Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm an ISFJ Writer: Protect ALL the Characters!


Charity's been running a series on her Tumblr about how a writer's MBTI type informs their writing, and DKoren posted here about how and why she, as an ISTP, writes.  So here I am, jumping on the bandwagon :-)

I'll start with what Charity said here:  SJs are detailed and systematic in their approach, drawing heavily from their own experiences and/or interests and knowledge base. They proceed neatly point from one point to the next.

Boy, howdy -- that is me.  Some writers write scenes all out of order, whatever they're in the mood for or ready to write.  I've tried that a grand total of once, and it drove me nuts!  I need to know what has already happened before I can write what happens next.  How my characters behave is informed by what they've experienced up to then, and if I haven't written those experiences, I feel unprepared to write what they do next.  And in my own life, I rely on my memories to decide what to do in the present -- I treat emotional memory like muscle memory.

That also feeds into the fact that I do draw on my own experiences for my stories.  I've taken incidents from my life and used them for stories, I've taken my emotional response to something that happened to someone else and used that -- happens all the time.  Because I feel like sharing, I'll even tell you couple of specific examples:

The summer after my freshman year, I got the biggest crush on a guy who worked with me at my summer job.  We eventually went to a movie together, though just as friends.  And then about a week later, lo and behold there he was walking around with another girl, holding her hand.  Like getting hit by a car, I tell you.  I spent the next week writing a Combat! fanfic story about Billy mistaking a nurse's kindness for attraction.  A decade later, I ran into that same guy quite unexpectedly.  I have no idea if he recognized me or not, as I got very self-conscious and shy and kind of ignored him the best I could.  I spent the next NaNoWriMo writing three fanfic stories that grew from that incident -- one in which Sgt. Saunders meets up with a nurse he'd been romantically involved with over a year earlier, then the story of how they met in the first place, and a story that linked the two.  Although the story based on my own experience never quite gelled (yet), and I ended up cannibalizing things from the middle story for something else, the story of their romance is probably my best fanfic story ever, "The Better Part of Valor."

You see why I love Saunders?

Also, like Charity said about drawing on a knowledge base, I struggle to write about things I don't know much about.  I want to do all my research before I start writing a story, not research as I go.  I don't like making factual errors, especially ones I could have avoided if I'd just done my homework, and since most of what I write is set in some historical era or other, this is pretty important.

Another example:  I fell madly in love with The Avengers when it was in theaters.  I'd never seen any of the previous movies, but I loved those characters so much I started writing an Avengers/Combat! crossover story.  Only I didn't really know the characters as well as I should have, particularly Tony Stark, and once I started watching the other Iron Man movies, I accepted that I was writing him all wrong and ditched the whole story because it wasn't working.  Hurt a lot, especially because I felt like, if only I'd done my homework, it would have worked.  (Yes, yes, I could revise it.  Maybe some day I will.)

Can't talk about the Avengers without including a picture of Thor, can I?

But I think the biggest way my ISFJness informs my writing is in how I deal with characters.  I've written before about how I only really love a story if I want to be friends with the characters.  It's my deal breaker -- a movie can be beautiful, a book can be brilliant, a TV show can be hilarious, but if I don't love those characters and want to just hang out with them (in their world or mine, doesn't matter), I'm not going to love it.  Well, obviously I'm not going to write a whole story or novel about characters I don't love, right?

Actually, my first novel had an unlikable protagonist.  I didn't like her, most people in the book didn't like her -- that book definitely taught me not to make that mistake again!  That stinking book took me two years to finish, and I haven't looked at it since.  Got it out of my way, moved on, learned from that experience for sure ;-)

The trouble is, because I love my characters, and because I'm an ISFJ "protector" or "defender," I have a super hard time letting any of them get hurt.  But I write westerns and war stories.  Lots of action and danger and excitement.  People get hurt.  Sometimes they die.  Not as often as they might need to, I must admit -- I regularly plan on characters dying in stories, only to pardon them when it comes right down to it.  Even villains and antagonists!  I can think of four separate instances where I've let the Bad Guy live at the end when I really meant for him not to.  In the novel I'm rewriting right now, two characters were absolutely supposed to die at the end, and do they?  Nope, not a bit.  One other character does have to die for the story to work right, and I've been crying actual tears over having to rewrite his death scene and go through all that again.  Ugh.  Hates it, precious.  And he's a completely minor character!


