MBTI and Writing

So I have a theory. Actually, I have two theories that melded into one. Or rather, one theory that branched off two ways? I’m not totally sure, because it all happened at one time in my brain. So maybe it’s a hundred little theories all coming together into this one blog post. Whatever. You don’t care.

My theory is this: Your strengths as a writer can be determined through your Myers-Briggs personality type. I mean, obviously, right? Your personality influences how you see the world. But what if it could be broken down so that each strength was attached to one specific part of your personality?

I started chasing the obvious path first, at least in trying to get it down on paper. Each letter as a different particular writing strength:

I: character development
E: morals and values
N: worldbuilding
S: outlines
T: consistency
F: shipping
J: plot twists
P: setting the scene

Introverts observe people, so they write better characters; extraverts know themselves well, so they can easily insert their beliefs into characters. Intuition puts things together; sensing puts things together in an orderly fashion. Thinking gives you the ability to look at the big picture; feeling gives you the ability to tune into characters’ emotions. Judging can tell when it’s time for something new to happen; perceiving sees the world as it is.

But that seemed like kind of a dead end, because Myers-Briggs goes deeper than that. Not all extraverts have strong values, and not all introverts people watch. Sometimes feelers are more concerned about their own feelings than other people’s. Etc. Enter function stacks.

I talked about function stacks briefly before, but here’s a link to something that explains it a lot more completely than I do. It’s an interesting thing to google if you have a few hours to kill and the brainpower to get through it all. Basically, each type has four functions. Learn yours here. But more on that later.

So I edited my Type theory to reflect this new information, because that’s what writers do. We edit. All the time. Even when we’re writing we’re editing. So, the updated list looks something like this:

Ni: plot twists
Ne: worldbuilding
Si: setting the scene
Se: sensory details
Ti: plot
Te: consistency
Fi: character development
Fe: emotional connection

Ni (introverted intuition) takes patterns in the world and analyzes them, often coming to seemingly magic conclusions. Ni can take a story, find a conceivable place to turn everything on its head, and see as it changes everything whether or not the rest of the story is going to work out, and if not, what they can tweak so it does.

Ne (extraverted intuition) sees every possible future at the same time. Where Ni walks the logical steps from decision to execution to possible problems to a solid ending, Ne jumps from idea to idea to idea until it finds enough of them to stick together to make something work. All those ideas piled on top of each other make for perfect worldbuilding.

Si (introverted sensing) compares real world happenings with past experiences of those same real world happenings. Si sees the past in great detail and can recall a great number of things, if those things are interesting. Obviously this would come in handy when describing the layout of a room, or some other setting.

Se (extraverted sensing) takes in information as the world presents it. Sounds, sights, smells, etc. Se knows it all. So when it comes to describing the sound of someone’s voice and the look on their face as they choke out words they don’t want to say, Se’s got it covered.

Ti (introverted thinking) has a detailed, geometrical brain map of all the information they know. If new information comes along, Ti evaluates it and carefully places it into the proper place. This comes in handy when plotting out a novel. It’s hard to have plot holes when everything is so organized in your head.

Te (extraverted thinking) is focused on facts and objectives. Where Ti is a grid of information, Te is more of a noxious cloud. Te is the person whose house is a mess, but who knows exactly where everything is and gets mad when you clean because now everything is unorganized. Te can spot a flaw from a mile away.

Fi (introverted feeling) is sensitive to everything: the vibes people give off, shifts in the feel of a room, emotions in both itself and in others, etc. Fi has values and doesn’t like when those values are trampled on, but can bring to mind any emotion it’s experienced to empathize with someone else. Empathy is one of the most important things that goes into writing a good character.

Fe (extraverted feeling) just wants everyone to get along, and it tends to know exactly how to make everyone get along. Fe makes decisions for the betterment of the most people, regardless of facts, and it knows what people will respond to. Emotional manipulation is easy when you know how to do it.

But of course function stacks get even more complicated than just picking four and going with it.

