The Unity of Character and Plot

Several years ago, at the North Carolina Writers Network conference, I attended a session where the instructor claimed that character is plot. While I understand her point, I think she went too far. Many things happen in our lives that we can’t control. In fiction, the response to external events demonstrates character and propels plot. But generally, by the end of the story, the protagonist becomes proactive instead of responsive, and the protagonist’s positive action creates the climax.

Character and plot must work in harmony. For the story to be believable, the actions the character takes must be consistent with the character you’ve created. For instance, imagine if two of Shakespeare’s great tragic figures, Hamlet and Othello, were the protagonist in each other’s stories. How would those plays go?

Act I, Scene 1: The ghost of the old king tells Othello to avenge the old king’s death by killing Claudius.
Act I, Scene 2: Othello kills Claudius.
The End

No story, right? And if Iago hinted to Hamlet that Desdemona were cheating on him, Hamlet would answer, “You cannot play upon me.”

For the two plays to work, Othello‘s hero must display extraverted, sensing, judging energy, while Hamlet‘s hero must display introverted, intuitive, perceiving energy.

Keep in mind, though, that when under extreme stress, people (and characters) behave in ways they never would otherwise. In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass advises novelists to imagine something their character would never think, say, or do—then create a situation where the character thinks, says, or does exactly that. If it’s critical to your story that your character behave in uncharacteristic ways, put that character in an environment of increasing stress, until the point that the character’s “shadow” takes over. Isabel Myers defined the “shadow” as the inferior function. It is the least developed, and the one least likely to be used in a rational and mature manner—even in the best of times. When someone is under stress, and the inferior function takes charge, the results can be disastrous.

In your own stories, do character and plot work in harmony? If a character behaves in an uncharacteristic way, be sure to show that the character is under enough stress to make the action believable.

There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: Leveraging Personality Type for Effective Communication

The Myers-Briggs theory teaches that we each have preferred ways of communicating. But our preferences may not be the best way of making the message clear to the audience. When writing, we have the luxury of editing what we wrote. Not so in speech. Either way, misunderstanding can ensue when we don’t adequately consider the needs of our audience.

Sensing vs. Intuition

Often, preference isn’t about what we do, but the order in which we do it. For instance, when I’m writing a scene for a novel, I start with the dialogue. Once that’s in place, I’ll add gestures, facial expressions, and movement. Setting and sensory detail come last, because sensing is my inferior function. That part of the scene doesn’t have meaning for me until the rest of the scene is in place.

But the setting elements of the scene must come first for the reader. Readers can’t immerse themselves in the scene until they know when and where it’s taking place, and which characters are there. Is the environment light or dark, quiet or noisy? Are the characters happy, angry, or frightened?

So, too, in spoken communication, Continue reading “There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: Leveraging Personality Type for Effective Communication”

Yesterday and Today: Introverted vs. Extraverted Sensing

Child stopping to smell the rosesWriters often get lost in their heads. If they didn’t, they might never get any work done. But for those with a preference for introversion and intuition, it can be difficult to reconnect with the real world. I suspect that writers in general, and IN types in particular, suffer from chronic sensory deprivation. We have to make an effort to interrupt our writing and indulge our senses.

To stay grounded, I keep crayons near my computer so I can play with color combinations. I have a pack of gum on my desk for calorie-free flavor. I burn scented candles and listen to music. These little things offer me a much-needed reality break.

INFJs like me extravert their sensing function. Extraverted sensing experiences the world in all its vibrancy. It sifts through sensory data and identifies what is most relevant and most critical in the current situation. It seizes opportunities as they present themselves. It troubleshoots and seeks a tactical advantage. It wants immediate gratification.

By contrast, introverted sensing relates the present situation Continue reading “Yesterday and Today: Introverted vs. Extraverted Sensing”

Dreamcatchers: Introverted vs. Extraverted Intuition

Japanese fan unfoldedThe protagonist in my novel-in-progress is an ENFP. With her dominant extraverted intuition, she’s constantly looking for new possibilities. A defense lawyer, she’s driven by a desire to help her clients make a better life. Her concept of reality is fluid: she moves effortlessly between what is and what could be. She can entertain contradictory ideas at the same time. She  envisions many different ways in which a scenario could play out. Before she makes a decision, she consults her family and friends to winnow her ideas.

