Deep Characterization Using the Myers-Briggs Personality Types

RWA-WF logoWould you like to learn about using the Myers-Briggs personality types for creating fictional characters? I’m offering an online workshop November 30 – December 14, 2014. The workshop is offered through the Women’s Fiction chapter of the Romance Writers of America. It’s free for members and just $20 for nonmembers.

Workshop Description

While plot may keep an audience on the edge of their chairs, it’s the characters that make readers fall in love with a story. The better you know your characters, the more depth you can reveal, creating a bond with readers that lasts even after the book ends.

In this course, the instructor will challenge you to apply the principles of the Myers-Briggs personality types to deepen the character development in your work-in-progress (WIP). She will explain the four scales used by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI) to assess personality, and how those scales combine to form sixteen personality types.

For instance, is your character an introvert or extrovert? Is she a stickler for details, or does she prefer to look at the big picture? Does she consider logic or people first when making a decision? Does she like to plan out her day, or follow opportunities as they arise?

The instructor will show how you can apply knowledge of the sixteen personality types when developing characters: their strengths, their blind spots, and the potential for conflict with other types. Using a combination of theory and exercises, this fun and interactive class will give you yet another tool for bringing your characters to life.

Registration

Registration is through Eventbrite (https://rwa-wf-2014-12.eventbrite.com/). After you sign up, you’ll receive an invitation to the Yahoo Group where the class will be held. I hope you can join me!

Words | Dunning Personality Type Experts

INFPs have a special relationship with words. INFPs focus not only on the meaning of words but also the feelings they create. In this blog post, Paul Dunning explains his love for words. — A.J.W.

INFP Reflections

By Paul Dunning

After reading Tolkien’s quote – “I often long to work at my nonsense fairy language and don’t let myself ’cause though I love it so it does seem such a mad hobby!” – in my previous blog, I started to wonder if other INFPs have the same affiliation with words.

From an early age I have thought about their genesis, speculating that a word like “ugly” came about because it is a natural verbal response to something unpleasant to see.

Words can be a lot of fun. It seems Tolkien loved the creativity of word play. As an INFP, one of my fascinations is with the feelings certain words emote when spoken that go beyond their intended meaning.

“Cantankerous” jumps out at you, laden with emphasis, each syllable a heavy footstep on the floor.

“Theme” seems to stick to the roof of your mouth, like a spoonful of verbal peanut butter.

“Auspicious” sounds as if it can’t contain its meaning, spilling hope in all directions.

This may not be an INFP thing at all, but I wonder. Our dominant function of Introverted Feeling focuses us on inwardly evaluating ideas according to our values. And words are ideas, so by playing with words we refine our tools to communicate. And that can be fun.

What is your relationship with words?

via Words | Dunning Personality Type Experts.

Know Your Audience: Emotional Resonance in Fiction

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first rule of technical communication is know your audience. In fact, this is the first rule of all effective communication. Yet in other fields, writers may not realize it.

Beginning novelists have a lot to learn about craft: showing not telling, the three-act structure, developing characters, crafting  effective dialogue, using sensory detail to immerse the reader in the scene. Yet even if all these elements are in place, the novel can still fall flat.

When I rate a novel on the Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble websites, the difference between a 4-star and a 5-star review is often emotional resonance. In short, how happy or uplifted or moved do I feel at the end of the novel?

In fiction, knowing your reader goes deeper than simply understanding the expectations of your genre. What do readers want from the experience of reading fiction? In a post on Writer Unboxed, Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, explains it this way:

Story is an internal brain-to-brain, emotion-driven expedition…about how the plot affects the protagonist. The good news is that protagonists are people. Just like you and me. They live and breathe and make decisions the same way we do. The bad news is that writers often tend to leave this crucial layer out, giving us only a beautifully written rendition of the story’s external shell – the plot, the surface, the “things that happen” — rather than what’s beneath the surface, where the real meaning lies.

The story is in how we decide to do things, not simply in the things we do.

As an author, your goal is to create a fictive dream and immerse readers into it. At the same, you must lead readers (baby ducks, as Heidi Cullinan calls them) down the path you want them to go, focusing their attention on things that matter, downplaying things that are less important, and imprinting them on the characters they’re supposed to sympathize with.

For instance, you don’t want your minor characters to be cardboard cutouts, but you don’t want them to be fully realized, either. At a meeting with the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Sue Winegardner of Entangled Publishing talked about seeing submissions for YA novels where the main characters are well-developed but the minor characters are stereotypes like “mean girl” and “nerd.” Even walk-on characters should have some trait that makes them real. When a barrista hands your protagonist a cup of coffee, the protagonist could notice the barrista’s chipped nail polish and silver bangle bracelets. This gives life to the story. But you don’t want the protagonist to overhear the barrista talking to a co-worker about how her mother is having a double mastectomy the next day, when you have no plans to go anywhere with that story element. A glimpse into the emotional life of a walk-on character leads readers to imprint on the character, and creates the expectation that the character is somehow important to the story.

