Last time, we talked about using our characters’ strengths to develop their flaws. But I didn’t get a chance to talk about how we could figure out the matching flaw for a character strength.
Many of you are probably familiar with the Myers Briggs test, a well-known test that labels people with a four-letter abbreviation for their personality traits. You might have seen the INTJ and ESFP type labels or taken the test yourself.
Obviously, we can take these tests from the perspective of our characters and gain insight in their personality. But even if we don’t go through the tests for our characters, we can look up their personality traits and learn more about their strengths—and their flaws.
A Look at the Myers Briggs Types for Character Flaws
This high-level description of the sixteen Myers Briggs personality types gives a short summary of each four-letter label. We can glance through these summaries to find a description that sounds like our character.
Each label then has a link to a more detailed description. The detailed description explains what drives the character, what they value, and what they need, as well as how their personality will express itself in their life. Keep reading and you’ll start to see their flaws.
For example, the ESFJ type is “The Caregiver.” Their summary makes them sound like a saint: “Warm-hearted, popular, and conscientious. Tend to put the needs of others over their own needs. Feel strong sense of responsibility and duty. … Interested in serving others…”
But read further into the details and flaws emerge. “ESFJs…may develop very questionable values. … They’re usually quite popular and good with people, and good at manipulating them. … An ESFJ…may be prone to being quite insecure… He or she might also be very controlling or overly sensitive, imagining bad intentions when there weren’t any.”
A Look at the Enneagram Types for Character Flaws
Similarly, this high-level description of the nine Enneagram types provides a few keywords for each style. On this Enneagram summary page, we even see the start of some flaws.
For example, Type 2 is “The Helper.” This type is somewhat similar to the ESFJ Caregiver described above, so I’ll pick on them again to give us a direct comparison between these two personality type systems.
Their summary: “The Caring, Interpersonal Type: Demonstrative, Generous, People-Pleasing, and Possessive.” Ooo, possessive. That’s a sneak peek at a potential flaw.
Their detail page reveals what a Type 2 Helper would be like at their best, their basic desire, their key motivations, and the biggest obstacles hindering their inner development. The basic fear of the Type 2 Helper is “being unwanted, unworthy of being loved.”
Going back to our exercise last time of turning character strengths into flaws (or vice versa), the best part of these pages is at the bottom of each detail description. The description gives us three examples of how each personality would normally be, three examples of a good expression, and three examples of a bad expression of their traits.
For example, Type 2 Helpers at Average Levels can be people-pleasing, control in the name of love, or can become a “martyr” for others. Those at Unhealthy Levels manipulate, feel entitled, or are bitterly resentful. Those at Healthy Levels are deeply unselfish, compassionate, or able to see the good in others.
How to Apply These Flaws to Our Story
Every personality trait is a continuum, with a good and healthy expression of the trait on one side and a bad and unhealthy expression on the other. Our characters (just like ourselves) might fall on different places along that line depending on the situation, who else is involved (does the other character push the main character’s buttons?), stress level, etc. Maybe we give readers insight into how stressed the characters are by showing them reacting more unhealthily than usual.
As we discussed last time, a character’s arc could start with their personality leaning more toward the negative and they grow toward the positive by the end of the story. If we go back to our earlier examples, our Caregiver/Helper character might turn their “people-pleasing out of neediness for approval” into “genuine caring for others.”
Or we can echo the hero and villain by showing the differences in their extremes. The hero’s flaw can be on the Average Level (overbearing or patronizing) while the villain’s flaw is on the Unhealthy Level (domineering and coercive).
The One-Two Plot Development Punch: Use Personality Traits with Michael Hauge’s Teachings
Whether the personality descriptions in these systems work for us as individuals is less important than how they can help us understand characters who might be very different from ourselves. Insight into what motivates them and what they fear is invaluable.
Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure can help us tie this information into the plot. Michael Hauge focuses on understanding a character’s longing/need, wound, belief, fear, the identity they hide behind due to their fear, and the essence of who they can become. All of these elements are touched on in the details of each personality type.
We can take characters’ fears and think about what backstory wound might have triggered its importance in their lives. Their Identity might encompass how they’re living in the Average Levels of expressing their trait. Their Essence is how they could live in the Healthy Levels of their personality type.
Together with Michael Hauge’s teachings, these personality analyses can play together with our plot quite beautifully. I encourage you to explore the Myers Briggs types and the Enneagram types along with my Michael Hauge posts and Janice Hardy’s post. Maybe while we’re analyzing our characters, we’ll learn something about ourselves too. *smile*
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Have you used the Myers Briggs test in relation to your characters, and if so, how? Have you heard of the Enneagram system before? Have you used it for your characters? Can you think of other ways to use Myers Briggs or Enneagram with our characters? What about other ways to integrate those personality insights with Michael Hauge’s teachings?Pin It