Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Using Psychology to Develop Story Characters by Sarah J. McNeal

Psychology to Develop Characters

I’ve noticed many of the authors at Prairie Rose have talked recently about their research—and believe me, I’ve been there, too. But the research I’ve been doing in the last few weeks has taken me to a whole other kind of rabbit hole. While I started out with the intention of developing characters by using the Myers-Briggs Personality Types, I not only discovered a whole new way to create villains, heroes, and whatever lies between, I accidently found enlightenment and validation.
Many of you may remember taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Test in high school for the purpose of helping you choose careers based on your character traits. Mine was INFJ (I’ll explain the personality types further down.) Already, I feel like I might be exposing who I am down deep just by telling you what my result was. But I can be fearless. Now that I’m more mature (hopefully), I can see where people make not only career choices based on their personality types, but they also choose friends and life mates the same way—except it’s all in the subconscious. I consider subconscious goings on as scary business. I don’t like the idea of doing things I have no control over.
It may seem like a waste of time to hang out on Pinterest, but I have found so much information there, I could spend the day doing nothing but Pinterest. Besides, for my personality type, Pinterest research is my energy recharge.
Here is the basic test and what the results mean. You may be astounded by your results. I certainly was.

Extravert                                (energy)                                   Introvert
initiating                                  E vs I                                       receiving
expressive                                                                                contained
gregarious                                                                                intimate
active                                                                                       reflective
enthusiastic                                                                             quiet
Sensing                                   (information)                           Intuition        
concrete                                   S vs I or N                               abstract
realistic                                                                                    imaginative
practical                                                                                   conceptual
experimenting                                                                         theoretical
traditional                                                                                original
Thinking                                (decisions)                               Feeling
logical                                      T vs F                                      casual
reasonable                                                                               open-ended
critical                                                                                     accepting
questioning                                                                              accommodating
tough                                                                                       tender
Judging                      (lifestyle)                                             Perceiving
systematic                   J vs P                                                   casual
planer                                                                                      open-ended
scheduled                                                                                spontaneous
early starting                                                                           pressure-prompted
methodical                                                                              emergent


When I took the test, I learned I was an INFJ (same thing as an IIFJ). I’m a daydreamer and a night thinker, an idealist, and get my energy from being alone. It’s hard for me to be around extroverts and large crowds for an extended period of time because I feel drained of my energy. Introverts tend to give energy to others and have to be alone to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, are rejuvenated and inspired by the energy of others. I always thought introverts were withdrawn, but it turns out that is not the case. They just have a limited source of energy they can only regenerate by themselves so they keep to their own space. Their silence isn’t an insult, but is often taken as such. They just don’t speak unless they have something to say. They feel like it’s their duty to cheer up those who seem to need it. So much of what weighs them down is not their burden to carry. They don’t realize they’re drowning because they are everyone else’s anchor. The most important desire an INFJ wants is for someone to understand them. I think perhaps many writers fit into this personality type. Just sayin’…
Just using this example, I can see where an INFJ or INFP hero or heroine might chose a friend or life partner who was their complete opposite like an ESTJ (direct, confident, aggressive, and unfeeling) to create story tension. I have used the Zodiac signs to create characters in the past, but I see where Myers Briggs is far better in building characters because it’s more detailed about the inner workings of each personality type.

Okay, so here is the Myers Briggs personality types and their basic characteristics:
ISTJ     put together, reserved, serious, judgmental
ISFJ     level-headed, sweet, submissive, overly cautious
INFJ    kind, reflective, withdrawn, overly sensitive
INTJ    intelligent, serious, impersonal, aloof
ISTP    independent, down-to-earth, undiplomatic, disconnected from others
ISFP    unique, carefree, overly sensitive, close-minded
INFP   dreamy, caring, spacey, overly sensitive
INTP   rational, pensive, critical, isolated
ESTP   fun, confident, superficial, aggressive
ESFP   entertaining, spontaneous, vapid, superficial
ENFP  charming, enthusiastic, thoughtless, unreliable
ENTP  innovative, energetic, insensitive, scatterbrained
ESTJ    direct, confident, aggressive, unfeeling
ESFJ    friendly, helpful, bossy, controlling
ENFJ   energetic, diplomatic, unrealistic, overly sensitive
ENTJ   put together, ambitious, intimidating, aggressive

I already figured out my family and friends. I can’t help it. I just had to see where they fit in these personality types, bearing in mind, it’s only my perception of them. I have a family of mostly extroverts, and my few friends are introverts. They do fall into different categories after that. Isn’t this fun?

Characters and their Myers Briggs personality type.

So, you can plot out your characters by using Myers Briggs. Here is a list of MB personalities and their vocations.

ENTJ the Executive                   
INTJ the Mastermind                   
ENTP the Originator                    
INTP the Scientist
ESTJ the Overseer
ISTJ the Examiner
ESTP the Persuader
ISTP the Craftsman
ENFJ the Mentor
INFJ the Perfectionist
ENFP the Advocate
INFP the Dreamer
ESFJ the Supporter
ISFJ the Defender
ESFP the Entertainer
ISFP the Artist

When a writer is developing a criminal, it would be wise to incorporate the kind of MB personality that would commit such a crime. I wish I had known this a couple stories ago. So here is a list of MB personality types and the kind of crimes each would potentially commit.


