Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Problem With MBTI in Fiction

Some of you who've been reading my blog for a while may have noticed that I have a slight obsession with MBTI. Actually, obsession isn't the right word - that would be my sister - but it is something that thoroughly fascinates me. I like learning about the way that different people's minds work. I like understanding how different people's brains work.

But there is one thing that bothers me - when people start using fictional characters as examples of personality types.

You want to know why?

Because they're fiction. They're written by an author who sees the world in a certain way, and, try as they might, their own personality type is going to bleed all over their story and into every character. Even for characters of their own personality types, there's a certain amount of distance they have to make between themselves, a certain amount of glazing over their faults that will happen.

I'm an author myself. I'm an ENFP. I write ENFP characters who don't always think or act like ENFP's, and I write characters who aren't supposed to be ENFP ... but the ENFP thought process still snuck in while I wasn't looking.

Take Petra, for instance - I meant for her to be an INTJ, and most of my beta readers recognized her as such ... except for the one who was an actual INTJ. (She tried to pin her as an ISTP ... but frankly, that isn't Petra AT ALL. ISTJ would be more likely.)

My mom is an INTJ, and we're about 75% sure that my baby sis is one too. I read tons of articles about INTJ's ...

But here's the thing.

I'm not an INTJ. I'm an ENFP.

(And, second thing - for the longest time, Petra was going to be an INFJ, and there are a few moments when that showed through.)

I don't see the world through introverted intuition, but extroverted intuition. While I do understand extroverted thinking, my comfort decision process is introverted feeling. And that bled through.

No, I don't think she's not an INTJ, but she is an INTJ written through an ENFP filter.

Now take Clara - she's supposed to be an ENFP. And her perception and decisions processes are very ENFP much of the time. But there are elements of her character that are NOT true of me, and I've as yet to meet an ENFP who adheres to a schedule as well as she does. If you're looking for an ENFP model, I'd highly recommend Robin instead, but even with her, there are elements that I know aren't strictly ENFP about her,

Because you see, there are elements of my ENFP-ness that I'm frankly embarrassed about, that I know won't make a good hero. So I quietly shave them out and slide in other flaws instead. Or play up weaknesses that I'm not so embarrassed about.

And this is why it bothers me when I see people holding up fictional characters as models of personality types, because with fictional characters, it's never clear-cut or obvious. I was looking at a number of charts the other day and found Katniss sorted as ISTP, ISTJ, and ISFP. Frankly, my lean is ISTP, but she's fictional. Her brain functions according to the whim of her author and perhaps some feedback from an editorial staff.

It's a little better in TV, where you can have multiple writers for one series, because you can bring a multitude of personalities to the story. Even there, and taking MLP as an example now, some writers present Pinkie Pie as an ESFP, others as and ENFP. Sometimes Twilight seems more like an INTJ, other times she acts more INTP. It depends on the writer and the plot.

Do I mind the typing of fictional characters? No, I don't. If it helps you identify with the characters, all the more power to you. But what I do mind is people touting fictional characters as supreme examples of personalities. Because they're fictional. They're going to contradict themselves in ways that no real human being ever will.

But here's one more secret - if you know the personality type of an author, you can learn a lot about the way they think from their writing. I may not write the perfect ENFP characters, but I myself am all over my writing, in the depth of my POV's, in the richness and wildness of my worldbuilding, in the complexity of the plot twists. Stuff that, I've noticed, also seems to be true of INFP's, but then, we do have the same functions, just in a slightly different order.

And that, my friends, is why I've been asking everyone what their personality types are and how they feel it bleeds into their writing. Academic study.

Feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the subject, and, hey, if you're a writer, and you know your type, can you tell me what it is and you feel it affects your writing?

(And yes, Miss Melody Muffin, I wrote this post because of our conversation about Petra, but a lot of this is thoughts I've been having for a while)


  1. I know my books tend to have a more serious tone than yours. And are just...different. The way I write makes sense to my thought process. One thing about personality types I've been wodndering: it's more about how you process the world around you and make decisions and such, right? It seems to be. Which would mean you could have someone with one personality type that gets frustrated easily and one with the same type who is more easygoing?

    1. But your writing DOES have a similar feel to my INFJ sister's. I've not quite put my finger on what that feel is. I need to study the writing of a few more INFJ's.

      It depends. While your personality type is mostly your perception and decision processes, the combined sum of those processes will usually equal a certain set of behavior. ENFP's tend to be laid back, easy going, warm, and friendly. But sometimes I will contradict that. There are situations where I'm not laid back and easy going, times that I will come across as cold and unfeeling, especially when I'm under heavy stress.

