Friday, May 22, 2015

Sources of Conflict: Introverts vs Extroverts

This part of an intended series on personality conflicts and how they manifest in characters.

Let's kick off the series with what's easy and obvious: Introverts and Extroverts.

Introverts are typically thought of as the people who say little or nothing, and extroverts talk all the time. They are so much more than that. Some introverts can be quite talkative and some extroverts rather quiet. Judge them more on how they relax.

Introverts need time to collect themselves before and after dealing with other people, especially strangers. They think before they speak, and you can be pretty sure if they are contributing their idea to a discussion, they've thought it over a few times before opening their mouths.

Extroverts seem to pull their energy from other people, meaning after the party, they are rounding up people to hit the bars with them. When they speak, their ideas are often not fully formed, so never assume the first thing they say is what they have concluded. Sometimes you can just ignore the first few sentences and focus on the end.

In friendships and love, we are often drawn to the opposite of ourselves here. Introverts wish they had the easy social graces of extroverts, and extroverts like speaking for others and drawing shyer people out. They also appreciate being allowed to talk without being interrupted. But by the same token, introverts can be drawn to other introverts because they make so little demands on them to speak, and likewise extroverts don't want most of their conversations to be one-sided.

Here are few examples of where they can be frustrated or downright hostile with each other:


  • Resent being ignored or steamrollered by those who speak first, especially when they dominate discussions with half-baked ideas.
  • Resent their initial contributions being dismissed as a "working idea" rather than one that has been considered from several angles.
  • Dislike being talked at when they have not adjusted to their new surroundings or a change of pace.
  • Hate being interrupted, prefer brainstorming sessions to have an orderly rotation of speakers.
  • Hate being made to give their opinion or idea before they've had a chance to think it over.
  • Dislike the implication they are angry or upset merely because they are not talking.
  • Dislike the assumption they are upset or excited because they are talking.
  • Need personal space.
  • Need time to adjust and also to decompress.
  • May have trouble enjoying a vacation if it is in a strange place. The second time around is better.
  • Come across as cold because so much of their communication is written, and verbal communication has more modest tone and body language.
  • Resent people who stare at them like they are idiots while they talk.
  • Often need to develop their ideas out loud, drawing on the contributions and body language of those around them.
  • Decompress by interacting with others.
  • Often interrupt with an idea or response that can't be contained until their turn to talk, but don't do it out of malice.
  • Hate being made to hold in their reactions.
  • Hate their ideas being dismissed as undeveloped.
  • Prefer to seek out people to communicate- no email for them, thank you very much.
  • Worry when their companions do not speak for long periods of time.
  • Hate their passion being dismissed as just another thing they are loud about.
  • Want to go new places, get restless with routines.
So you can make your characters pick on each other or give in to each other over many of these issues. There are many other factors which go into these differences. For instance, a structured introvert is going to conflict more with a flexible extrovert, but a flexible introvert may find some common ground with a structured extrovert. Always remember we (and our characters) are sums, not just parts. It's like colors: red is hot and green is cool, but add yellow to each and the former becomes cooler and the latter warmer.

I'll close with a true story of Introvert/Extrovert conflict:

A lovely, tiny, bubbly extrovert lady was married to a tall, serene, introverted man. They both had similar jobs and ranks, working in military medical administration, and when the wife needed jaw surgery, she had to stay home from work for over two weeks.

When her husband came home every day, he needed to decompress and have some time to recover from dealing with people and phone calls all day long. The wife had been trapped at home alone for hours- she couldn't drive because she was still on narcotics so she could sleep- with no one to talk to and was antsy and needed talk talk talk. For the first couple days, the husband was nearly attacked by his wife as he came in the door, until he got an idea.

Because her jaw was wired shut, he started offering to share a smoothie or milkshake so they could talk over their day while having a snack. He would grind up her pain meds and dump some in her drink. Then he listened patiently to her for 10-15 minutes before she would start to feel tired and apologize and say she needed to lie down for a bit. He would pat her on her shoulder and say, "That's alright sweetie, we can talk later." And they would, after he was recovered from his day and ready.

And yes, they are still married.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hell for Each Personality Type

I'm super busy right now, but wanted to share this- it's fabulous!

The Definition of Hell for Each Personality Type

Mine (INTP) was spot-on:

You are eternally condemned to researching an extremely vapid topic using wildly inaccurate methods, mostly involving interviewing people who have no idea what they’re talking about.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Introversion vs Extroversion

So this is often the most obvious difference between people, you can spot it in strangers across a room or nail it within a few minutes of conversation. There's some debate among psychologists whether this is the most or least important part of person's preferences. Dr. Keirsey said it was the least important, but Susan Cain argues in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking, that it is the most important trait. So who's right?

I'm going to have it both ways. Because I can.

Dr. Keirsey was right because he was referring to the difference between temperaments and types. The difference between an ESTJ and an ISTJ is much more minor than the difference between an ESTJ and an ENTJ or ESFJ or ESTP.

