Some Write It Hot

February 23, 2011

The Cure For Writer’s Block by Amber Green

Sometimes I sit and stare into midair, trying to figure out what my character will do next. If the answer doesn’t come easily, and a simple mechanical exercise like changing the scene’s POV character doesn’t provide any solutions, I move to another scene. When more than a few such cloudy episodes have been left suspended in mid-air, though, they tend to form to a head-clogging substance that stops all forward motion. My favorite remedy for this situation is to run each of the characters—but especially the one who seems to be a problem—through a free online personality test.

As best I can tell, the test won’t work until I’ve wrestled with the character long enough to have several problems hanging in the air. Some of the ten-question pop quizzes give surprisingly useful insight, but my favorites are the 60- to 75-question Briggs Myers test, with or without a secondary Jungian analysis. The outcome of the test provides an archetype, says who this character has turned out to be, based on decisions I’ve made for and about him, as opposed to the character archetype I had planned to use for my story.

Say I plan for a scientist/thinker sort, an INTP. (After a few quizzes, this acronym will make perfect sense.) But as I write the scenes that come most easily, my decisions about this character’s preferences and instincts actually point toward an INTJ. Okay, so what’s an INTJ? Another professor/thinker type, but less of a goof and more sarcastic, less likely to get elbows deep in goop and more likely to come up with fifteen ways (on paper) to turn goop into poog, less likely to be the 25-year-old who makes a brilliant invention or discovery that no one can replicate and more likely to spend a lifetime discovering (and documenting) all the steps toward that brilliant outcome. Okay, so I have an INTJ character—what does that mean in terms of my unresolved scenes? The INTJ archetype has recognized strengths, like an INTJ’s ability to see the big picture and mental flexibility as far as accepting input. The archetype also comes with recognized weaknesses such as an INTJ’s insensitivity to other people’s feelings and tendency to react to extreme stress by focusing on minutia and repetitive activities. The archetype even comes with concrete details like an INTJ’s tendency toward sarcasm. Knowing these factors make my writing flow much more smoothly and easily.

Running all the primary characters through the same test (or a parallel test from another site) lets me use all kinds of canned wisdom about how this personality interacts with that personality, what conflicts they will face, and what action they (or the one of them who is most interested in cooperation) will have to take to work together. Say you have an INTJ trying to deal with Lucy from Peanuts, a classic ESTJ. To get any number of ideas for how the characters would clash and mesh, open your search engine’s bar and type in INTJ ESTJ.

By the way, if this reads like useless crap to you, your personality is unlikely to end in J.

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