In some ways, my protagonist is my alter ego. I’m an INFJ, so my dominant function is introverted intuition. Introverted intuition is also fueled by possibility. But unlike extraverted intuition, it seeks to build a unified internal vision, then make that vision a reality. I understand the world by looking for connections, by taking seemingly disparate ideas and combining them. I’m excited by those “aha” moments when I find the missing piece to the jigsaw puzzle and the picture becomes clear. I zealously pursue my new understanding and seek to incorporate it into my life. Like ENFPs, I also see reality as fluid, but I limit myself to adopting one version of it. I find too many choices to be immobilizing. I generally make decisions on my own, or I may consult one other person if I’m really struggling.

To my mind, extraverted intuition is like opening a Japanese fan, and introverted intuition is like closing it. Introverted intuition looks at all the possibilities and homes in on the one likely to produce the best outcome. Extraverted intuition starts with a single point then fans out, pulling ideas from all directions.

All types use intuition, including those who prefer sensing. Types with an NJ or SP preference have introverted intuition, while those with an NP or SJ preference use extraverted intuition. When intuition is not in the dominant position, it plays a supporting role, bringing a new perspective to old ideas.

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Straight from the Heart: Introverted vs. Extraverted Feeling

Like many people with a preference for intuition and thinking, my husband doesn’t quite grasp the concept of greeting cards. They’re just pieces of paper with other people’s sentiments printed on them, right? Logically, I see his point. But with my preference for intuition and feeling, I place a lot of value on the symbolism of greeting cards (and on the symbolism of not giving a loved one a greeting card for a special occasion).

Given my INFJ preference, I communicate with the world through extraverted feeling, which focuses on building and maintaining relationships and social networks. I love giving greeting cards, and I especially enjoy blank cards that allow me to write my own message rather than adding my signature to someone else’s. When I receive greeting cards, I read them eagerly. But after a few days, I throw them out. The emotion has been expressed and received, so the card has served its purpose.

My husband, on the other hand, keeps the greeting cards he receives—sometimes for years. And he doesn’t stick them in a drawer somewhere. He displays them where he can see them and read them.

As an INTJ, my husband introverts his feeling function. Introverted feeling focuses on values, integrity, and appropriateness. It’s  less expressive but more sentimental than extraverted feeling. So even though my husband may not think to give greeting cards, the ones he receives are special to him.

So I try not to get upset if he doesn’t give me a card for a birthday or anniversary. The fact that he values the cards I give him tells me all I need to know.

Want to know if your feeling function is introverted or extraverted? TJs and FPs have introverted feeling, while FJs and TPs use extraverted feeling.

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Incubating Your Fiction Ideas

Do introverted writers have an advantage over extraverts when it comes to developing story ideas?

In her classic book Becoming a Writer, author Dorothea Brande admonishes writers against discussing their story ideas with others:

Your unconscious self … will not care whether the words you use are written down or talked to the world at large. If you are for the moment fortunate enough to have a responsive audience you often suffer for it later. You will have created your story and … will find yourself disinclined to go on with the laborious process of writing that story at full length; unconsciously, you will consider it as already done.

Most introverts should have little trouble following this advice. During early drafts, they like to work in isolation. But extraverts prefer to develop their ideas through talking about them with others. So how can extraverts follow their preference without killing their passion for the story?

Self-talk.

Neuroimaging studies suggest that introverts are more likely than extraverts to engage in self-talk. When developing a story, try talking to yourself, whether out loud or inside your head. Take notes of the conversation you have with yourself. Get your ideas on paper—don’t let them vanish into the ether.
Continue reading “Incubating Your Fiction Ideas”

Personality and Change Management

The recent Nova series “Becoming Human” on PBS showed that the species Homo sapiens is well adapted to environments that require change. This adaptability is a defining characteristic—it’s one reason we were able to out-compete other species of humans (such as Neanderthals) and drive them to extinction.

Given our evolutionary history, why do we find workplace change so difficult? Margaret Wheatley explains it this way: “People do not resist change – people change all the time. What people resist is having others impose change on them.”

In the webinar “Leveraging Personality Types in Agile Software Delivery,” Ravi Verma of SmoothApps explored how we can use knowledge of personality type to more successfully effect change (such as introducing the Agile software development process) in organizations. Using the book Introduction to Type and Change as a source, Verma offered the following insights:
Continue reading “Personality and Change Management”

Energy to Write: Sensing vs. Intuition

jigsaw puzzle autumn treeIn my last two posts, I examined how the Judging/Perceiving and Thinking/Feeling dimensions of personality affect our mental energy when we approach a writing project. In this post, I look at the Sensation/Intuition dimension. This scale measures how we gather information. In a writing project, it affects what content we prefer to present.