Each personality type consists of four functions: a dominant function and an auxiliary function, which work in tandem, a tertiary function that’s just kind of there and often ignored, and an inferior function, which is the most unconscious and problematic of the four. In its most basic form, the dominant and auxiliary functions determine how you see the world, the tertiary function is something you have to live with, and the inferior function is the one that manifests in times of stress or, conversely, causes you stress if it’s forced into action.

For example, the INTJ (me): Ni-Te-Fi-Se. Introverted iNtuition is my dominant function, which analyzes patterns and turns them into conclusions. Extraverted Thinking is auxiliary, fueling Ni with facts to put into these patterns and a good way of organizing them all. Introverted Feeling is the tertiary function: I have emotions, but I kind of tend to ignore them. It’s underdeveloped and is often unexpressed, though I’m getting better at being in tune with my emotions and putting names to the shifts and emotions I see in others. And Extraverted Sensing is the inferior function, which means that I am easily overwhelmed in overstimulating environments and, when I’m stressed, I want to abuse something sensory: very loud music, a lot of decadent food or alcohol, really soft blankets. It’s unconscious, though I’m starting to recognize it.

So, how does this all translate to writing? Here’s where the second (third?) half of the theory comes in.

Since your dominant and auxiliary functions dictate how you see the world, these are going to be your strongest points as a writer. They’re going to be the things that are easiest, the ones you don’t even have to think about: they’re just your writing.

For me, that would be plot twists and consistency working together. I’ve never been good at plotting out books: I am definitely a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants), just coming up with the plot as I go. But I always keep it consistent–I can’t not–and I’m usually good at knowing when the book needs a vampire or alien thrown in, just to mix things up. If the pattern of the book gets too boring, I shake it up. Ni, y’all. Te keeps it from making absolutely no sense.

The tertiary function is the one that’s just kind of there. It’s underdeveloped, and it’s halfway unconscious. It’s the function that as you strengthen it, it can become a wonderful asset, but if you continue ignoring it, it can cause you problems. In writing, however, I think it’s the most innate ability. Because it’s only halfway conscious, it’s that one thing you’ve always been good at, but you’ve never really been able to articulate why you’re good at it. The more you develop it, the more conscious the ability becomes and the more you’re able to manipulate and control it, but it’s always there.

For me, this is character development. One of the first things people complimented me on when I started taking writing classes was my ability to write believable characters and dialogue. I just kind of shrugged and mumbled something about people watching. But the more in tune I get with my Fi, the better I’m able to control my characters and what traits they have and what vibes they give off and how they interact.

The inferior function is the one that’s just there to cause problems. It’s the most unconscious of the four, and the most stressful. In writing, I believe it has the potential to be the strongest of all your abilities. It’ll be the one that takes the most mental energy to write and focus on, but, if you put in the effort, it could turn out to have the most effect. In the same way that people who write their fears have a greater chance of making the reader afraid, facing your inferior function–because you know it intimately from all the times it’s overwhelmed you or taken you over–has the potential to have the greatest connection with the reader.

For me, this is Se. Writing sensory details. Explaining what I see and hear and feel. I do this generally through the use of metaphor, but I’ve found I’m quite good at it. It just takes the longest to write. I have to recall the senses, and often the experiences surrounding the senses, but I can recall them perfectly and am able to convey to my reader not only what something smelled or tasted like, but how that smell or taste affected my mental state. And sometimes, I’ve found, people know exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, they tell me, you put it into words. And isn’t that the goal of the writer? To put the inexpressible into words?

Obviously, any writer should develop all writing skills. You’re not going to be well-rounded writer without them. And obviously these eight aren’t all the writing skills in the world. But, my fellow writers, do you think it’s possible that your MBTI functions can tell what kind of writer you’re going to be? Is it possible to tell when a writer is young what to help them develop first, what will be the easiest for them to work on?

I’m very curious to hear your thoughts. So, what do you think? Do your Type strengths match up with your writing abilities? Are the letters more accurate or the stack? Let me know in the comments!

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