      But I'm never going to break out and make decisions based on Extroverted Feeling. I can't. I'm never going to look at the world through Introverted Intuition - that's not how my mind works.

      I'm an extrovert who sometimes has to take a step back and process my introverted emotion. I have the attention span of a flea or will become so hyper-focused that NOTHING can deter me from what I'm concentrated on. I'm impulsive and have a thirst for adventure. I have a thousand interests. These are behaviors that are typical of ENFP's that I've as yet to see an ENFP contradict.

      So, yes, it's about how you think, but certain thought processes will usually equal certain behaviors - but those behaviors might change given enough stress or influence by role models.

      Does that make sense?

  2. I'm INTP, and I've noticed that most of my characters take a good deal of introversion for granted, and beta readers have pointed out that their emotions are lacking. One character who typed as ENFP (after completing her story) has a tendency to focus on things more after the fashion of an INT-something, and also tends to ask what's the logical thing to do more than I think a consistent ENFP would.
    I can't say I've analyzed other people's fictional characters much.

    1. Go introverts! (Really, honestly. You introverts are awesome creatures. Might not always understand you, but you're awesome.)

      As an ENFP myself, I don't think that would necessarily be an inconsistency, depending on how it's handled. I personally seek logic frequently - it's my Te rearing its head and making sure I'm not focusing on just myself. However, when I seek logic, it's frequently an expression of self-doubt. I'm doubting my gut instinct. I'm second guessing myself. Sometimes this goes for the better, sometimes it doesn't.

      I sometimes analyze other people's characters, but I usually stick with my own characters. I can control them.

  3. I find this post very interesting . . . personally, I like the whole typing-characters thing because it helps me relate to the characters, and also because it's nice to be able to say "Hey, there's awesome people who I view as heroes who are my same type" and that makes me feel a bit better about my odds of becoming like those people. I don't know. Maybe I'm just weird. And I like knowing my own characters' MBTI types so I have an extra guideline for how their mind probably works differently than my own.

    Anyway, in answer to your question: I'm an ISTP, and I think even my extroverted characters have an occasional tendency to act more introverted. I also have a hard time writing characters who are skilled tacticians and planners because, let's face it, I'm not. And that's not all due to my personality type, but it partially is. And I don't remember if it's related to my being an ISTP or not, but I do tend to have a lot of perfectionist characters, or characters who feel like they have to measure up to someone else.

    The scariest thing about the personality bleed, though . . . I have a character who's an ESTP. I love him, but he's not the type of character you'd want to model yourself after. (Not yet, anyway- he has a similar personality and arc to Han Solo or Tony Stark.) The thing is, the only difference in type between us is that he's extroverted and I'm introverted. And the more I think about it, the more I can see the ways in which we're very similar. (That might be why he's usually really easy for me to write, but I also don't want to be like him, so . . . yeah.)

    1. Well, as I said, I'm not against it if it helps you identify with characters. What annoys me is when people use them as their prime examples of personality types and forget that since the characters are FICTIONAL, they are by nature, inconsistent with reality.

      Hm. Interesting. I'm not that great at plans and tactics, either. P's for the win, yes? Maybe?

      Aye, it is scary when that happens. (Coming from writing Robin and Clara and their arcs, I totally understand.)

    2. Makes sense. *nods* I haven't encountered people doing that a whole lot, so, yeah. Usually it's in the context of people saying "Well, I think this is the type this character is."

      Yes, definitely. *hi5s*

      Yeah. (I figured you would. Though- Robin and Clara are definitely heroes from the start. Jared . . . isn't.)

  4. I agree with some of this and disagree with some. But you made me crack up when you said "I have yet to meet an ENFP who adheres to a schedule as well as she does".....well you sure aren't going to find that ENFP in me!! ;)

  5. I think you definitely make some good points here! As a writer, it's always super hard to make a character very very different from yourself. But I wouldn't actually say that it always happens? Like I'm an INTJ through and through. No doubt.😂 But I never write INTJ characters. I actually find that I can't! And when people read my books they always get really confused if they know me IRL because my characters will all be so very different from me. I'm not sure about their thought-processes because I only know my thought process, of course. But I do think it's possible to very convincingly write different character styles and personalities. Like I've read books from the same author and been super awed at how different the characters' were! It was like a completely different author. #goals

    Anyway, now I want to go type more of my characters.😂 I generally don't get around to doing it unless I'm really stuck on how to develop them. But weirdly enough, I write a LOT of talkative extroverts when I'm the quietest introvert ever.😂

    1. Well, I very much get into my characters when I write, so maybe I have a little more influence over them than you do???

