Characterisation & Psychology

A person who has chosen to become a careers advisor should not be trusted to advise people on their careers. I was sixteen. She told me I should become an “Analyst”. Pretty vague. Tick box for a middle class white boy. Artistic ambitions were dissuaded when I was a teenager.

Who else is gonna work in middle-management, Jack? And artists are all drug addicts. Or poor. And there is nothing worse than being poor.

A few twists and turns later and I’m at a Red Brick University doing a psychology degree, looking like the fifth member of The Doors (see above). Well, it was 1998.

‘You’re not here to learn about anyone else, you’re here to learn why you’re fucked up,’ said the head of the department in his introductory lecture. Very true. I fell in love that day with a beautiful blonde girl who had the deepest blue eyes. She turned around and smiled at me and then – BANG! – there it was. A connection. Let’s call her Brenda. That was my happiest moment at university. First day. It was all downhill thereafter.

I signed up to the course to stave off real life for another three years. I really didn’t want to be an “Analyst”. Whatever that was. There was no method behind choosing psychology. The careers advisor – Helen, that was her name – said it’d open a lot of doors for me. Whatever that means. I think she just wanted to get me out of her office. Christ, I was an idiot.

I made one friend in the first year, which was one more than I expected to make. His name was Matt. The skin on his face was very smooth. He’d never say, but I think the guy must’ve been in a pretty nasty fire at some point in his life. We listened to a lot of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and watched a lot of David Lynch movies.

He lived next door to this long haired fat guy called Damien. Damien’s urge to get laid was outweighed only by how obnoxious the fucker was. He had no success and this frustrated the guy into a deep black hole of misogyny and barely-legal porn. One day that all changed; he went to a fancy dress party in drag. The girls all touched his face and his hair and checked his skirt was on properly. Crap like that. He called himself Donna. It was as close to fucking as Damien would get. So whenever he felt frisky, Donna would come out for the evening, bathing in affection, pissing in the ladies. I saw straight through his little charade – I was doing a psychology degree, after all.

Matt and I rented a tiny, ramshackle house in the second year and he started selling weed to the campus. I can’t stand the stuff – I’m a drinker – but he smoked it every single day. Big bags of skunk sitting on the living room table. Vile, really.

Matt found a better friend than me in Vlad and we went our separate ways (his, leading to rehab). Vlad had a cheerier disposition and he owned all The Chemical Brothers’ albums. Turned out his name was in fact Alan, he just called himself Vlad because he really liked vampires.

When the ordeal was finally over, somehow I managed to score a 2:1. I have no clue how I did this.

With my new qualification in one hand and a shit load of debt in the other, I stepped out into the real world and got a job in a call centre like a real human.

‘Hello, TwatWest Bank? How can I service you today?’ /  ‘Please don’t monkey me around, Mr Gibbons.’

Whenever I got an irate caller, I would transfer them to my best friend’s mobile phone. It was the sort of place where you had to make your own fun.

It wasn’t forever, but it lasted long enough. Then I started living life, and that wasn’t too bad.

But what I’ve learnt must’ve stuck with me somehow. Having issues with certain aspects of characterisation while I hacked away at the rapidly decomposing corpse of my second draft, I turned to my trusty old discipline and pulled out the Myers-Briggs test.

‘What is the Myers-Briggs test?’ I hear you ask? Well, it’s a test that determines what personality type you have. There are 16 in all. They’re based on measurements of certain cognitive functions. Obviously, you can’t pigeonhole the entire human race into 16 categories – there are shades of grey (well over 50) – but instead, they are to be treated as thick brush stokes, loose fits.

It’s pretty easy to Google a few practice tests. And here’s the Wikipedia page.

I am an INTJ, which basically means I’m an asshole. I’m lumped in with Lenin, The Unabomber and Russell fucking Crowe. Some believe Hitler was an INTJ. This is refuted by INTJs on the basis that if it were true, we’d all be speaking German right now.

But what about your characters? Can’t get a handle on their personality? Do they do something halfway through the story that doesn’t fit?

Do a personality test on them and get an outline. The little explanations you get with the tests might help with the creation of a believable character.

There’s a really good blog entry on this already that I can’t seem to locate. It skips the sad uni backstory and gets straight to the psychological meat.

But Myers-Briggs is only the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of psychological tests that you can run to uncover secrets about your characters. Writing, I am learning, is as much about excavation as it is construction.

I guess you learn in order to improve yourself, not to complete tick boxes for your prospective employers. If I had known that when I first went to uni, it might have made the whole debacle a little less painful.

Eventually, I was employed as an “Analyst”. For a short time. It was fucking terrible and I still have no idea what it really means.

And Brenda turned out to be gay. Still, the whole three years were worth it for the three seconds she smiled at me.


  1. I’m also an INTJ. Us aviation students have to take the Myer-Briggs as part of the university course although I’m rather skeptical of how reliable it is (I wrote a little bit about it during my review of the first Divergent film). Plus it’s a little annoying when you read up that ENTJs are born leaders. Anyway, that was a great post much like your other ones. I particularly like reading your points of view and observations, and your writing style is great. Also, that’s a nifty idea to use Myer-Briggs for characters in writing. Maybe that’ll help me get on with my current (stalled) writing project.


    1. I think like any behavioural theories, it’s a little woolly. It works great when people fit into the box, but there are always outliers and exceptions. But like I say, I think it’s probably for generalisations rather than getting down the nuts and bolts of someone’s personality. Thank you so much for the kind words and let me know if you use the idea for your writing project.

      Liked by 1 person

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