Thursday, October 15, 2009

Writing to Type

Isn't the English language wonderful? I'm talking "Type" as in personality type, not type as in keyboarding.

A friend of mine recently reminded me that we have different personality types. What he said was something along the lines of "I'm and thinking person who happens to also feel, you (meaning me) are a feeling person who happens to think." True, but I was still insulted. There is nothing wrong with my thinking process thank you very much.

But here's the truth of the matter. My friend, who I'll call Mr. Spock, makes decisions based mostly on his thought process with very little regard to how he feels about something. Like the original Spock, he's ruled by logic. That doesn't mean his logic is always correct, nor does it mean his decisions always work out for him. But I think, all in all, he does pretty well.

I, on the other hand, make decisions based on how I feel about things. Sometimes it's just an intuitive thing. A hunch. Like when my husband and I (and kids) were camping on our friend's lawn while house hunting one summer I had a "feeling" that we were wearing out our welcome. My husband (another thinker) thought I was overreacting. Turns out I was right. (Good thing I'd insisted we move on.) There weren't any outward signs, and certainly our friends didn't say anything, but there signals of some kind and I picked up on them.

I have to say that my decisions don't always work out that well for me . Such as my current decision to work in the high school to supplement our income... Let's just say that the aggravation is not worth the money. I'm staying because my thinking husband doesn't agree with my assessment. For him, any extra money is better than no extra money. I'm sure he thinks I'll eventually adapt.

So what does this have to do with writing? Here's the deal. You can use your observation of personality types to help develop characters. There are lots of ways to analyze personality and many of them can be helpful when developing character, and for me - the feeler who thinks - often times my observation of how people act and what motivates them, works very well in conjunction with the charts.

If I remember correctly I'm currently an ENFJ - although I was born a INFP. I trained myself to act like an extrovert in my mid-twenties and eventually it became ingrained. I actually AM an E now. And I can expect other ENFJs to behave in similar ways to the ways I behave. But here's the good part, I remember what it's like to be shy. I was a card carrying, hide your head in your momma's skirt, so timid it was painful, avoid all social situations and God forbid a boy talks to you, introvert. As painful as it is to remember those days it comes in very handy when I'm in the midst of character development.

So what if you're an E (for extrovert, in case I haven't made that clear), you've never been an I and you've got a character who does a great impersonation of a turtle? Use your imagination. How do the shy people in your community act? See that surly guy at the elementary school open house? You stay away from him because most of his sentences consist of curt one word answers, and you're sure he thinks you're an idiot. Here's a news flash. He's an I for Introvert. He's surly because he feels so out of place that his teeth ache. He's been ready to leave since he got there, and he's gaging how long he has to stay so that he doesn't seem rude. He's wishing one of his buddies had a child in the same grade as his.

Here's another tidbit about that guy; his wife is an E. A warm and friendly smiler, who knows everyone in the room and wants to talk to everybody. The entire town wonders why in the world she married surly guy. What they don't realize is that when he's with her he can relax. She puts him at ease. Knows what he's thinking so he doesn't have to talk a lot. She sees the qualities in him that only his close friends know about because in public situations he's too shy to be himself.

See how easy that was. Two quick character sketches in less than five minutes. You have my permission to use either one, or both.

How about T (Thinker) vs F (Feeler)? I can tell you that my Thinking friend takes a long time to respond to serious questions. He can answer "what do you want for lunch?" quick as anything. But ask him if you should change jobs and it could be days before he gets back to you. When he does answer, it's with a well reasoned, point by point presentation on the pros and cons of the situation. Sometimes he takes so long thinking about something, I think he's forgotten about it. But he hasn't. Spock just wants to look at the situation from all sides before commenting.

How do I deal with the issue of a friend wondering if they should change jobs? I ask questions, now hold your breath because this is a revelation; I ask questions about my friend's feelings. And within about three minutes I've already formed my opinion based on those feelings. I'm not saying I never change my mind faced with further facts, but most of my major decisions are made that quickly.

Before you call your mother and tell her I'm a idiot, let me say this: my feelings about things are based on observation over time. So although it may seem like I'm making snap decisions, in reality I have a lifetime of experience with how feeling translates in the real world. Does your boss make you miserable? Yes. Is your boss likely to change? No. Do I believe that we should spend our short lives working for people who make us miserable? No. There's your answer, find another job. (Oh, and in case you're running off to tell your mother I'm an complete imbecile, I do realize that finding a job in the current climate is not easy, and it may take a while. But I still think you should be looking.)

Looking at the above scenario I can already see a number of story lines developing. One heck of a romantic suspense about a thinking cop who takes her time making decisions, that tend to be correct. This cop becomes embroiled with a feeling private eye, who makes snap decisions that get them both in trouble. They drive each other crazy until the bitter end when they succumb to their mutual attraction while caught in a certain death situation. You fill in the details.

And let me know when it's published, I want to read it.