      I only read the first chapter of your Dead Boy and the Papercut, but comparing it against the writing of the four other INTJ's I know and have read, there is a similar feel. I've not put my finger on what that feel IS yet, I've not had the time to study the five of you at great length yet, but that feel is there.

      Of course, every author will grow and change and experiment with their writing style, and some writers are better at that than others. I know that I've refined and even changed my style quite a bit since I published my first book.

      I think Introvert vrs Extrovert is the easiest line to cross, honestly. And, actually, I've found that my characters end up either way more extroverted than I am - or far more introverted. I think Robin might have been my only middle ground. But you can come to the paper and your characters just don't have to worry about people judging them like you do. They can talk as much as they want!

  6. Good points. We don't want types anyway, we want characters that feel like real people. And people aren't all nice, neat and consistent.
    I recently read someone saying that you probably shouldn't type your characters until you've written the first draft. Because if you start with a type in mind they won't become a person. Don't constrain them with you you think they're supposed to act.
    And since I've been thinking about MBTI in relation to writing, I've noticed that my POV characters do all tend to have the kind of deeper internal though that I do. They might jump to different conclusions, have different values, simply be interested in things I'm not. They might have a completely different view of the world. That internal processing is still always there though and I'm starting to realize that not everyone thinks quite that way.

  7. Ooh, a GREAT post!!

    I'm an INTP (my sister is INTJ ... and I can tell sometimes when Petra wasn't "true" to her type), and I'm frankly not quite sure how it effects my writing.

    Usually my characters tend to be introverted, but they are a lot more feelsy than I. Actually, I think that I like to write characters that are pretty opposite to me, other than extroverts (because, woah, let's not get too crazy!), because in a way, it's harder for me to mess up. (Also, for the characters that I've done the test on, I don't do it 'til they're characters are waaay developed ... just so I can stay "true" to them.)

  8. This was a fascinating post! Thanks for sharing. ;)

    I'm an INFJ, so most of my characters tend to be very quiet and intuitive/introspective. ;) This makes it harder to write an outgoing or outwardly emotional character, but I am learning to make them different from each other and different from me. ;)

  9. (Interesting you should post this, as I've been mulling over the whole MBTI/character-typing thing for a while now....)

    Hello, my name is R.R. Goodwill, and I *think* I'm an INFJ. Maybe. The jury's still out, but I seem to lean in that direction, despite sharing similarities with INFP, ENFP, and even a little INTJ (although I'm DEFINITELY more emotionally driven than though/logic driven. Ugh). One person said I might also be an ISFJ, but not having studied the type, I can't say for sure....

    How does this affect my writing? Well, at this point, I just give myself a bad case of Da Feels during emotional scenes. *Snort*
    Seriously, though, my writing style of late seems to be really "deep"--I not only get into people's heads, but I describe what they think and how they feel about whatever they're going through. My characters do a lot of pondering and soul-searching. They're observant of little details, and a lot of them can read body-language and/or figure out how best to interact with their comrades (not always, and not all of them, of course, but in general). They also do a lot of hugging and crying...and comfort each other with a reassuring hand-squeeze or pat on the shoulder, or a big hug, that sort of thing.

    I tried typing them recently because they were all starting to feel like clones, LOL. I've enjoyed studying the different types (receiving a truckload of help with my INTJ and ENFP characters from people who share the types--major thanks! Y'all know who you are!) to get a better feel for different personalities.

    I agree that using fictional characters as models for the MBTI types doesn't work...especially when people type a character incorrectly (*coughcoughElsacough*). What you say makes sense; as authors, we can study the different types and even observe them all we want, but we will always be just that: observers. Outsiders looking in, processing our observations through the filter of our own types.

    I think it's valuable to study different personalities--learn how various people's minds work--as it helps us get a little variety in our characters. But I've found that trying to adhere strictly to the MBTI system can be a bit overwhelming...even restrictive, especially if one already has an idea of a character's personality. The typing system can be a great starting point, a guideline for a certain kind of character, but as authors, we also need the freedom to let our characters develop "organically," rather than forcing them into a mold they may or may not fit.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kendra. It's a fascinating subject, and it's interesting to see other folks' take on it.

    God bless, and Happy Writing,

  10. One of the few ESFJ writers here. :-)

    I try to make my characters AS MUCH their personality type as possible, and I use that as a standard that they don't deviate from, to make them as realistically real as possible. As an ESFJ writer, I'm obsessed with inter-personal relationships, depth of character, and utter realism (No, I don't write fantasy ;-) )

    But I'm extremely obsessed with Myers-Briggs type. Good job nailing Katniss as ISTP, btw. ;-)


Hi! Now that you've read my post, hast thou any opinions that thou wouldst like to share? I'd love to hear them!

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