I found quite a few jokes about the Myers Briggs personality types, especially between Spock from Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes, including the responses of their sidekicks, Watson and Bones.
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get this when I saw the Star Trek film. But it sure is funny now that it has been pointed out to me—probably by an observant, intelligent INTJ type.

 I wrote the personality types, their typical vocations and potential crimes in my journal to use in my story development. To quote Spock, “I found it fascinating.”

Sarah McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at  Prairie Rose Publications and their imprints, Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press and Publishing by Rebecca Vickery. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. I've used Myers-Briggs for character development, too. It comes in handy, especially when you take a good trait too far and make it into a character flaw.

    I'm an ENFJ, which, according to your chart, makes me "energetic, diplomatic, unrealistic, overly sensitive." I think "unrealistic" is vital to anyone trying to make a living in the arts, because it's so danged hard and the odds of success are not good at all. But if we thought about that, we'd never do what we do, and so many wonderful stories wouldn't be told. Can't say that I've ever been accused of being diplomatic, though. LOL.

    1. Unrealistic in my book reads as optimistic and imaginative, Jacquie. You may not think you're diplomatic, but I believe you are. And energetic--well, actions do speak louder than words. All the energy you spend on Fandangos and events to help promote our books is quite a feat. Just doing a small part of that I find exhausting. I don't know how you do it, but I certainly appreciate that you do.
      Thank you so much for coming and commenting.

  2. I've never used MB, but have always found it pretty fascinating. When I took it, well, let's just say it was interesting. I am a big introvert, but because of career choices have had to function as a bit of an extrovert. Glad I'm older now and can hide in my cave to restore my energy.

    I think I'll take another gander at the possiblilites. Thanks! Doris/Angela

    1. Doris, I can relate to your job choice. My dad insisted on me going into the medical field because he felt it was a more secure living than writing. So, I became a nurse which forced me to be more social than I thought I could be. No wonder I felt exhausted at the end of the day. Now that I'm retired from public work, I have become more of who I really am and comfortable in my own skin.
      I hope you do take a look at the possibilities of using MB to develop characters. Thank you so much for commenting. You're always so supportive of others.

  3. Very interesting Sarah. Can really go in depth on character analysis with this. Thanks for sharing. :-)

    1. Kristy, I hope you give MB a try. Thank you for coming by and commenting.

  4. Enjoyed reading this, Sarah. Throughout my college years for my nursing degree I took numerous psych courses, but find I often need a refresher to remember the various traits that different characters could and should have. Thanks so much for pointing out several traits I'd stored away or forgot. I'll copy this and keep it handy for reference for the future. Thanks so much for opening my eyes again.

    1. Bev, were you a psych nurse? My older sister is a psych nurse. She still takes an occasional travel job just to get in some interesting travel and make some extra money. She used to work for the state at Dorthea Dix until the state closed it.
      Well, if anyone ought to be able to use MB for character development, you would be that one.
      Thank you for visiting me and commenting on my blog, Bev.

  5. I must be what you are, Sarah. I also can only handle being around only so many people for so long. I LOVE to be alone for long stretches. I remember studying personality types when my children were still at home. Now, I guess I operate on instinct when it comes to pitting my characters' attractions. However, I so appreciate you sharing this so next time I get stuck, I know where to turn for ideas.

    1. Robyn, I'm certain your instincts for your characters' attractions are right on spot. Being alone allows regeneration and peace, doesn't it? I'm happy to know another introverted spirit.
      I can't imagine you getting stuck. I've gotten stuck twice in writer's block. It's not a happy place to be. I don't think even Myers Briggs could drag me out of that. LOL
      I so appreciate you coming to visit and comment on my post. Thank you.

  6. Hi Sarah, how fun! I did Myers-Briggs at a faculty retreat. I don't remember the initials I earned, but I ended up in the same group as Brother Andrew and Sister common all we had was being teachers, being left-handed, and hating talking on the phone. Of course these were days long before texting. And I'm definitely no nun or monk LOL.

    The jist of the day was, duh, students are all different and need different teaching methods and duh, what to do when you are one teacher with thirty students LOL.

    I too can get lost in Pinterest, but it's easy from my iPhone and relaxes me in the evening. And yes, I learn lots of wonderful stuff...oh, and clothing combinations. I have gone more than two months without buying new clothes as I have so many and looking at Pinterest, I have a jillion new combinations at my I made a vow not to buy clothes for a year. Do you think I can make it LOL? Love this post.

  7. I don't like talking on the phone either. There is a joke among the INFJ that if an INFJ answers the phone when you call, you must be special. It's true.
    LOL I see what you're saying about that conference. Everyone is different. Everyone is unique. Teaching a child who is hands on by lecture won't work, and so on. Do you enjoy teaching?
    I relax with Pinterest, too. I've seen your boards and I like much of the same things you do. I like how you focus on a certain color for a while and black birds.
    Thank you so much for coming to my blog and commenting. I wish you all the best.