Characters: Tormenting them for the sake of plot

Thursday, July 16, 2015
If you write fiction, you’re probably familiar with having to torment your characters. After all, the story starts when your character has a problem that she needs to solve. As she attempts to solve it, you throw obstacles in her way so that things get worse for her and more interesting for your reader.

Part of making things bad for your character is understanding her personality. One way to do this is by answering, on her behalf, some Myers-Briggs personality type questions:

Does she focus on the outer world (Extrovert/E) or the inner world (Introvert/I)?

Does she focus on just the facts (Sensing/S) or does she interpret them (Intuition/N)?

When she makes a decision, does she look for logic and consistency (Thinking/T) or the people and their special circumstances (Feeling/F)?

In dealing with the world, does she prefer to make a decision (Judging/J) or stay open to additional information and options (Perceiving/P)?

Once you have these answers, you have your character’s personality type and you also have some clue how to drive her batty.

Let’s say your character is ISTJ (Introvert/Sensing/Thinking/Judging). This introvert is good at taking things in, figuring out what needs to be done and doing it. Put her in charge of a big project where she has to work with a large group of extroverts but has no guidelines to follow.

Or maybe your character is EIFP (Extroverted/Intuitive/Feeling/Perceiving). To torment this person, make her have to finish a job on a tight timeline and with minimal information. And her team? They’re not around to help.

For someone who is INFP (Introvert/Intuitive/Feeling/Perceiving) and feels things deeply but quietly, you would have someone betray them by revealing their deepest fears in such a way that they feel mocked or judged.

ESFP (Extrovert/Sensing/Feeling/Perceiving) will go batty in a situation where they have minimal stimulus and have to act alone.

ESFJ (Extrovert/Sensing/Feeling/Judging) is a person who loves harmony and just wants everyone to get along and cooperate. What if to solve a problem they have to create the disharmony or go against the will of the group?

I’m not saying that these personality types determine everything about your character but think about what each element means.

  • An introvert is going to be under a lot of strain if she has to lead a group.
  • An extrovert thinks that being alone is a punishment.
  • Someone who wants all of the facts is going to be stressed when making a logical leap.
  • Someone who likes to take special circumstances into consideration isn’t going to handle having to go by hard, fast rules.
  • A logical person gets annoyed when things seem random.

Play around with this for a while and see if you can come up with a way to make things even worse for your character. She won’t thank you, but your readers will be in for one heck of a ride.



Renee Roberson said...

Great idea for a post, Sue! This gives me some great stuff to think about while working on my two YA manuscripts.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

One of my writing friends pointed this out to me. It can be so hard to come up with the worst possible way to torment your character. This helps me a lot.

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