Sensing types are motivated to write by a desire to report information that serves a practical purpose. They want a specific writing goal and a clear path to achieving it. They follow approaches that have worked well in the past, building on existing knowledge. They tend to move in a linear way from start to finish. They try to present details accurately and focus on the practical aspects of the topic. They’re straightforward and action-oriented. During revision, sensing types should ensure that they’ve provided context and a unifying theme to tie the details together.

Intuitive types are motivated to write by a desire to express new insights. They want a general idea of the project goals so they can plan their own approach. They try to bring a unique angle to each project. They tend to jump around as they write, letting one idea suggest another. They’re more interested in how the facts interrelate than they are in the facts themselves. They enjoy complexity and abstract theories. During revision, intuitive types should ensure that they give enough specific details to ground their work in reality.

In an upcoming post, I’ll explore how the Extraversion/Introversion dimension of personality affects our energy to write.

Image courtesy of chadou99.

Sources:

The Art of Dialogue by Carolyn Zeisset
Writing and Personality by John K. DiTiberio and George H. Jensen

Related posts:

Energy to Write: Extraversion vs. Introversion 
Energy to Write: Judgment vs. Perception
Energy to Write: Thinking vs. Feeling

Energy to Write: Thinking vs. Feeling

contemplative loversIn a previous post, I examined how the Judging/Perceiving dimension of personality affects our mental energy when we approach a writing project. In this post, I look at the Thinking/Feeling dimension. This scale measures the criteria we use to make decisions. In a writing project, it affects how we prefer to present the content.

Thinking types are motivated by a desire for clarity. They excel at relating factual information. They take the role of dispassionate observer and make their points through a logical unfolding of ideas. Thinking types focus on content and organization. With a systematic approach, they use critical analysis to dispel misconceptions and present new material. During revision, thinking types should ensure that they provide enough background material and explain why the subject is relevant to the reader.

Feeling types are motivated by a desire to connect with others. They excel at using writing to forge relationships. Feeling types look for a way to personally invest themselves in their subject. They include anecdotes to illustrate their points. They focus on expression and a sense of flow. With audience needs foremost in their mind, feeling types soften their arguments to create a sense of unity. During revision, feeling types should ensure accuracy and add facts to support their perspective.

Sources:

The Art of Dialogue by Carolyn Zeisset
Writing and Personality by John K. DiTiberio and George H. Jensen

Related posts:

Energy to Write: Extraversion vs. Introversion 
Energy to Write: Judgment vs. Perception
Energy to Write: Sensing vs. Intuition

Energy to Write: Judgment vs. Perception

black and whiteAs with all creative exercises, a writing project requires sustained mental energy to take it to conclusion. Different personality types derive their energy in different ways. The Judging/Perceiving dimension of personality measures whether a person prefers closure or open-endedness. This affects how we approach a project at all stages, and what factors drive us toward completion.

Judging types like to begin a new project right away. This helps them develop a feel for the scope of the project and how long it’s going to take. Judging types don’t like surprises, and they want to be sure they have enough time to finish a project before the deadline. They determine what resources are needed and what steps are involved. They develop a primary plan and a contingency plan. They pad the schedule to prepare for the unexpected. They set milestones—and completing each of those intermediate tasks gives them energy that propels them forward. As the deadline approaches, though, their enthusiasm for the project may wane. All of that preparation and scheduling is draining, and they just want the thing over with. So with focused determination, they tie up the loose ends, send the project off, and forget about it.

Perceiving types may wait to start a new project, focusing instead on more urgent work already in progress. They like to spend time mulling over the project before they begin, and they generally devise a schedule by working backward from the deadline. Since they enjoy improvising and tend to be good at it, they often don’t create backup plans. They trust that everything will work itself out. Energized by new ideas, they enjoy research and may delay writing until they feel they’ve thoroughly explored the possibilities. Once they’ve gathered enough information, they begin to see the pieces fall into place. The deadline gives them energy to push toward the finish line. Without a deadline, they may lack motivation to complete a project. Conversely, some may continue tinkering with a project even after they’ve turned it in.

Image courtesy of sue_r_b.

Sources:

The Art of Dialogue by Carolyn Zeisset
Writing and Personality by John K. DiTiberio and George H. Jensen

Related posts:

Energy to Write: Extraversion vs. Introversion 
Energy to Write: Thinking vs. Feeling
Energy to Write: Sensing vs. Intuition