After writing a blog post about how to conquer procrastination just last week, I succumbed to it myself, at least as far as this blog is concerned. I did, however finish The Heather and The Falcon (for the third time, but I think the story is actually complete now) and start a short story about one of the characters whose story arch was not well served by the novel’s point of view.
I’ve also been doing a fair amount of reading, which forms the basis for this post. Samuel Johnson said, “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Perhaps sometimes I have to turn over an entire book to write one blog post about the art of creative writing.
Introverts and Extroverts
The book I’m alluding to is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. While reading it, I couldn’t help but think of how creative writers could use the observations of personality psychologists to help build more believable characters. The last thing anyone want to hear is that their beloved character comes across as “flat,” “one-dimensional,” or “boring.” The way to avid that is to base your characters on observations of real people.
If you’ve ever taken any personality quizzes or researched the subject at all, you’ve probably heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I like this test because it seems the most accurate for me as an INFJ (an in-depth profile even includes the way I experience writer’s block). Based on the work of Carl Jung, the test was designed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers.
Myers-Briggs Writing Exercise
Using four pairs of preferences, the test sorts individuals into sixteen types based on which combination of traits you favor. The four pairs are Introversion – Extroversion, Sensing – Intuitive, Thinking – Feeling, and Perceiving – Judging. An overview of each of the sixteen types can give you an idea of how they can be used when forming characters. Once you’ve identified which of the types your character falls into, it can help give you ideas for how they would react in a situation. It can also help with writer’s block – if you know your characters well enough to know how they will respond to the next incident in the story, that will help move the plot forward.
Taking Myers-Briggs tests on behalf of your characters or reading about the types to see which matches each character is a good creative writing exercise. When I was stuck on The Heather and the Falcon, on of the things that helped was figuring out that Aelis is an ENTJ and Bryant is an ISFJ. That helped me sort out and correct inconsistencies in Bryant’s character, and helped me develop Aelis as a strong female protagonist.
The better you know your characters, the more capable you will be of writing believable prose. Creative writing demands believable characters to carry your storytelling. To paraphrase Graham Green, once your characters are alive you can leave the story telling up to them.