Now that I know all these things about myself, I do have an easier time writing.  I know I can't jump around in the story if I want it to make sense for me.  I know I need to finish my research before I start writing.  I know I'm going to have to be very hard-hearted indeed when it comes to killing characters for the sake of the story.

34 comments:

  1. Cool post. :) I've been rather fascinated by the Myers-Briggs type indicated test ever since I heard of it. It's a really neat idea to look at how your personality type would affect the way you write. I'm an INTJ usually, though every once in a while I get ENTJ.

    xx

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    1. Thanks! I know the MBTI test is "just a parlor game" and "not scientific," but I think anything that helps you understand yourself better is worth while. And I agree, it's neat to look at your writing habits and style and interests and see how they might be informed by who you are.

      My husband is an INTJ :-) The Mastermind!

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  2. This is awesome; I love MBTI test but I never really connected it with thinking about how it effects my writing. Well, outside of the fact that because I'm extrovert, I love listening to music when I write. (I'm a ENFP.) :) Great post!

    ~Jamie

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    1. Thanks! I'd never particularly thought of it this way either until Charity started her series.

      I'm a very solid introvert, and I love listening to music when I write. Gotta have it, really. Helps me focus.

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  3. Exactly!!! I must be, too.... I've read numerous times that an author just needs to sit down and write and write and write and write and get that story done and then "you can always go back and tidy up." That's quite true to a point (and I think you do need to keep writing something all the time to keep words and ideas flowing), but when it comes to story writing, I don't like charging ahead. What I do in one scene---how a character responds---how their personality/character develops in that scene tremendously affects the next. If one scene starts going sideways, the next will be even more so. I find it works a lot better if I go slowly, get to know my characters on a deep level and edit tremendously as I go along. (For me at least), it avoids frustration in the long run.

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    1. I do not think it is a coincidence that I waited almost 18 months between getting the idea for my latest book and actually starting to write it, and it being the first book that, when I'd finished it, made me think, "I could publish this." The better I know my characters, the longer I've spent pondering the story and the world, the better it's going to be.

      Which doesn't mean I have to wait 18 months to start my next book, but the truth is, I got the idea for my next story in June, and I know I'm not ready to start it yet. At all. Which is fine, since I'm working on rewriting the last book. Still gathering stuff, still getting to know the characters, still figuring out the plot. It's simmering nicely and I'm happy to let it :-)

      This is why I don't do NaNoWriMo anymore. I know I can write 50,000 words if I want to. I know I can write a novel only a couple months after I got the idea for it, and it'll be okay but not great. I don't want to write reams of stuff I have to throw out -- I want to write a workable, readable first draft that makes sense and doesn't need massive rewriting.

      (That being said, I'm rewriting the last six chapters of my last book right now because they didn't quite work. But only parts of them, not all of them, and not the whole book.)

      Frustration is my enemy. Avoid at all costs!

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  4. I remember once when an INFP (didn't know this at the time) told me that her writing method was to write whatever she wanted to write, out of order, and then kind of cobble it all up together; it baffled me, because I'm a linear writer. Beginning to end. I wait to write scenes I really want to write until they are in their proper place in the narrative. I progress chapter by chapter (all around the same word limit, heh... so OCD) and then wrap it all up at the end.

    Writing straight up historical fiction was somewhat frustrating to me, because it required so much research (which I loved) and being accurate to so many minor things (which I didn't ... it really slowed the narrative at times) but once I ditched that and started writing historical fantasy, I had a much easier time of it. Now the research is optional and I can just focus on driving the story forward. Like you, I have a hard time murdering my characters. I have done it before and the backlash was so bad from my readers complaining that I avoid it now. But I'd still do it, if I needed to -- and considered doing it to my last anti-hero, to make a point and bring the story full circle. But I found a way of avoiding it and that made me happy.

    I sort of collect information from other authors and then incorporate that knowledge into my body of work, but I really don't write much from personal antidotes, at least not consciously. I also don't base my characters on real people I have known. I claim that this is because I lived the incident and don't need to revisit it, but in reality I think I just enjoy playing in my mental sandbox more when it comes to storytelling than grounding it in tangible things from my past. Someday, when I start writing more serious things again, that may change.

