For me, personality tests are like a piece of free candy, if I see one, I’ll take it. They can be serious, like Myers Briggs, or fun like the “what do you see” Rorschach-like personality tests constantly popping up on Facebook.

But can my color choice really predict my personality? I think not. Can it help me better develop my characters when writing? Let’s find out…personality test color.jpg

Testy Issues

In some ways, personality tests, even the validated ones, feel a lot like the horoscope in a  magazine. If they’re general enough, anyone can relate. Essentially, they are a form of entertainment.

Here’s a great example, after reading a book about introverts with my book club, many of the members took a knock-off Myers Briggs test and then sent out emails comparing our results. It was a fun exercise. But what’s really the point beyond a little fun?

My real issue with personality tests is that I reject the concept that we can all be boiled down and explained by a formula.

It’s Complicated…

That doesn’t mean I don’t like to analyze and understand myself and others. I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about how people’s minds work. personality traits venn diagram.pngBut, when I assess myself or others, no one ever falls into distinct, clearly defined categories, like the shy girl is always this way or the funny girl is always that way.

People’s personalities are more like Venn diagrams where certain things overlap and others don’t. My point: personality is complex and a test can’t really capture all the subtle nuances that make people unique.

The Personality of Writing

So what does this have to do with writing?

As a writer, especially one of fiction, I must create an entire fake world that has to seem very real to the reader. Even if the sky is yellow, the world is square and people have skin made of stone and communicate via a series of knocking sounds, the world has to feel real. (Not an actual story I’m writing.)

No matter the story, I create all the characters in my head. I draw them and fill them in with words. One of the aspects of writing I struggle with most is ensuring my characters feel authentic.mask

In a short amount of words, writers must quickly establish a character’s personality without making he or she a stereotype. As the story progresses, writers must then struggle with how deep to go with character traits and quirks so as not to bog down the narrative but still provide unique, believable, interesting characters.

It’s not easy.

Making Fake Personalities Real

When I first saw this article about using a Myers Briggs type personality test to help develop characters, I immediately rejected the idea and closed the article. Given my feelings about the triviality of these tests, I didn’t see the value.

Not actual Dagny, but a lovely, fun girl who dressed up as her for a favorite character day at school. It’s as close as I’ll get! 🙂

However, my new self-resolution is to challenge any and all initial negative reactions I have to see if they’re actually fair reactions. The article suggests filling out one of these tests as your character. So that is what I did. I completed it as Dagny, the main character of my novel, The Travelers.

Finding a Personality

So, what did I discover in this process?

1. It was fun and weird.

Filling out a test as someone else is strange. It’s even stranger when that person isn’t real. But, it was a lot of fun. Now I want to do it for all of my characters!

2. It made me think.

I’ve always thought about Dagny as a real person. I think us writers are crazy like that. But even in my God-like, character-creating, fictional-building universe, I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about every aspect of her personality in this minute detail.

Since I couldn’t just have a gut response to every question, which is how I take those tests for myself, I had to stop and think. How would Dagny respond?

3. It was a shockingly helpful tool.

Essentially, the test became a tool for uncovering more about my character. It’s like journaling as your character or other tools writers use to develop the people they’ve created in their minds. This exercise probably taught me more about Dagny than I’ve ever learned about myself when taking one of these tests.

The Personality Results

personality typesIn case you’re filled with the unbearable need to know what personality type Dagny turned out to be, she is…

Personality type: “The Mediator” INEP-T
Individual traits:

Introverted – 68%, Intuitive – 67%, Feeling – 72%, Prospecting – 86%, Turbulent – 83%

Role: Diplomat

What’s a Mediator?

According to the website I went to, “Mediator personalities are true idealists, always looking for the hint of good in even the worst of people. While they may be perceived as calm, reserved, or even shy, Mediators have an inner flame and passion that can truly shine. The risk of feeling misunderstood is high for the Mediator personality type.”

What’s a Diplomat?

Again, according to the website, “Diplomats are guided by their principles, rather than by logic, excitement, or practicality. When deciding how to move forward, they will look to honor, beauty, morality, and virtue.”

Does this describe Dagny?

I’m not sure I’d describe her this way, but it’s not wrong. The real value of this exercise though was in the process itself. By reading and thinking about the questions, I discovered more about Dagny as a character.

Bottom line: Personality Test – Good Tool for Writers or Waste of Time?

I’d say it’s a good tool. However, it’s important to note, I found the outcome, in this case, was less important than the journey.  It made me think about details in new ways.  Still, I’d recommend it as part of the writing tool arsenal for authors. It’s worth a try.