My Characters And Personality Typing

 

Those with familiarity of the Myers-Briggs system of personality ordering will recognize a couple of things about me right away. For one, I’m an introvert—I need lots of solitary time to recharge and rejuvenate. I am comfortable making decisions emotionally, using my intuitive understanding of the situation (which may or may not jibe with the facts of said situation). But once I’ve made up my mind, I stick with it, preferring an environment of structure and order over a spontaneous, three-ring circus atmosphere.

According to Myers-Briggs, this type of personality makes up less than one percent of the American population. I should be rare as a diamond, and among my friends and family, I am. But I’m commonplace among writers. Go to any kind of writer’s conference and you’ll see—you can’t spit without hitting an INFJ. We’re the default as far as I can tell, the factory model that gets tweaked and upgraded, but never replaced.

This is entirely unsurprising. When you consider the qualities needed to write a book—the capacity to spend lots of time alone, organizational skills, an openness to experience, the ability to trust gut feelings even in the face of objective feedback—you can see that INFJ is basically the blueprint for building a writer.

“Astrology for nerds”

As you might guess, one of my favorite research subjects is psychology, and personality tests are a hot topic in that field. Most are regarded as junk science, or as writer Maggie Koerth-Baker describes them, “astrology for nerds.” That’s because scientists are leery of labels. Human beings rarely fall into a single category; instead, we tend to have clusters of traits—personality constellations—with most people distributed along the swelling center of the bell curve. Individuals contain multitudes, and a typing system can turn cookie-cutter if those variances are not addressed.

Nonetheless, I find categories helpful as I create my working environment. Knowing that I’m introverted and judgment-oriented, I schedule my creative writing time when I have the house to myself, and then I ruthlessly maintain that schedule. I function best when I build space for imaginative wanderings into my to-do list. I also know that I’ll catch whatever emotions my characters are feeling, and that if I’m writing a particularly sad or violent scene, I’ll need a re-entry cushion before interacting face to face with anyone.

Personality typing also helps me understand my characters. My narrator Tai Randolph is my exact opposite on the Myers-Briggs assessment, an ESTP of the first order. Extraverted, cued into sensory information, a quick thinker who makes spontaneous decisions and whose moral code is best described as “shades of gray,” Tai is exactly the kind of sleuth I wouldn’t be. Because if I were the star of the show, the story would end within two paragraphs—the first with me finding the body and the second with me calling the cops and skedaddling back home where I can lock the doors. Solving a crime requires hands like hers on the investigative wheel.

Complementary, but contradictory

I have much more in common with my other co-protagonist, Trey, Tai’s partner in both romance and crime-solving. Trey is an ISTJ, and like me, he’s solitary, preferring to spend time alone or with a few trusted allies. He’s also judgmental like me, although we both think the word “discerning” is more accurate, and we require our environments to be neat and organized. Where I’m more emotional, he’s more logical, and when I rely on gut feelings, he wants data. But otherwise we’d get along just fine.

As sleuths go, they make a very complementary if contradictory pair. Tai is aggressive, chomping at the bit of every case, chasing down clues like a bloodhound. Her nose leads her into sticky situations sometimes, but her intelligence and her ability to read a situation help her navigate the dangerous twists and turns the bad guys throw at her. Trey’s steady approach can be slower—practically glacial at times—but he’s rarely caught unawares and even then, he’s usually got a trick or two up his well-tailored sleeves for emergency situations.

In Necessary Ends, the sixth book in the series featuring these two, this dynamic is even more pronounced. Tai is the narrator, but this time around, it’s Trey’s choices, not hers, that provoke the inciting incident. From that point on, it’s out of the comfort zone and into the fire for both of them.

Learn and adapt

Writing the complications of a couple with such drastic personality differences is a fascinating creative endeavor. Tai and Trey solve the crimes and save the day, growing and changing as they do. Somewhat. Tai will never be reticent, and Trey will never be social, but they do learn and adapt.

As do I. Somewhat. Just don’t ask me to perform karaoke any time soon.