    Authenticity to characters is important to me when writing fanfiction; I can't stand it when another writer abuses a character, puts them out of character, etc., so I am meticulous in crafting a story that is sensible within the original narrative and respectful of another person's character whenever I do write fanfic.

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    1. I'm co-writing a story right now with someone who likes to skip around in the narrative, and it's actually going surprisingly well. She blips ahead and adds something, and then I write the connecting pieces. But yeah... I couldn't write that way on my own. (And heh heh... my way of determining whether a chapter is over or not is often to see how many pages I've got and if that's about the same number as the previous chapter.)

      And it's nice to know I'm not the only one who just can't kill off characters easily :-)

      Most of my books and stories don't come from personal life -- those two I mentioned are the only ones pulled directly from life. However, bits and pieces here and there get worked in. Like, I served on a jury for an arson case years ago, and one of my novels had a protagonist who lost her apartment because of arson and had to meet with police several times during their investigation to answer their questions.

      But I have NEVER based a character on someone I know. Situations, yes. People, no. Except that my protagonists tend to end up reminding me a lot of some part of myself. This one has my temper, that one has my interest in theater, that other one has my taste in movies, and that one over there has my fierce loyalty thing going on.

      Authenticity to characters is of paramount importance to me with fanfiction. If you make the characters sound wrong or act wrong, I'm not going to like your story, and I might quit reading your stuff. And if you kill off a regular character, I'm going to glare at you for days. And never read that story again.

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  5. I love your multiple "protect all the characters" pics. Cracks me up. I'm trying to think if I ever gave a character a pardon at the last moment when I needed them to die.... nope. Don't think the governor ever came through for my characters. I have, though, bawled tears for a couple of them while writing their demises. (Oh, interesting, just realized those deaths share common traits...) But L and I do maintain a list of "why'd he have to die?" characters from movies where the characters' deaths are completely unwarranted and pointless, which we will rant over every so often.

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    1. You're a hard-hearted hannah, and that's all there is to it.

      I wanted to put in an Angel picture too, and a Sawyer, but they didn't work into the post. Cuz I was just having So Much Fun making them :-D

      That's an interesting list! I'd like to see it sometime.

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  6. 1) I have spent 5 days perusing Charity's Tumblr. WOW. I love studying personality tests, and MBTI is really new to me, and, wow, so much information on that site. I looked through almost all her character types. So interesting.

    2) Still not sure I'm a writer, but maybe I think like one. Because this blog post basically explained how I get into movies and/or books. Even if the movie is totally horrid, I'll still watch it because I "just love so-and-so SO much". If I hear someone downing the movie, I start defending it because I don't want someone to hate on my character. (I get this way about Thor and TTDW. Not so great movies, but please don't talk bad about my Thor. LOL) Same with books. Even if I admit the book itself is less than stellar, I make excuses because there's this great character. Love Comes Softly--not a lot of vocal fans, but I sing its praises because, for me, the Davis family is so realistic and honest and such great examples.

    3) It seems I'm an ESFJ, although I was probably an ESFP as a child. (Can you change types?) So, yep, I draw on previous knowledge, too. Which makes me feel guilty sometimes because all I knew up until teenagehood was holiness churches, homeschool, and cheap Christian movies. Not really my parents' fault, but I tend to keep quiet in group discussions. Another reason I don't really want to write that badly. I just don't know that much.

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    1. You can't change types, no. You can adopt functions that are not your own by being around people who have them and following their example, but if born an ESFJ you are an ESFJ for life. How you differ from other ESFJs is highly dependent on how well you mature your functions.

      Many ESFJs are not writers because ... there's so much more to do in the real world, as extroverts! :)

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    2. Ah, thank you for clearing that up. MBTI is a bit confusing, and I thought I had read somewhere that you could change types. My baby brother and I are a lot alike, but I think he is the ESFP because he draws crowds and little kids are attracted to him like a magnet. :-)

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    3. Yeah, it IS confusing -- until you study it in depth and obsess over it for several years like me, and then you can tell types apart at a glance. :)

      My big sister is an ESFP. Very bold. Very emotional. Very outgoing. Quick on the draw, full of sass, can see something once and duplicate it at home (she's an artist, but very hands on with her art). She got married one Saturday morning in a gorgeous colorful dress -- no white -- had her guests do a range of activities that had meaning to her (best wedding I ever went to) and then went skydiving the next morning. That's a Se-dom for you: always in pursuit of a new, exciting physical experience.