Similarly, the antagonist should not be a villain with no redeeming characteristics, yet you don’t want to create too much sympathy him. During the final battle, readers should be rooting for the main character (even if they hope the antagonist can be redeemed). Otherwise, the ending will be unsatisfying, and they’ll be less likely to buy your next novel.

Balancing reader empathy among your cast of characters is essential if you want your stories to linger after the reader has finished the book. Yet it’s difficult for authors to judge this quality on their own. Ask your critique partners and beta readers for feedback in this area. Tweak as needed until your most trusted readers agree you’ve given them the satisfying story they crave.

Perceiving Writers: Pushing the Limits

image of a telescopeWriters with a preference for perception approach a subject from different angles. With their drive to explore, they don’t want to wrap up a project until forced to by the pressure of a deadline. Without that pressure, they can meander endlessly, failing to complete projects and collect the rewards of their hard work. How can perceiving writers honor their curiosity while producing results?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of perceiving writers

Those who prefer perception are inquisitive and spontaneous. Seizing opportunities as they arise, these writers like to experiment and discover solutions through serendipity.

Perceiving types are flexible and like to improvise. Decisions are postponed until the last minute in case new information comes to light. These types don’t mind uncertainty, and they’re not thrown off-balance by the unexpected, as judging types often are.

Deadlines don’t loom over perceiving types. They’re certain they’ll finish on time, even if they don’t know how.

These writers mull over their topic and conduct research before writing. They explore the subject thoroughly so they don’t miss anything. Their first drafts tend to be wide-ranging and somewhat disorganized.

Perceiving types work in spurts toward their final goal, following ideas as they occur. Interim milestones aren’t useful, because these types change their focus as new information arises. Since deadline pressure motivates them to complete a project, they work right up until the last moment.

As they mature, perceiving writers become more decisive and organized while retaining their curiosity and openness. They learn to trust their need to explore a topic thoroughly and their ability to pull it all together at the last minute.

Filling the gaps

If you’re a perceiving writer, verify the time requirements for completing the job. Work backward from the deadline to determine when you have to start. Ensure that all the resources you need are in place so you don’t get into a bind.

Test your assumptions about the scope of the work (for instance, make sure the photos in your source material are print-quality).  To avoid a time crunch at the end, set goals to measure progress.  Establish a cut-off point for conducting research so you have enough time to write.

After the first draft, narrow the subject. Identify and cut any extraneous information. If it’s not relevant to the reader’s immediate task or goal, move the information to an appendix or delete it.

Even if you don’t write an outline, develop an organizing framework. Present the material in a focused way. At the end of the project, be judicious about making last-minute changes. Consider the impact on other team members. Avoid risking the deadline.

If you’re feeling blocked, learn to say no. Don’t over-commit, and don’t work on so many projects at once that you’re not able to finish any of them. That energy boost you get as a deadline approaches won’t make up for a lack of sleep. Take care of yourself so you can put your best into your projects.

Judging Writers: Getting It Done

image of a gavelWriters who prefer judgment like to start projects early, work at a steady pace, and finish before the deadline. When unexpected developments threaten the schedule, they can have trouble adapting. How can judging writers honor their need to plan, while remaining open to new ideas that arise?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of judging writers

People who prefer judgment are decisive. They tend to be orderly in their approach, preparing a mental map of how they expect events to unfold. Uncertainty and surprises leave them unsettled.

Precise and consistent, judging types strive to be right. With a goal of finishing projects, they prefer to devise solutions, wrap up loose ends, and move on.

Judging writers begin a project by writing down their initial thoughts. Narrowing their topic early helps limit the scope of their work. Their early drafts are skeletal, and revision focuses on fleshing out ideas.

Interim milestones help keep judging types on track. These writers pad the schedule and make contingency plans, working steadily toward their goal. Since they prefer to work on one project at a time, they’re often eager to finish one so they can begin another.

As they mature, judging writers learn to schedule time for flexibility. The pre-writing phase becomes an opportunity to reread material, discuss it with others, and conduct more research. When revising their draft, they elaborate on their points and soften their statements to sound less didactic

Filling the gaps

If you’re a judging writer, chances are, you have a clear idea of how things ought to be. So you may not feel a strong drive to conduct research. Larry Kunz suggests that judging types include the research step as a milestone in the schedule, to ensure that it isn’t overlooked.

Stay curious. Avoid narrowing your subject too soon. Don’t let preconceived ideas limit you, and don’t resist new ideas that require you to circle back to part of the project you thought was complete. Include any important new information that arises, even if it means you have to readjust your schedule.

If working with a group, try to stay flexible if other members of the team want to take a different approach. Choose your battles wisely. Also, take time out for fun activities. Your best ideas may come while you’re going for a walk or working in the garden. Spend time away to gain a new perspective. You’ll feel refreshed and be even more productive

If you’re feeling blocked, think of Franz Kafka: over his desk, he had the word, “Wait.” Don’t write before you’re ready. Give your ideas a chance to develop. You may be surprised at how they mature over time.

