Using Psychology to Research a Character: Testing

Using Psychology to Research a Character: Testing
July 24, 2017 1 Comment For Authors, Writing Advice Nancy E Miller

Want to know your spirit animal? There’s a test for that. In fact, there is a test for just about anything you want to know. Most of us know the ones on Facebook are just for entertainment but some are valid tools used in psychology to help people better understand themselves.

But what about personalities? Are they formed by the way we see the world. Or do they come pre-installed?  Here are just a few tests to check out.

Today we concentrate on the MBPI. The Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator test has been around since 1944 and considered the standard for several decades.

Even though other ways of categorizing people have been created for professional use, the MBPI remains an easy and constructive way to research characters. Start with a basic, yet quite formed character and take the test as that character.

Some of us aren’t lucky enough to have characters arrive fully formed in our head. We need a little help. By taking the test and researching the results, you get to meet your character.

Take a look at the graphic below. I happen to be an INFJ type personality. There are fifteen additional categories. 

Can a person truly change?  We are told “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But over the course of a lifetime many people do change. They may start out as an extrovert and find over time that they value the internal more than the external. It happened to me. I was the consummate extrovert looking to find validation from the outside. Then I began to see how the external forces affected me. So I sought a different path. I changed.

It is possible to include in your character arc a transition from one category to another. Does your character change from a judging type person to a more perceiving type?  I can be a perceiving type on occasion and just go with the flow but I have a really hard time giving up my lists and deadlines.

Once you have determined the protagonist then try your antagonist. Would the antagonist be in direct opposition to the protagonist?  Or could they share some traits?  Would the ‘best friend/sidekick’ be in line with the protagonist or would that be boring?

If nothing else, using a test such as the MBPI can give ideas for your characters.  We all run short on imagination at times. Kick that writer’s block in the pants as new possibilities pop up.

Next week, I will write on sources of reading materials on psychology that can assist you in writing your characters.  The third portion will be on observation and research.


Nancy E Miller Nancy E. Miller, romantic suspense author of Shark Bait and Crystal Unicorns, lives near St. Louis with her husband and three dogs, pygmy goats, chickens and a cranky rooster named Ketchup. Her degree is in Psychology and Sociology. She has worked in education and mental health as a case manager and crisis counselor.
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