      ESFJs are more open with their emotions / more concerned with what other people think and how they will react to things, and tend to be more emphasizing of their past experience and traditions. They do not have that relentless desire for new physical experiences that the ESFP has -- for them, it's more in pursuit of new ideas and intellectual concepts. :)

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    4. 1. Charity's Tumblr is a black hole that has devoured many hours of my life :-)

      2. Just because you haven't been a writer up to now doesn't mean you couldn't try your hand at writing now. Affection for characters definitely plays into my own writing, but also into my reading and watching predilections. So I don't know if loving something for characters is a mark of a writer or not, but it definitely plays into writing for me.

      3. My mom is probably an ESFJ. A lot like me in many ways, and a lot unlike me in many ways.

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    5. Charity: I do that with the Color Code (another personality test), so I get the obsession. :-) To be clear, what's the dom and non dom for an ESFJ? I'm still a bit confused.

      Hamlette: Well, I just figured loving characters was an SFJ thing. :-) Eh, I could try writing, but that's pretty rusty cog that hasn't been worked in a while. Maybe when I finish school. Again. ;-)

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    6. I think it's an SJ thing, yeah.

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    7. "Dom" means dominant cognitive function -- so an ESFJ is a dominant Extroverted Feeler. Their cognitive functions are, in order, Extroverted Feeling -- Fe -- Introverted Sensing -- Si -- Extroverted Intuition -- Ne -- and Introverted Thinking.

      Extroverts are connected very much to the outside world; which is why their first function is extroverted. Introverts live more inside their head, so their first function is introverted -- in an ISFJ, it's Si, then Fe, Ti, and Ne, because you don't have two introverted or extroverted functions in a row.

      Fe means that a person is very in tune with their emotional environment; they are reading it, processing information from it, and oriented toward how other people will respond to them / their ideas / what is happening. Fe also means their emotions show in daily life -- they see something, are touched by it, and may cry about it openly. Si is ... well, people link it with repetition and traditionalism but for me it's best described as an unconscious, continual process of comparison. I see things, see how they used to be, and can't help noticing the change. Ne is seeing connections between objects -- patterns, how things fit together, a bigger picture of life. In writing, it's allowing your imagination to build the story as you go forward and maybe change what you had intended if a better idea comes along. It also can mean taking your own Si-experiences and knowledge and highly abstracting them into a fantasy world (like, well, J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien, both SJ novelists). Ti, finally, is analyzing things for logic and wanting them to make sense / for you to have an understanding of how it works.

      Fe-doms (EXFJs) seem to be more sensitive, outgoing, and in better control of their emotions in a lot of areas than Fe-auxes (IXFJs). The higher your function, the better you can control it, since it's the one you've accessed from birth.

      Hope that's not too confusing! :)

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    8. Not confusing at all! I'm thinking more and more that I'm definitely an ESFJ. Thanks for the summary. I'll have to read up some more on your Tumblr, because I love how you type the characters. I like to compare myself with characters. :-)

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    9. Comparing myself with characters is my absolute favorite thing about MBTI typing.

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    10. Fun fact: comparing is a Si-trait.

      Ni-users don't do it; they "identify with" instead (and then go on to assume the characters they identify with are their type -- not always).

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    11. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

      Oh my goodness. I compare things All The Time. All the time. Metaphors and analogies and similes are a few of my favorite things.

      Ask DKoren sometime about my food analogies for movies. She's always cracking up over me saying things like, "IfHour of the Gun is steak, then Tombstone is a burger, and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is chips and salsa..."

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  7. I am ... slightly worried about you. :D

    The problem with me, comparison comes so naturally that if something is too much like something else my reaction is: been there, done that. Buffy did it better. ;)

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    1. Oh, come on -- food and movies are natural metaphors for each other, aren't they?

      And yes, I do a lot of that sort of thing too. Both "Twilight" and "Moonlighting" come to mind as things that my initial, middle, and final reactions to were: Buffy and Angel are better, so why bother?

