MBTI and Your Characters

I find the Myers Briggs personality test to be interesting and helpful. Some people object to being categorized while others fully embrace it! I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. I have found my own personality profile to be insightful. Sometimes it helps me explain myself to others better than I ever could on my own. But no one person falls exactly in the bounds of the personality type- that’s the beautiful thing about people.

I have not constructed my characters around a personality type (as some authors do), but I think it would be interesting to try. My character development is much more instinctual, and often they are shadows of people I have met in real life. But I am always searching for ways to draw out more depth in my characters.

But being a rare personality type (especially among women) I fell into the trap today of searching for INTP female characters. They are difficult to find. (The only one that I really agree with is Alice from Alice in Wonderland.)

Some people have brought up some good points as to why INTP characters are rare (for men or women). First of all, because most stories involve action, if an INTP were to be a main character pressed to take action by dire circumstances, he or she might be mis-labeled because of these actions. And (relating to this) INTPs like to live in their head-in the world of the theoretical, and can be difficult to manage in a story.

I want to give a few tips to any writers wanting to fashion an INTP character. I admit the “stereotypical” INTP (antisocial, absent minded professor) may be difficult to work with, but who wants stereotypes anyway?

  1. Introverted Thinking. The general idea floating around is that INTPs never apply the knowledge they gain. That is why they are boring. But don’t forget that not all INTPs are the same. Granted, they may not be driven toward application and ambition, but don’t forget that they store up knowledge and categorize it. And how they were raised may impact their priorities/value system. Your INTP character will observe a lot. Have them share it with someone they trust, or use the knowledge to amuse themselves. And this “aloof,” staring off into space is a great device to make other characters feel uncomfortable.
  2. Extraverted iNtuition. I think this is one of the keys to writing an interesting INTP character. INTPs like systems. I mentioned it above with the games. One of the most interesting things about INTPs is their intuition. They run with possibilities, they play games in their head, and sometimes their systems of logic are deeply subjective.
  3. Introverted Sensing. It’s tempting to make your brilliant character someone who always notices details (Sherlock Holmes), or is OCD and neurotic and hates it when you move his book. But what about that brilliant character who is oblivious to his environment? Not interesting? I think it is, especially when you create juxtaposition. For example, Einstein is working on the theory of relativity but can’t find his car keys. But more than that, it’s the fact that they tune out the environment around them: “How could you not see her? She was sitting at the table across from you?” They are more focused on internal senses than external senses. And memories don’t often bring up visual specifics. Memories are often linked to importance and significance.
  4. Extraverted Feeling. This is also crucial. They are not devoid of emotion. They just don’t understand it. And they tend to understand it better than others. So their empathy can be very strong (but usually not consistent). Using myself as an example, I may feel deep emotion when hearing about a natural disaster, but feel unmoved when I hear my friend is getting a divorce. The emotions I do feel, I analyze. If I can’t understand them, I shove them away or try to hide them. Emotions are very scary for me. I think if a big emotional event were to occur an INTP would react in one of two ways: shut down and respond like a robot (which I’ve definitely done), or try to push the emotion away until it overwhelms you and you don’t know how to fix it so you make an impulsive decision (which I’ve definitely done). Both are great fodder for fiction writing. I think the second response might cause people to mislabel your character as another personality type…the important thing to remember is this, at the end of the emotional outburst, an INTP will analyze exactly what happened and file it away.

 

Finally, I think the most important thing about an INTP is the fact that they thrive in systems. Most people associate this to mean mathematics, or linguistics etc. But I have found it is so much broader than that. I used to be socially awkward and anxious around people, not knowing how to behave. But then I decided to conquer the “system” of social norms and behavior. I have learned how to dress myself to give off certain impressions, or to be accepted as professional. I have learned how to excel at small talk, how to sympathize effectively etc. But once in a while something will throw me off, some circumstance that I hadn’t accounted for, and I find myself slipping up again. And when I am really exhausted, I fall back into old habits. It reminds me that it doesn’t come naturally to me.

My dad, my brother, and I are all INTPs, but we manifest it very differently. My dad is constantly starting new hobbies and learning new skills, but once he masters competence he seems to lose interest and move on. My brother is a computer programer who will wax on and on about the intricacies of his job, not noticing when people’s eyes glaze over, but he also loves sports. He makes friends easily and goes out on adventures: mountain biking, indoor soccer, hiking etc. And I find myself trying to understand all of my life experiences and put them into my stories: to categorize and analyze them into something that makes sense. I adore philosophy and I analyze people. I explore a lot of artistic avenues, but usually with a mathematical approach. Cooking, painting, writing, all have rules and laws that make them function.

I think I would have remained much more aloof and secluded if there had not been people in my life who pushed me in the other direction. But some of the key traits about me that prove I am an INTP: logical correctness is hugely important to me, I second guess myself and my decisions all the time because I know that it is possible there is something I’ve overlooked, and although emotions may rise quickly to the surface if I’m having a hard time, I always return to reason and logic when making decisions. (Also, I tend to express myself in absolute truths. lol)

If you want to write an INTP character, here’s my advice for you: have them appear well adjusted and “average” until stressful events start to reveal their real personality. Under stress they are more likely to be blunt (without softening their statements), they are more likely to correct other people (instead of holding their tongues), they are more likely to let their appearance go or stop paying the bills, they are more likely to seclude themselves, and they are more likely to withdraw and stare off into space.

As to action oriented, like I said in the beginning upbringing and circumstances have a lot to play into that. My family is very outdoorsy, try new things oriented and so I have a good deal of that in me. INTPs are fiercely loyal to their principals and to people close to them. So those are two good motivators to make them respond! They aren’t likely to be your typical action hero looking for trouble. So put someone close to them by their side to draw them out and motivate them. (Logan and Druce 😉

Hope this was helpful! And if you want to read a book with a strong female INTP, read my books “The Creation of Jack” and “Into the Void” (coming soon!).

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