How to approach ‘characterisation’ – Here’s one suggestion.

A friend of mine, who has the brain the size of Kilmanjaro, has spent some years extolling the benefits of Myers-Briggs as a way of understanding ourselves and others. He insists this is of great use in the workplace and in relationships with others.

I was not convinced, and indeed some argue that use of Myers-Briggs by HR departments is totally meaningless. But when I explored a little deeper into Myers-Briggs, I began to see an alternative use for this ‘structured personality-type indicator’.

Traits are divided into blocks, as shown below. What best describes you?

By Jake Beech – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Download a larger version here

Now, this is not an exact science, but it could be a useful baseline framework from which a writer can mould a character. For example, I can be difficult to live with because I’m pretty much an ESTJ and like to ‘run the show’, so I’m bossy because I like things done properly (in other words ‘my way’ – and therefore I’m a control freak). However, in general, I am organised and dependable. If you take those traits to the extreme you could have an interesting fictional character in the making; an SIO in a murder investigation perhaps.

If you want to irritate a character with those personality traits: turn up late, be unprepared, and waffle on… Or be, a careless rule-breaker, and rude.

The question to ask yourself as a writer is, what do I want this person to do? What is their role in the story I wish to tell?

Let’s take someone we know in the world of fiction and see if we can view them in terms of Myers-Briggs: Would Sherlock Holmes be an INTP?

Fair enough, we can’t fit everyone, real or imagined, into these boxes and that’s not the intention with such tools, but if you need to get into the head of a character it is somewhere to start. Then think body language, speech and language, principles and beliefs, and eventually your character becomes more rounded. Provide a backstory and you build further to develop behavioural patterns both good and bad. Before you know it, you’ve created a person in your head that won’t go away…

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