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Cracking the Character Code—How Writers Can Use the MBTI to Add Depth to Characters

Updated: Feb 19

Cracking the Character Code—How the MBTI Can Ignite a Boring Character

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Ever stare at a blank page, yearning to breathe life into a character who leaps off the page and into the reader's heart? Are you frustrated because your character(s) are flat and lack any substance or personality? Or maybe the characters in your story do not have relationships with each other, or if they do, that connection is based on an overused trope that forces the reader to drop your book like a hot potato. I suppose the reason I'm writing this, is because I am struggling with these very issues today, while editing my first draft of Mysterious Ways. In this, my first novel, I have written in plenty of characters that I've built up by using backstory, dialogue, and good old-fashioned description, and every main character relates to at least one, if not all, the other main characters.

"Splendid!" you say. However, in reading my story, I've found three things I don't like about the people I've placed in it. 1) Some of the characters sound exactly like me! 2) Some of the characters have no personality or feelings, and I am only speaking of the 20 main characters, not the 70 other people in the story, some of whom are mentioned once, in passing. And 3) Some of the relationships are bland, at best. 

Secret Weapon to Crack the Character Code

In regards to 1) above, it is only natural for inexperienced writers to create characters that resemble ourselves because we draw from our own experiences in an attempt to make the story real. After I discovered that the main character in my story sounded a lot more like Jason Kurtz than Ethan Hawks, I did some digging and found a secret weapon to Crack the Character Code and combat this very issue. What I discovered was personality decoder a that unlocks the vault to a multitude of unique and believable characters! I'll let you in on this incredible free writers tool, but shh... let's keep this between us to keep an edge on the competition!

a person holding their index finger up to their mouth

I found this personality decoder while reading a post, by K.M. Weiland on her blog/site I will run this post through a plagiarism checker to assure Ms. Weiland and you, my devoted reader, that I'm not copying her, or anyone else! Weiland's blog has an abundance of quality writing advice that isn't boring, is fun to read, and easy to comprehend. It's also where I first read about a tool that can be instrumental in transforming your character from say, an Eeyore, to say, a Jack Sparrow. See the Disney/MBTI chart below. That secret weapon is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Personality Test

The MBTI is not a test actually, but a questionaire of preferences based on Carl Jung's idea of cognitive functions, and uses four categories to determine a personality type. Think of the MBTI as a compass for navigating the vast ocean of human personality. It pinpoints your characters on a map defined by these four key :

Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E): Do your characters draw energy from solitude or social interaction?

●     Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): Do they rely on concrete facts or abstract possibilities?

●     Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): Do they prioritize logic or emotions in decision-making?

●     Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P): Do they crave structure and order, or prefer flexibility and spontaneity?

By understanding these preferences, you can craft characters who feel real, relatable, and even surprising. Here are some examples of these dichotomies in some of the most popular people in history, politics, and entertainment.

1. Introversion/Extraversion

●     The Introvert: Think Leonardo da Vinci or Nikola Tesla. Introverted characters find solace in reflection and internal worlds. They might be observant, insightful, and possess hidden depths waiting to be discovered. Craft their journeys around self-discovery, quiet victories, and the power of inner strength.

●     The Extrovert: Think Donald Trump or Jim Carey. Extraverted characters thrive on connection and external stimulation. They might be outgoing, dynamic, and catalysts for action. Let them drive the plot, navigate social landscapes, and spark conflict with their infectious energy.

2. Sensing/Intuition

●     The Sensor: Think Michael Jackson or Amelia Earhart. Sensor characters value concrete experiences and practical solutions. They might be detail-oriented, reliable, and masters of the tangible world. Build their narratives around overcoming physical challenges, mastering skills, and finding beauty in the everyday.

●     The Intuitive: Think Elon Musk or Sherlock Holmes. Intuitive characters grasp abstract concepts and future possibilities. They might be creative, innovative, and driven by unseen forces. Shape their stories around uncovering hidden truths, navigating complex emotions, and chasing bold dreams.

3. Thinking/Feeling

●     The Thinker: Think Spock or Dr. House. Thinking characters prioritize logic and objective analysis. They might be analytical, decisive, and champions of reason. Craft their conflicts around ethical dilemmas, intellectual puzzles, and the struggle to balance logic with empathy.

●     The Feeler: Think Mother Theresa or Ronald Reagan. Feeling characters prioritize emotions and subjective experiences. They might be compassionate, understanding, and guided by values. Design their journeys around navigating relationships, confronting injustice, and finding strength in their emotional intelligence.

4. Judging/Perceiving

●     The Judger: Think Carl Jung himself or Gordon Ramsay. Judging characters crave structure and closure. They might be organized, decisive, and masters of planning. Plot their stories around overcoming obstacles, achieving goals, and finding satisfaction in order.

●     The Perceiver: Think Tom Hanks or Jack Sparrow. Perceiving characters thrive on flexibility and spontaneity. They might be adaptable, open-minded, and masters of improvisation. Throw them into unexpected situations, challenge their plans, and let them learn and grow through their experiences.

a character chart from Star Wars

MBTI is Not an Exact Science

Remember, the MBTI is not a rigid box, but a spectrum of possibilities. Each character is a unique blend of these preferences, creating endless combinations. Use the MBTI as a springboard, not a straitjacket. Let it guide you, but don't be afraid to bend the rules and embrace the unexpected

MBTI personality chart
By Jake Beech-Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Many Uses for the MBTI

Taking the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator yourself can provide a lot of insight into your personality, which is probably why the instrument has become so popular. I recommend 16 Personalities, where you can get your very own MBTI type for free, and the site provides valuable insight into each type in regards to strengths and weaknesses, friendships, romantic relationships, and careers, just to name a few. According to this site, I am an INTJ, which is cool because the INTJ's are the Masterminds, according to Disney and other sources. However, as I've stated, each personality type has its own pros and cons, and it seems that INTJ's are also the Villains quite frequently. Now I see why I'm running out of room on my character profile sheet for Karl Crawford, the antagonist in my book.

screenshot of a character profile
I can create blank character profile sheets like this one for you, including dropdown lists on many of the categories! Go to the Copyshop on my site to order!

You can take a peek at my profile to get an idea of what 16 Personalities provides for free.

According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, it is important to remember that every type has value.

Use the MBTI to create dynamic relationships! Imagine an introverted thinker paired with an extroverted feeler. The clash of their preferences can spark hilarious banter, heartwarming support, or even epic conflicts. So, unleash the power of the MBTI and unlock a universe of authentic characters waiting to be born. Remember, the best stories are woven from the threads of human complexity, and the MBTI can be your key to unraveling them.

a picture chart of Disney characters

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together for you! Please tell your friends about Narrative Niche and as always, thanks for reading! Write on!

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