Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

I’ve said it time and again but I’ll say it once more: I am a student of human nature. I’m sure, as writers, that’s something we all share. By ten years of age, I had already given up my seat at the kid’s table at family events to get involved in the gossip and philosophizing at the adult table. I soaked it all in, which is probably what drove me to write in the first place. My novels are a place for me to understand and pass on my observations about human reactions, relationships, and the reasons behind the choices we make. I love it.

Personality Types

I was first introduced to personality types a couple of years ago when I attended a personal growth seminar and since then I can’t help but try to place everyone I meet.
Also, knowing my own personality type has given me insight into how I best work and I have been able to use that to my advantage to be as productive as possible in the short period of time I have each day to focus on my writing.

When I came home from the seminar, I wanted to delve deeper and searching led me to the Myers-Briggs test, which looks at four different aspects of the personality. Once each person’s four traits are correctly identified, it is shockingly accurate. Looking at my personality profile again last week, almost two years since I took it the first time, I still nod the entire way through. But it isn’t just me. Everyone I have shared personality typing with has found their profile to be a very accurate description of them as well.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is broken down into sixteen personality types that take into account your Attitude (introverted/extroverted), your Perceptions (sensing/intuition), how you Judge those perceptions (thinking/feeling), and then which of the two functions–Perceiving or Judging–you most often use when dealing with the outside world. This breaks the population up into 16 personality types that indicate how people interact with others, how they are in relationships, how they handle tasks, and what is important to them.

Creating Real Life Characters

After researching personality types to the point that I could identify all of my closest family and friends, I decided to extend it to my writing and identify my characters. Being that I’m nearly done with the second draft of this novel, I’ve spent a lot of time with them and was able to identify my main characters easily. I also labeled my secondary characters–especially the ones who are highly influential to my main character’s journey. In the profile of each type, it lists that personality’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as all the things I listed above.

Why am I in love with this?

  1. Understanding how characters react with each other makes scenes so easy to write. For instance, my main character is thought based as opposed to feelings based so when her mom gets emotional with her, I know my main character is going to be rational when talking her down. In the same vein, my main character responds better to people who approach her with facts, rather than opinions.
  2. It creates consistency. Have you ever read a book where the characters are all over the place from one minute to the next to the point that it doesn’t feel like you’re following the same person anymore? Knowing your character’s type will help you create a believable hero’s journey that develops smoothly and steadily and yet, is still true to their ideals and values.
  3. It makes your characters easy to relate to. My main character is the same personality type as my mom. My main character’s mom is the same personality type as my best friend. Using this knowledge helps me create characters that are true to life, and chances are, your readers will know people with the same type as your characters too.
Archetypes and Publishing

One thing that I have heard frequently is that character archetypes (as well as story structures–but that is a different post) are just another way of conforming our work to the industry standards. As artists, we want to be unique and we want to express ourselves without being reined in by rules, the publishing industry, or what is popular. I hope you’ll allow me to play the devil’s advocate today because my thought is that if real people can be identified by sixteen categories, why not our characters too? I would certainly never suggest that each character shouldn’t have his or her own backgrounds, culture, class, personal preferences, quirks, and conflicts–that’s what makes us all different. But at the core, we are all human beings, and we all want health, love, and happiness. It’s those similarities that connect us to each other and to the characters in the novels we love.

But don’t take my word for it. Your challenge, if you should accept, is to try the test yourself. It takes about ten minutes and you can find the online quiz at humanmetrics.com. Then, look up your personality on personalitypage.com. You might just be surprised by what you discover…but then again, maybe not. 😉

Have you ever used personality types to create your characters? What is your personality type? Can you guess mine?

Photo by Crystl

I am an author and a writing business teacher. I am also a mother of two, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. My debut women's fiction novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017. Here, I blog about my journey in publication in the hopes of inspiring others to follow their own dreams.

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Comments (2)

  1. I did the M-B test a bunch of years ago and promptly forgot whatever category I fit into. Probably whichever one hates labels! I don’t use archetypes for character creation either, though I certainly don’t diss anyone who uses them. We writers have to use whatever tools give power to our work. 😉 The more power, the better.

    1. Lol! I’m one of the types who is obsessed with labels so it really puts things in perspective for me. What is the best way you’ve found to build character? It’s the one thing I still struggle with most.

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