By Sandy Nathan MA
Personality type may seem an abstract and unnecessary thing for writers to be concerned about. Shouldn’t we be polishing our prose with our writing groups and editors, instead of worrying about our psychological types?
No. Personality type is something writers must know, in addition to how to construct a killer novel and get it sold. Why?
- You have a personality type whether you know it or not, and whether you care about it or not.
- Your personality type is intrinsic to who you are and expresses in your writing, as your writing.
- Your readers also have personality types. Their personality types shape their reading preferences.
- The wise writer knows this and adjusts his or her writing style to appeal to as broad a spectrum of reader tastes as possible.
A while ago, Irene Watson wrote a guest blog for Your Shelf Life, my blog for writers. I read it with great interest. Irene wrote about personality type. When I ran into Carl Jung’s theory of personality type in graduate school, I was electrified. I recognized it as life changing information. Let me add my two cents to what Irene provided.
HOW DID JUNG COME UP WITH HIS THEORY OF PERSONALITY TYPE?
The great Swiss psychologist, Carl G. Jung, was puzzled by the radical differences between the ways he and his buddies thought. Who were his buddies? Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, giants in the history of psychology, like Jung.
How could three powerful, brilliant, and visionary minds see the world and human personality so differently?
Jung’s typology is his explanation. The theory is quite complex, but it’s practical importance is simple. What’s the bottom line to Jung’s theory?
PEOPLE THINK DIFFERENT.
Yes, I know, Steve Jobs claimed two of those words for an Apple sales pitch, but it’s true. If we’re going to succeed in the world, we need to really get that people live in different perceptual universes.
As authors, we must bridge those worlds to reach our readers. We’d better start with knowing which type we are, if we’re going to be marketing our writing to the right audience. Here’s a web site where you can take a test to determine your personality type.
Jung came up with four basic types of personality. Two of these are rational––the thinking and feeling types. By rational, I mean operating according to an internal set of rules. These may be logical (in the thinking type), or based on internal emotional values (the feeling type.)
The other two types, intuitive and sensate, are irrational; they don’t conform to an internal value or thought system. (Each of these types operates in an introverted or extroverted way. I’ll skip this for brevity.)
Jung said that children can be observed preferring a type early on, perhaps around age five. One child may attain academic success, be praised for it, and develop into a thinking type. Another child may have success in sports and literally run with that––develop as a sensate.
Everyone has all four functions, even it they prefer one. We have the four functions because we need them to survive as human beings. We need to be able to think logically, as well as know how we feel emotionally, and know the emotional states of people around us. We must be aware of intuitions and guidance from the larger universe. We have to be able to control our bodies and master the physical world.
Our dominant psychological function acts like a team captain. It’s like our dominant hand––we know how to use it and do use it most. But because we can’t do everything with one hand, we develop our other hand, and the rest of our body.
Similarly, we must develop our non-dominant psychological functions. They provide backup when we need them, like a non-dominant hand. The functions we develop as backups are those on either side of our dominant function on the chart above. A thinker is likely to be a pretty good sensate and intuitive, but clueless about feelings, his own and those of others.
The inferior function is opposite of our primary type. It’s too far from what we do best to really shine. It remains in the shadow, aced out by the big brothers who run the show. The inferior function is sort of like the elbow of the personality. What can you do using one elbow? Still, you need it. You have it.
WHY DO WRITERS NEED TO KNOW THIS?
The way we write is influenced by our personality type. Let’s spend some time looking at each type.
THINKING TYPE: Thinking types orientate themselves in the world by thoughts and facts, right and wrong, intellectual models and systems. They operate on principles and logic. These can be wrong––lousy thinking and bad logic––but the thinking type will cling to them. Thinking types have trouble expressing personal feelings and appear relatively cold and unemotional.
Historic Thinking Types: Sigmund Freud (Jung’s buddy!), Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates & Richard Nixon. (Source: mypersonalityinfo.com)
What Do They Like to Read? Material that reflects their interests: Logical, fact driven content, intellectual puzzles, maybe intellectual thrillers. Pared down writing with no fluff.
SENSATE: Sensates orientate themselves by data from the world around them. They are concerned with power in the highest way: If what’s real to you is the physical world, controlling as much of it as you can makes sense. Practical, realistic, confident, & active. Adaptable. Athletes and sports heroes are likely to be sensates.
Historic Sensates: Alfred Adler, known for his personality theory stressing “will to power” and one of Jung’s buddies.
What Do They Like to Read? Stuff about the real world, power, politics, action, sports. Here’s the thriller market.
FEELING TYPE: The feeling type orientates himself by emotional responses tied to personal values. The feeling type is in touch with his or her emotional state and very aware of the emotional states of those around him. Interested in people, feelings, love, passion. They are not hysterics or fountains of feeling. Feeling types are so skilled at handling their feelings that they may appear cold.
What Do They Like to Read? This is the women’s lit, chick lit, romance market. Can also be higher-toned literature on feeling/people related themes. Maeve Binchy would fall here.
INTUITIVE TYPE: Intuitives have a vision. They are tuned in to a world beyond the physical and draw strength and comfort from it. They can express their intuitions and visions to others and enlist them as to carry them out. Intuitives are charismatic, charming, interested in people and solving problems of others and the planet. Introverted intuitives can be religious leaders. Extroverted intuitives can be excellent businessmen or women, picking up on currents of change in the world of commerse that others miss.
Historic Intuitives: Carl Jung, Jesus Christ, and Adolf Hitler. (The intuitive’s vision doesn’t have to be correct.) I would say that Steve Jobs shows up here, an extroverted intuitive.