      On the other hand, if something really really reminds me in a good way of something I already love, that can make me like the new thing better than I might otherwise have. This is part of why I keep trying Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen pastiches...

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    2. Joss knew how to draw a proper plot arc and explore emotionality in stories. I liked that about him. Didn't always like his stories but I admired his writing prowess.

      "Moonlight" is wonderful; I love it and it still makes me sad that it only got half of a season. Such a great little "adult vampire show" that never became too sexualized. I feel clean watching it ... unlike a lot of Joss' stuff. =(

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    3. Okay, you are literally the second person I have ever run into who liked "Moonlight" at all. I watched I think three episodes and was unimpressed and gave it up. Maybe I'll have to try it again!

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  8. Really? That actually surprises me -- usually people love it. I've never introduced it to anyone who didn't like it. Mick was a sweetie, though. I LOVED Josef the most, though. He cracked me up.

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    1. My dislike may stem a great deal from it being pitched to me as "a lot like Angel," what with the vampire PI and all. And yeah... comparing it to my second-favorite show was not going to do it any favors, cuz it would never live up.

      I did like AO'L okay in the first season of Hawaii 5-O. I liked Scott Caan better, but Danno is my fave in the original series too. Wouldn't mind seeing more of that series some day, when I have time.

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    2. Yeah, probably not the best of ideas. =P

      "Moonlight" came out when there was a severe lack of anything vampire-related on television. "Angel" had been off for years and there was nothing in-between "Twilight" (gag) and "True Blood" (porn), so when "Moonlight" came out, and it was clean, witty, and entertaining, I fell in love. Did Joss write it? No, he did not ... which also meant I could rest assured that my heart would not be ripped out, stomped on, run over by a truck, and returned to me. There's perks to everything.

      I actually like Alex way better as Mick than in Hawaii 5-O. They cut off all his beautiful hair!! Plus ... well, I'm a vampire girl, not a cop show girl. ;)

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    3. Yeeees, I've never touched the whole "True Blood" thing, or the books they're based on, and I did read the first "Twilight" book because I had a bunch of friends insisting I Needed To Read It, and that was far and away enough for me, thank you very much. Anyway, Amazon Prime has the first episode of "Moonlight" for free viewing, so I'll give it a try sometime next year...

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    4. Hello, yes, I am interrupting this vampires and steak discussion to say that, Charity, your Tumblr is amazing and I've shared it with at least 5 different people this week, and thank you for finally proving that my middle brother is indeed Batman. He thinks he's Iron Man, but he's too introverted for that. ;-)

      Also, if you're interested, this was my reaction to typing myself and discovering how it affected my reactions to stories: http://thesquirrelsdiary.blogspot.com/2014/12/an-inspection-and-introspection.html

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  9. Rachel - yeah, no, don't try out "True Blood." It's ... too much.

    I liked the first "Twilight" book. It was fluffy and cheesy and a fun read, even though it was stupid. No, my intense hatred of the franchise came when a) it became too popular and b) the second book was full of emo suicidal codependency. The entire message is "I will kill myself if I cannot have you in my life, and turn into a worthless manic depressive human being." Then, all the bad traits came to the forefront -- the controlling and manipulative behavior of Edward, the codependency and selfishness of Bella, and that ruined it. Alas, the best characters are the villains. I would read a book about them any day of the week. Yet, on occasion when I feel like indulging in brainless sap, I watch the movies and laugh at how bad they are.

    Joanna -- aww, yay! I enjoyed reading your post. Glad your brother figured out his type and ... yes, there is a HUGE difference between INTJs and ENTJs. INTJs are more reserved, thoughtful, careful, and in their heads, whereas ENTJs tend to want to conquer the world and usually wind up running Fortune 500 Companies. HIGHLY ambitious. HIGHLY motivated. It's the Te-Se dynamic. Bold. Fearless. Reckless. Measures success by $$.

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    1. Yes, the first Twilight book was just kind of syrupy and predictable, not actually bad. I did appreciate that Edward is named after Mr. Rochester, and drawing parallels between "Twilight" and "Jane Eyre" was kind of fun. But I never connected with the characters, and it wasn't well-written enough to make me want to spend more time with syrup and predictability.

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