found side projects in campaigning for Mount Vernon to be preserved, and for the Bunker Hill Monument to be built.

Oh, and she was also responsible for popularizing Niagara Falls as a honeymoon destination.

All this, and much more, Sarah Hale did quietly; never seeking personal glory. And never sacrificing one ounce of her womanhood.

Now there’s a woman worth celebrating.

Explore Your Books.

I had a nice blog post all planned out for today, but then I went on Twitter, and realized that IT’S WORLD BOOK DAY! Well, I thought to myself, what a lovely thing to celebrate. Maybe I’d better write something focused on books, instead of the thing I had originally planned. So I’m winging it, people. Be prepared.

If this was a Tuesday, I’d just post about one of my favorite books, or maybe share a bookish quote. However, this is a Thursday, and therefore I must share some sort of writing process… wisdom? I’m not at all sure I’m qualified to use that word, but I can’t think of a better one off the top of my head, so there you are. I told you I was winging it.

Anyhow, getting to the point:

Sometimes, as a writer, I get all sort of mixed up inside, wondering how to sort out the ideas in my head. Which ones do I run with, and which ones do I shelve? Because, let’s face it, not every idea we get is worth pursuing. Out of all the things we could write about, which ones should we? That question used to boggle me, until about a year ago.

The thing that helped me answer that question was something I found online. Whether it was a blog post, an article, or whatever else, I unfortunately can’t remember. I thought I had it bookmarked, and I was simply going to share it with you, but sadly enough I recently had to replace my old computer, and all of my bookmarks have been lost. I deeply regret not being able to share the source with you all, and I promise that if I ever come across it again, I will make sure this post is updated. Until then, you’ll just have to struggle along with my own abridged version.

The basic exercise was this:

First, identify your Top Five books. Ones that impacted you deeply; ones you keep coming back to. Also, consider what draws you to them; what do you admire in each?

Next, compare them. Find out what similarities they share. You will most likely find that those things relate to some broader theme. For example, I discovered that my Top Five shared the common theme of small, unimportant people triumphing over what (to them at least) are great odds, although to others the accomplishments may seem insignificant.

Finally, sit back and take a look at your list of similarities and themes. Don’t they feel “right”? Don’t they satisfy something inside you? Maybe you should be writing about those things.

It can work the other way, as well. For myself, if I like stories about small people triumphing over their personal odds, it wouldn’t make sense for me to write a tragedy about a king losing his throne and everything he holds dear, now would it?

So anyway, that’s my two cents worth. Go read a good book today. And while you’re at it, consider what makes it good. Oh, and if anybody randomly knows where this exercise originated, please feel free to let me know. I’d love to track it down again.


 

An after thought: Since I didn’t use the post I planned for today, that means I’m all set for next week. 

Huzzah.

Music for Beautiful Tragedies.

Happy First of March, everybody! How was your Leap Day? Mine was tedious, but I got plenty of little nasty things accomplished, so I feel much lighter.

Now, last month I shared Adam Young’s latest project with you: an imaginary film score once a month for historic events. February’s score was inspired by the Apollo 11 mission; this month, we have the RMS Titanic. Dare I say it, it’s even better than last month’s. So, if you’re looking for a playlist for those times when you need to write something sad, but still retaining beauty, look no further.

You can listen or download directly from the website, here, or listen on Spotify.