This is the second of four articles about character writing based on David Keirsey’s personality theories. Keirsey was an educational psychologist who invented the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, a personality questionnaire that divides people into four groups with four sub-types in each group. It has much in common with the Myers-Brigs Type Indicator and uses the MBTI letters to designate each of the sixteen sub-types, though there are significant differences in underlying theory and type descriptions.
There is much in Keirsey’s temperament theory that can be useful for writers. For example, Guardians make up about 40 to 45 percent of the population. If you’re working with a large cast of characters, something will seem off if there are no Guardian-types in the mix. Here’s an article that talks about Keirsey types in literature, if you need more convincing.
According to the Guardian profile on David Keirsey’s website, this personality type shares the following core characteristics:
- Guardians pride themselves on being dependable, helpful, and hard-working.
- Guardians make loyal mates, responsible parents, and stabilizing leaders.
- Guardians tend to be dutiful, cautious, humble, and focused on credentials and traditions.
- Guardians are concerned citizens who trust authority, join groups, seek security, prize gratitude, and dream of meting out justice.
Guardians are the pillars of society (or they want to be). As a group, they can be counted on to uphold law and order and respect authority. They are practical, and cautious when it comes to change. Keirsey says they typically “end up doing all the indispensable but thankless jobs the rest of the population takes for granted.” Here’s a link to his guide to ideal careers for Guardians.
Keirsey describes Supervisors as “unbelievably hard-working.” They are also the most likely of the Guardians to seek leadership positions. If they aren’t in charge at work they are likely to be leading some kind of social group. They are characterized by punctuality, level-headedness, tradition, and faithfulness in personal relationships.
Good career fits are analyst, police officer, a military career, engineer, dentist, politician, and judge. In a fantasy story, an ESTJ would make a good king, general, or a stubborn dwarf.
The Inspectors are dependable, patient, and meticulous. They are not as talkative or emotionally expressive as Supervisors, and can be seen as too strict when trying to convince other people to follow rules as closely as they do. They prefer life to be plain and avoid fancy parties.
Accountant, banker, IRS agent, detective, and office manager are careers that might appeal to an Inspector. Medical, legal, and technical fields are also a good fit. A potential character type would be someone who very carefully completes all their duties, yet does so quietly and is therefore ignored.
Keirsey describes Providers as “the most sociable of all the Guardians.” They will happily devote a great amount of energy to organizing social events and making sure everyone has a good time. They are talkative, friendly, sensitive to other people’s needs, and like to gossip (in the most harmless fashion).
Providers like jobs that let them deal with people, such as medical, education, religion, social work, or business (receptionist, sales rep, real estate agent). Supposing your main character were a Provider, one way to stress them and provide inner conflict would be to isolate them or put them around people who are highly critical.
Keirsey’s Protectors are extraordinarily loyal and would do anything to help a friend. They can be reserved, but are more people-oriented than a stereotypical introvert. Protectors want stability in their lives and will work hard to maintain a sense of security for themselves and their loved ones.
This type tends to gravitate towards roles where they feel they are doing good for others and where they can avoid drawing much attention. These may include technical work, medicine, business, education, or social work. As Samwise Gamgee and John Watson prove, ISFJs are a wonderful choice to cast as the hero’s best friend (who may very well be even more heroic than the character who is given credit).