The STJ part means they are detail-oriented, concrete thinkers who make decisions based on facts more than emotions. The E/I part refers to how they create and expend energy in those ventures. Extroverts gain energy from other people, while introverts recharge their batteries by being alone. So an ESTJ is a commanding organizer and an ISTJ organizes heavily behind the scenes. Both are workhorses.

Compare an ESTJ to an ESTP and you have two very loud people who are both concrete thinkers who make decisions with their head rather than their heart. But the ESTP is a very reckless personality which jumps from task to task without finishing what he/she started. A job left undone is unforgivable to an ESTJ. ESTPs are also prone to exaggeration and showmanship... the original snake-oil salesman. HUGE difference.

ENTJs? Highly abstract in their thinking- they see the big picture much better than an ESTJ, and they are comparatively socially inept. ESFJs? Much more touchy-feely than ESTJs and prefer to get along and have everyone contribute and share rather than to get things done right. They'll make things into a social event rather than a business meeting.

So in that sense, being an introvert or extrovert is the least important difference.

Susan Cain argues your entire life is decided by whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. (By the way, she's not very nice to extroverts in her book; she has a pretty clear bias. Otherwise her book is fascinating.) Her point has merit because E/I is how you present your inner self, and truly, more than half of life is showing up. If you show up and sit in the front row and speak your mind, you're going to get more attention. So an ESTJ and an ISTJ are both likely to show up and be qualified, but it's the ESTJs who are going to volunteer to take charge of the committee. Their ideas will be the first heard and the loudest articulated, and therefore often the most often used.

And that can make all the difference in the world.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

You vs. Your Main Character

  Writers put pieces of themselves and people they know in their characters. They can't help it. Sometimes that's the scariest factor in giving something to a friend for a read. Will they see more or less of what you put in there? Will they wonder if you really think of yourself that way? What if your main character is just enough like you your friends assume you are representing yourself, and then shake their heads when there's a divergence? What about when your spouse reads about the love interest and finds someone completely unlike themselves? Will their feelings be hurt?

  My main character looks a lot like me, and there's a simple reason for that: I know what it's like to be a scrawny, slightly freckled, flat chested (but heavy-hipped) bookish girl who hates onions and likes to punch things to blow off steam. It makes a lot of things easier to imagine and articulate- I know how clothes fit on that body and how hard it is to do anything with fine hair- but there the similarities end. She is not me.

   It's important to create main characters who differ from you in several significant ways, and looks don't count. I'm talking personality. For one thing it gives them permission to act in ways you would not. My main character is so much kinder than I am, for example. She has a gift for sarcasm, yes, but she uses it differently than I do. She's braver than I am and follows her heart rather than her head in many cases. She feels where I think. She acts where I hold back. And most importantly, she is not a manifestation of what I wish I was.

  The biggest danger, I think, in making yourself the main character is you tend to create situations you've never experienced just to show the world how you would handle it. Funny thing is, most of the time you are wrong about that. You're not that good, and everyone around you won't react in awe and adulation. It doesn't take long for your MC to be come a MarySue/GaryStu. I'm looking at you, Richard Rahl.

  Making a character after someone you know is equally dangerous, especially if they are a friend who will read it someday. I'm assuming here if you create a character after someone you hate in life, you don't give a damn what they think. When it comes to friends, though, you may mean something in a complimentary way, but they may not perceive it as such. Your portrayal may be spot on, and that might be worse unless you've worked it out with them beforehand. It's like the Magic Mirror Gate from The Neverending Story: confronted with their true selves, most men run away screaming.

  How do you avoid hurting feelings when wanting to pay tribute to a friend, especially if they have been so helpful in your writing? First off, ask them. Some people would delight in being a bad guy or a passing character begging for bread in the town square. They may make that decision easy for you. Second, stick to more minor characters. Then you don't have to bring them out constantly and develop them. Third, make them completely different from your friend. Swap genders if you can, and/or make them the opposite in looks and personality. That way they never have to look for themselves in any character. It could be safe, though, to make someone look like a friend if it's a hit-and-run character we never see again.

  My MC's love interest looks nothing like my husband because I don't want anyone looking for similarities. (Ironically, in personality, I am more like the love interest than the main character.) Perhaps this is more of a risk with female characters than male ones, but when it comes to those you have an intimate physical relationship with, watch out for making them think you wish they were more like your love interest. Here it might be a good idea to develop said character with their input, if only so they can see the process.

  But back to yourself in your characters. If you are a beginning writer especially, so many things can be easier if you write from a point of view similar to your own. I have no problem putting a bit of yourself in your hero, but draw the line. Your MC can look a lot like you, but make one significant detail different. In a slightly symbolic move, my heroine's eyes are gray, not blue like mine, to remind me (lest I forget) that she is not me. She sees the world differently than I do.

  Besides, no one wants to read about me. I'm boring.