Feeling Writers: People Who Need People

Statue of mother reading to childWriters who prefer feeling focus on human connections. Often motivated to write by their deeply held beliefs, they speak from the heart. But without facts to support their position, they may fail to persuade an audience. What can feeling writers do to ensure objectivity and frame an effective argument?

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of feeling writers

People who prefer feeling judgment value harmony in relationships. Generally tactful in their communication, they are empathetic to the concerns of others.

Feeling types consult their emotions when making decisions, yet they use feeling rationally. Rather than being blinded by emotion, they tend to make better decisions when taking personal needs into account.

People who prefer feeling are enthusiastic in their approach to new ideas. They tend to trust other people’s opinions, looking for points of agreement before considering potential weaknesses. When interacting with others, they may keep negative observations to themselves (and may think that you should, too).

Feeling types are drawn to writing by a desire to motivate others. They organize their material through a sense of flow. Topics may not be clearly defined, but instead transition naturally from one to the next. Their work tends to read more like a narrative than a report. They may use anecdotes to illustrate their point, and consider personal stories a part of audience analysis.

Feeling writers invest themselves personally in their material. They want to make the world a better place. In technical writing, this may mean helping a reader complete a task efficiently. They are passionate about user experience, focusing on expression and audience reaction.

As they mature, feeling writers may build on their personal values to convey factual or technical information. They learn to remove themselves from their writing, even though they’re likely to feel deeply connected to it.

Filling the gaps

Feeling types can have trouble expressing themselves objectively until they write down their subjective reactions first. If you’re a feeling writer, it might help to free-write your gut reactions to the subject, even if you can’t use any of the material, to cleanse your palate before the real writing begins.

Don’t over-focus on expression. Avoid wordsmithing during the first draft, since material may get cut or changed later. Make sure the organization is clear and coherent—that topics flow logically without jumping around. Research the material and gather data to support your beliefs. Be open to changing your mind if the facts surprise you.

In technical communication, remember that content is more important than expression. Be direct. Don’t soften your statements. Use the imperative. Make sure you understand the material so you can explain it accurately. Edit the material to be concise—this saves money on printed documents and on translation, and it makes it more likely that customers will read the manual. Don’t offer multiple ways to do a task—choose the clearest one, then offer shortcuts in an appendix.

If you’re feeling blocked, list your personal values and brainstorm how the topic connects to them. When editing other people’s work, think of it as expressing an opinion. You’re offering suggestions and asking for clarity. It’s okay to be tactful but honest. You’re a mentor, not a critic.

Thinking Writers: Logical Conclusions

thinking writerWriters who prefer thinking focus on logic and clarity. They tend to excel at analysis and the step-by-step progression of events. But if they don’t consider the needs of their audience, they may fail to engage readers. How can thinking writers create an emotional connection?

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of following your natural tendencies when writing a first draft. Then, during the editing process, you can go back and fill in the elements you missed.

Natural tendencies of thinking writers

Thinking writers value clarity in communication. They tend to be honest and straightforward in how they express themselves. When addressing their subject matter, they use logic and impersonal evaluation. This emotional detachment encourages objectivity.

Writers who prefer thinking don’t trust judgments based on personal considerations. When evaluating their source material, they tend to be skeptical and to look for flaws before they look for strengths. A focus on facts helps them approach their subject dispassionately.

Thinking types are motivated to write by a desire to convey information clearly. Using critical analysis, they tend to be good at explaining how things work, and doing so in a logical and efficient way. Thinking writers methodically follow a set of criteria and organize their material through a logical unfolding of ideas. They generally advocate for one approach over another.

As they mature, thinking writers come to better understand the importance of connecting with their readers if they want to hold the audience’s interest. It’s possible to maintain control over the subject matter yet still add elements that appeal to readers on an emotional level.

Filling the gaps

If you’re a thinking writer, consider the needs and desires of the audience. Use the simplest word that will do the job. Big words are more difficult to read—even if the audience understands what they mean. Don’t use a vocabulary that’s more precise than the audience needs it to be. Otherwise, you’ll fog the reader’s mind with minutiae.

Provide sufficient background material. Explain why the topic is relevant. If you’re a technical communicator, avoid writing procedures based on what the product can do—instead, write based on reader tasks. Develop personas and user profiles. Write in second person to increase reader involvement. Unless writing for experts, assume the reader knows nothing about the subject.

When offering alternatives or conducting analysis, present the positives before the negatives to avoid alienating the reader. To increase interest, use visuals like flowcharts or graphs. Include transitions between topics. In the final draft, be concise but not terse.

To overcome writer’s block, establish an organizational structure (such as problem–solution) to develop your ideas logically. If you’re stressed because you don’t think your writing situation will reward you fairly, plan to reward yourself after you complete the project. A sense of fair play is important to thinking types. It’s okay to indulge yourself with your favorite gadget to celebrate a job well done.