Believable Characters, Part 5

We are deep within a discussion of creating believable characters using the Myers-Briggs core personalities. I’m pulling from several sources, but mostly Jeff Gerke’s book Plot vs. Character and David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me II

You remember the four parts:

1.  Extrovert (E) or Introvert (I)
2.  Sensing (S) or Intuitive (N)
3.  Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
4.  Judgment (J) or Perception (P)

In the last post, we looked at the ESTJ (we took one trait from each base pair). Now let’s look in-depth at the next personality type, the ISTJ (note: this just happens to be me, so I consider myself an expert on this type. Follow along.)

The ISTJ is quiet and dependable, always seeking to fully understand things, and punctual to a fault. Keirsey calls this person THE INSPECTOR. Their motto is “rules must be obeyed.” Inspectors are thorough in their inspections, making sure that no inconsistencies or irregularities get by. They work behind the scenes, content to do their work in quiet, by themselves.  ISTJ’s are reserved and soft-spoken, and don’t naturally aspire to leadership positions. They are most comfortable when everyone around them does their duty with diligence. Conflict upsets the ISTJ, and they tend to back away from it. They thrive on to-do lists and schedules. They are also exceptionally traditional.

Inspectors despise flashiness. They have no use for fashion, glamour, or luxury. Their words, clothes, and home environments are neat, orderly, plain, and practical. They choose personal property (cars, furniture, etc) based on price and durability rather than on comfort or appearance. They prefer the old-fashioned to the new-fangled, and are not attracted to exotic foods or locales when planning their vacations.

The ISTJs make excellent mates. They honor their marriage contract and are faithful until death. Their word is their bond. Duty is another huge buzz-word for the Inspector. They enjoy social outings and gatherings, but if it gets too crowded, the ISTJ heads for the back door or a dark corner. They value ceremony and ritual. Weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays are significant events and will be honored with appropriate gifts or words of congratulation.

They make up about ten percent of the population. Some famous ISTJ people are Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, George H. W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth II, and Anthony Hopkins. I can’t confirm this with inside sources, but I’m certain that Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games is an ISTJ. My husband read the book and said, “Look, Sonja, they put you in a book.” But that’s a post for another day.

Because of their attention to detail, ISTJ’s make excellent bank examiners, auditors, accountants, or tax attorneys. They don’t take monetary chances — with their own money or someone else’s — so you’ll never find an ISTJ working as a stock broker or an investor. It’s not likely you’ll find ISTJ’s working comfortably in the performance industry, food service industry, or the sex trade. If you need a prostitute in your novel, don’t make her an ISTJ. Ditto a fast food cashier or a jazz singer. She wouldn’t be a good nurse, either. But if you need a librarian, dentist, legal secretary, or high school teacher, then ISTJ is what you want.

Side note: speaking from experience, ISTJ’s prefer being by themselves, but can learn to interact with people as if they were extroverted. I don’t feel comfortable talking to strange people, but I can do it when I have to. So don’t stick too rigidly to the personality types – theres’ room for subtlety. A sensing person (who relies heavily on the five senses for collecting facts) can also dip into intuition to make a decision. It just isn’t their first inclination. A thinking person can take into account someone else’s feelings. It’s not a natural thing to do, but if they try, it’s doable. So don’t feel boxed in when using these personality traits. Use them to build a base, then feel free to alter them as necessary. I actually worked in a fast-food restaurant once. I was more comfortable in the back making food than up front taking money, but I learned to take orders and cash because my boss wanted me to do it. And pleasing my boss was important to me as an ISTJ. An ESFP wouldn’t bother pleasing the boss but would instead do what she pleased or quit. (We’ll cover that trait in a different post). So when you feel the need to stray from the base personality, make sure it’s a believable stray.

We’ll cover another personality in the next post. Stay tuned!

-Sonja
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