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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Meyers-Briggs and the Story of Two Pandas

Please welcome guest blogger Carrie Lofty

My initial idea to use the Myers-Briggs type indicator for fiction came at the start of plotting FLAWLESS, out now from Pocket. I had a prologue to write--a prologue with four siblings, a hero, and the specter of a dead patriarch. In all, six personalities in a single eight-page scene. I knew straight off that I'd have to really know these new, shiny, untested characters.

I needed a short-hand. I had read quite a bit about birth order, which helped. Oldest siblings tend to be more studious and responsible, with middle siblings rebellious and the youngest children more artistic and outgoing. But that was all I had--shadowy outlines of characters I had not yet learned through plots and pages.

After an online search, I found a Myers-Briggs test. I took it in the guise of my heroine, Vivienne. The results were so successful that I continued the process. Again. And again. Suddenly I had ready-made personalities onto which I layered experiences, quirks, fears, and emotions. It was a starting point, at least.

But the real value of using Myers-Briggs came several months later when writing PORTRAIT OF SEDUCTION, out now from Carina Press. Initially, the hero and heroine were...difficult. I couldn't get them to behave! No matter what I did with regard to plot, I failed to find the spark that creates a great romance.

Frustrated and under deadline, I went back to the start: their characteristics. My tried and true Myers-Briggs test revealed something rather disturbing--at least for a romance writer. Take a look at what I was working with, starting with Oliver:

Serious and with a strong work ethic, Oliver is interested in maintaining harmony. Believing in common sense, he is not attracted to idle speculation. While he enjoys taking care of others, he does not enjoy giving orders. Not at all hedonistic, he is willing to complete jobs that others manage to avoid--a sacrifice that can be overlooked. He dislikes such slights, as well as situations when the rules constantly change. Family history, heirlooms and property, as well as cultural norms and traditions, are of great importance to Oliver. He firmly believes in the stability offered by credentials, titles, offices, rank, and birth. Though quiet, he is people-oriented and very observant. Friends and family describe him as trustworthy. But while he is essentially compassionate, his shyness with strangers can lead others to misread him as standoffish and cold. Only among friends and family does he feel comfortable speaking freely.

Cool! What a hero! He's solid, dependable, and a little shy. Personally, I find that sort of man adorable. A few more minutes of testing revealed his lady love, Greta:

Using her intuitive skills, Greta developed a clear and confident vision, which she sets about executing, aiming to better the lives of others. She regards problems as opportunities to design and implement creative solutions. A quiet, private individual, she prefers to exercise her influence behind the scenes. Although very independent, Greta is intensely interested in the well-being of others. She prefers one-on-one relationships to large groups. Sensitive and complex, she is adept at understanding complicated issues and driven to resolve differences in a cooperative and creative manner. With a rich, vivid inner life--which she is reluctant to share--she nevertheless behaves in a congenial way and is perceptive of the emotions of others. She is guarded in expressing her feelings, especially to new people, and tends to establish close relationships slowly.

Another great character! Such a compassionate, enjoyable heroine.

But think of what trouble I faced. I had created a hero who was too focused on duty to recklessly pursue pleasure, and a heroine so sympathetic to his priorities that she refused to tempt him!

It was like forcing pandas to mate.

With a third of the book written, and with the knowledge that Greta was definitely artistic--she's a painter whose uncle sells her forgeries as originals--I was sort of stuck.

Luckily, with a few tweaks and a new outlook on Greta's personality, I was able to find the spark. The snap. The sex!

So what had originally started out as a tool to plan complicated family relationships wound up being remarkably useful for diagnosing an ailing romance.

My latest workshop, From Clichés to Keepers: Knowing Your Characters Through Myers-Briggs, will run from November 7-21 through FF&P. I'll teach you the secrets of Myers-Briggs for fiction, provide step-by-step instructions for applying it to any stage of the creative process, and reveal more about the successes and false starts I've experienced in my own work. Fun and highly creative, this method will be sure to get you thinking in new, more complex ways about the characters you already love--and rescue the ones giving you fits!

(And I'll tell you more about how I saved Oliver and Greta.)

Sign up now! I hope to see you then.

Born in California and raised in the Midwest, Carrie Lofty met her English husband while studying abroad--the best souvenir! Since completing her master’s in history, she's been devoted to raising their two precocious daughters and writing full time.

Carrie's historical romances for Zebra and Carina Press have received four stars from RT Book Reviews, which declared: "Lofty writes adventure romance like a born bard of old." This month embarks on a globe-trotting Victorian series from Pocket, beginning with Flawless--in which a suave viscount and his estranged wife must make a diamond company profitable or forfeit her inheritance. In addition, she recently began life as Ellen Connor, the name she shares with writing partner Ann Aguirre. Nightfall and Midnight, from their "Dark Age Dawning" trio of hot-n-dirty apocalyptic romances, are available now from Berkley Sensation, to be followed Daybreak in December.

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