Personality Tests – How They Relate to Character Development

There’s a multitude of personality tests out there for people to take, and probably the most popular is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test.  I discovered this test in my writers’ circle because a lot of people were using it to help with developing their characters.  While I think this can be a helpful tool for getting more advanced development or understanding of your characters, I also take issue with the way people use tests like this for the purpose of character development.

I’ve seen people use this test in various ways for their characters.  Sometimes they’ll take a test while role playing as their character in an attempt to type them, though it usually doesn’t get that accurate unless your character has an extreme amount of development to start with.  I believe a more accurate way to determine your character’s type would be to read extensively about all the different personality types until you figure out which one sounds the most like your character.  But then there are the people who like to say, “Oh, this personality type sounds interesting.  I want to write a character with that type.”  That’s one of the methods I have a huge problem with.

I had a friend who at one point came to me and said, “Hey, you’re this personality type, and I have a character with that personality type.  Since you’re the same type, do you think you could tell me how you’d react to this specific scenario?”  My problem with that is that it feels like you’re not concerned with writing a good character and more with trying to fit a stereotype.  And the thing about the MBTI test is that it’s more focused on how you take in and process information, sensations, and emotions.  Ultimately, though, while you may be more inclined to act, think, and process a certain way, your personality type is not the deciding factor.  On top of that, types can change as you age and mature.

This is why my favorite sort of test to take that could be considered a sort of personality test for developing characters, is the Sorting Hat Quiz, for telling you which of the four Hogwarts Houses you belong in.  (Harry Potter fans rejoice.)

HogwartscrestI’ve talked at length about this subject with my friend and we never get tired of it.  Now, there is some debate about what specific traits makes a person go into a specific house.  In the books/movies, it sort of lays out some really basic guidelines of what makes a person go to a house, but as far as the fandom is concerned, the Houses have evolved into something greater with more meaning than they had in the books.  Once you get a good understanding of the differences between the Houses (according to how the fans have interpreted it to be), it opens up many doors and fascinating ideas to help you figure out underlying ideals and motivations for your characters.

The general consensus for each house’s specific traits seems to be that Gryffindors value bravery, Hufflepuffs value loyalty, Ravenclaws value intelligence, and Slytherins value ambition.  While I would say this is a pretty good standard for the basic understanding of the houses, I would replace Gryffindor’s bravery with justice.  With each of these houses’ primary traits, they have many other traits to go along with them, of course, but it seems to be that a person is sorted into a house based on which of these for traits they value more than anything else.  You can value or possess traits from any/all houses, but it’s the one that you personally identify with the most and think is most important, and sometimes you may not be able to figure out which one it is.

I could write a long topic all about this, but I’m not going to.  To summarize my point, when it comes to Hogwarts House tests, I think it’s good for character development because you can key in on more specific traits of a character.  What do they value?  What drives them?  What is a key motivation for them?  These are great questions to ask when developing a character to better know how they should react to something and why they should be doing whatever it is they’re doing in their story, or maybe it will even help you develop the plot of your story in some way.

Just like any other personality test, though, you shouldn’t go too far with this and make your characters a stereotype based on what personality type – or Hogwarts House – or whatever else you believe them to be.  Ultimately, more than anything else, what shapes a person is their experiences.  If they were brought up a certain way, or that great big event didn’t happen to them, they could be a dramatically different person than they actually are.  So while personality tests are interesting and sometimes helpful, don’t put them over priority of knowing how your character’s environment, upbringing, and role models shaped them.  After all, Harry would have made a great Slytherin, but if Draco hadn’t left such a bad taste in his mouth, he never would have begged to be put somewhere else.


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