What Do They Like to Read? The Bible and other sacred texts, books about saints and spiritual experience, The Da Vinci Code, spiritually themed material. Stuff about their area of intuition. My books, Mogollon: A Tale of Mysticism & Mayhem and Stepping Off the Edge, are books for intuitives, written by an intuitive.
Not only do the personality types behave very differently, they WRITE DIFFERENTLY and READ DIFFERENTLY.
The link above takes you to a site displaying a distribution of people across the various personality types. I tried to find good numerical data for the typology; this was the best I could do. I’m assuming the site’s data are based on the results of tests given on the site. (The site itself warns that the estimates are not necessarily correct. Not only that, like so many sites I looked at, they’ve changed Jung’s terminology, making analysis difficult.)
WHAT DO THE DATA SHOW?
- Thinkers and intuitives may represent small market shares. The incidence of thinking types (Intellectuals) is only 10% of the surveyed population. Intuitives (Visionaries) make up only 11.5%. These diverse groups make up only 21.5% of the population. (Caveat: If these two groups read many more books than their share of the population, they may represent a larger market share.)
- The combined feeling types and sensates make up a whooping 78.5% of the population. (Which is hard to figure out, since modern writers about type have renamed them. I use the Protectors & Creators on the chart linked above, to indicate Feeling Types & Sensates.)
- If these numbers are anywhere near right, sensates & feeling types represent the largest writing markets.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO WRITERS?
It means that if you’re a sensate or feeling type, count your lucky stars. A big hunk of the population is your type, and you’ll be able to write for them easily, because you’re writing for yourself, essentially.
If you’re an intuitive or thinking type, you’re probably looking at a small market if you write the way your personality type indicates.
That means you’re going to have to learn to build bridges to the other types to increase your market share and sales.
What you’ll need to do is inherent in the definition of your type and the types you’re trying to write for: cut it back, fluff it up, subtract or add feelings, put in action. Do what your editor says.
Here’s one example: I was riveted by Irene Watson’s article on personality type, mentioned earlier. She describes me and my writing perfectly.
What did Irene Watson say about the writing of intuitives? “Intuitive people can relate to stories. The more fluff, descriptive scenes, and full character development, the better they can relate to and enjoy the story. They are emotional and empathetic.” Irene Watson
I love stories. Life lessons. Stories about people. I love my characters and want to know how their lives work out––every friggin’ one of them. Did you know that 4,000 people attended the Meeting, the fictional retreat in my series? I fell in love with lots of them, and wrote their stories. So that the first draft of Mogollon, the sequel to the first book in my series, was 240,000 words. A novel is anything over 40,000 words. The thing was the size of six books! I was in love with every word.
When I discovered that intuitives make up only 11.5% of the population, I was troubled. I also understand my editor more. “Cut it! Just cut it! Delete! Delete!”
Writing is never easy, but if I were a sensate or a feeling type, my natural writing inclinations would allow me to turn out marketable books without going against my internal grain so strongly. With less personal agony, in other words.
I invite you to discover your Jungian type and see what lessons it holds for you and your writing and in the rest of your life. Jung’s typology is useful in many life situations in addition to writing. It is especially useful when applied to understanding the problems of getting along with others, especially in marriages.
The message being: We need to know our types and that the way we think is different than the modus operandi of the other types.
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Disclaimers: Before you fall in love with Jungian Typology, I need to warn you that some theorists think it’s flawed. Jung wrote a while ago, and things change. Some theorists say, “Nice try, Carl, but right brain/left brain research makes you obsolete.” Other modern writers feel it’s still useful conceptually.
Then we have the folks who’ve changed Jung’s terms to market the theory. Somebody made Jungian type into a management tool, using different names for the players. This makes it hard to relate to Jung’s original terminology.
While I’ve provided links throughout, I don’t recommend or endorse the sites to which they’re attached. The concepts remain excellent.
A BUNCH OF LINKS:
C. G. Jung (1921) Psychological Types, Chapter X General Description of the Types In Jung’s own words.
The Meyers & Brigs Foundation, where the MBTI Instrument (test) was developed and can be given. Good info.
Personality100.com “The most detailed personality assessment on the Internet”. OK. This page gives you famous people, fictional characters, and the frequency of personality types. Also good career choices for each type. Good data. No clue if test is free or not???
PersonalityPathways: Exploring Personality Type & Its Applications Good site with Personality100.com link for test.
businessballs.com Lots of information about personality types from Ezekiel, Hippocrates, Jung, to Myers
Copyright © Sandy Nathan 2014 All rights reserved
Sandy Nathan writes to amaze and delight, uplift and inspire, as well as thrill and occasionally terrify. She’s known for creating unforgettable characters and putting them in do-or-die situations. “I write fiction and nonfiction for people who like to think and want the unusual. My reader isn’t satisfied by worn out situations and words. I do my best to provide what my readers want.”
Mrs. Nathan’s titles have won twenty-six national awards, primarily in visionary fiction, new age fiction and spirituality. Her awards include top prizes in the oldest, largest, and most prestigious contests for independent presses. Sandy was born in San Francisco CA at the end of WWII. She grew up in the hard driving, achievement-orientated corporate culture of Silicon Valley. “I’ve known people like those in my novels my entire life.” Sandy holds Master’s Degrees in Economics and Marriage, Family & Child Counseling. She has been an economic analyst, businesswoman, and negotiation coach, as well as an author. Mrs. Nathan lives with her husband on their California ranch. She has three grown children and two grandchildren.