Personality Tests: You and Your Characters

Last night, I remembered a personality test I’d taken once at work. All I could remember is that it gave you four letters as a response, and it told you about how you learned and worked best. I looked up the test, and it turns out it’s called the Personality test based on C. Jung and I. Briggs Myers type theory. I found it at http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp.

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I took the test for myself, and my husband did too. I found out I was an ISFJ, meaning introvert/ sensing/ feeling/ judging. He came out the same except thinking rather than feeling, which makes total sense if you know the two of us. Anyway, according to the website, I am “the nurturer,” I have a rich inner world, I feel a strong sense of responsibility and duty, have a strong sense of inadequacy, and desperately need positive feedback from others. I will let anyone who knows me decide if that’s accurate. 🙂 Famous ISFJs include Jimmy Carter, and Frederic Chopin. Good jobs for me include social work, teaching, and jobs in the medical profession.

As I was writing, I was thinking: did I know my main character well enough to take a personality test as her? I gave it a try, and I was pleased that I could answer the questions easily. According to the test, Alexis from my first book is an ISTJ. Her numbers on the scales for introversion and judging are high, much higher than mine. (Interestingly, she is the exact same type as my husband, and I wouldn’t say there were alike at all!) ISTJs are “inspectors,” concerned with right and wrong, and can sometimes be perceived as aloof. They are frustrated with the inconsistency of others. Famous ISTJs include George Washington, Andrew Johnson, and George H.W. Bush. Good career choices would be in management, accounting, and computer programming. To some extent, these aspects reflect Alexis; she’s certainly an “inspector,” and the other traits fit. But I certainly can’t see her with any of those career choices or having a similarity with presidents and generals!

Anyway, this was an interesting exercise, and I think I’ll try it with the main character of my second book, Rachael. I’m pretty sure that answering the questions as Rachael will show me how very much I *don’t* know this character, so it should be a valuable exercise.

Has anyone every taken this test? What were you? Dare to try it as a character?

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Third Person? First Person? Crazy Person?

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When I started writing my first novel, I wrote in third person. I’d never really written fiction before, so I assumed that third person was the way to go–most books I read were in third person. It seemed to work out fine. I wasn’t quite sure about the rules for how to show thoughts in the third person, but I knew I’d figure it out.

In 2009 (one year into the long process of that book), I went to my first writing conference, and someone asked me if I’d thought about writing my book in first person.

Why not? I tried it. I changed every Alexis to I, every her to me, every them to us. It took FOREVER.

And, to my total surprise, the tone of the story changed. (This is probably a big DUH to everyone else, but it was a fresh insight to me.) It was easier to access Alexis’s emotions, and to make her seem real. The language became less formal. “Alexis was disoriented” changed into “I couldn’t figure out where I was.”

I wrote one chapter in first person, and sent both versions to some reader/writer friends, and almost every single person thought that the first person version was more effective.

You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson after the first book, but with the second book, the exact same thing happened. Third person (to prove I could do it), a trial chapter in first person, comparison of both by friends, change to first person, language tightening, story getting better…

Lisa is grateful that everything she writes doesn’t have to be in third person.

The Power of Pictures

I’ve never been much of a visually observant person. My husband laughs at me all the time because I won’t notice a new building going up or what color house someone has. I respond that I’d notice anything truly important, and he says that I don’t know what color his eyes are. Brown, I think. Right? Honey?

When I write, I have to force myself to add visual description (or any kind of sensory details, for that matter). I agonize over those sentences. Dialogue? Flies out pretty fast. Emotional reactions? No problem. But ask me what style of clothes my main character wears and I’m at a total loss.

A few authors I follow on Twitter or their blogs mentioned that they use online images for their main characters, and it really helped them visualize their characters. So I went searching, found a few images that maybe/sort of/kind of looked like my characters, but it didn’t do much for me.

When my writing group met last time (hello Jeannie, Rachel, and Kate!), they suggested that I make the antagonist of my new book much younger. I resisted for a while before I realized they were right, since there would be more intrigue involved that way. So I went on a hunt, and this is what I ended up with.

Marianna’s a high school teacher, so this isn’t exactly how she’d look in the book. But something about the joy in her expression and the bounce of her hair seems to help me imagine her so much better. The hair helps me, especially – those curls are quite the defining feature.

The other image that I found helps with how she dresses. In my online critique group, someone mentioned that it sounds like Marianna wears 50s clothes. I wanted her look to be distinctive, so I started looking for images of 50s clothes, and ended up with this:

The best thing about these pictures (dresses and character) is that it grounds me. I can describe one of these dresses exactly as I see it, and not be hampered by my lack of visual memory.

I’m keeping the picture of Marianna on my desktop right now, so when I need to remember what she looks like – or her spirit, even – I can remind myself with a glance.

“Placeholder” Characters

So here I am, finished with yet another draft of my Contemporary Young Adult WIP (work in progress). It feels pretty good. I know I have a few layers of revisions left to do, but I’m getting there. Most of the things I need to revise are story structure things, like where exactly is the climax of this book, and am I totally screwed if I don’t know where it is?

But then, one of my critiquers on scribophile.com  (a fabulous peer critique group for writers, check it out!) asked if one of my characters was a placeholder or whether she was supposed to be a real person.

Agh. So that was yucky. You know why? ‘Cause she was right.

As I looked at the character of the main character’s roommate (are you following me here?), it’s true, she’s just a placeholder. She moves the plot along once or twice. Otherwise she’s totally one-dimensional.

Apparently if she’s important enough to be in the story, she’s important enough to have a personality.

Crap. You know what that means?

More revisions.