Four Functions of Personality: Character Outlines Made Easy

How many times have you heard someone say, “I hate my job, but it pays the bills?” You can research as much as you want about a character’s job, or what he does, but those are merely byproducts of the character’s external trappings, often revealing little of who the character actually is. How a character feels about what he does, reflects the nature of his relationship to himself; his internal conflicts.  That is the kind of conflict that inspires “heart,” and heart is what hooks an audience.

51pp-s0SCEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_When researching how I want to approach a character’s inner conflicts, there are two books I immediately consult. The first is A COMPLETE WRITERS GUIDE TO HEROES AND HEROINES, 16 MASTER ARCHETYPES, by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LeFever, and Sue Viders. Altogether, they review sixteen male and female archetypes and their interactions along three dimensions: how they mesh, how they clash, and how they change. This book used to be a print on demand, but usually available at the RWA national conference bookstore, now it’s on Amazon!

417eEmooK3L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Secondly, I recently discovered A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTERIZATION by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. This book is very similar to the former (in that it outlines common archetypes and their interactions) but it includes a questionnaire pertaining to Carl Jung’s four functions of personality assessment, and has the added bonus of comparing character archetypes to animal totems. This just tickles my mystic, paranormal inklings like nothing else! And you can buy it anywhere.

To give you a taste: Carl Jung believed all individuals fall somewhere along the spectrum of introversion versus extroversion. Within that, lie four functions: sensing, intuiting, thinking, and feeling. Each of these describes an individual’s way of “dealing” with the world.

Sensing: Jung called this one of the irrational functions, because it involves perceiving rather than judging information. Tangible immediate experience is valued over discussing or analyzing experience. This is kind of character well take what he sees and hears at face value. This character will think a person who cannot look him in the eye is lying.

Thinking: Jung called this a rational function because it involves decision-making and judging rather than simple intake of information. This character relies on objective truth and impersonal analysis. Think Spock from Star Trek. This kind of character will think someone is lying if they got the facts wrong or are not making logical sense.

Intuiting: Jung felt this was an irrational function because it involves a kind perception similar to sensing, but comes from the complex integration of large amounts of information, rather than simply seeing or hearing. It’s all about possibilities and asking “what could happen?” This means a character will make decisions based on gut instinct rather than logic. His ideas and creative solutions will typically go against the norm. He will know if someone is lying because he “just knows it.”

Feeling: Jung calls this a rational function, but not in the usual sense of the word. It is all about what value something has over logical examination of it; recognizing when the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Feeling, like thinking, is a matter of evaluating information. A character who relies on feeling will take into consideration his own emotional response. He will know if someone is lying because he will feel the person’s nervousness.

2016-01-20 10.45.10If this has piqued your interest, there are websites that offer free questionnaires to help you determine personality structure, based on these four functions and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typological approach to personality.

For example, I took a quiz at, and discovered my personality is described as “INFJ,” which means I am a moderate introvert with a preference for intuiting over sensing, feeling over thinking, and judging over perceiving.

Then I went to, and was given lengthy description of exactly what that means, and an analysis of how this would play itself out in other areas of life, such as in relationships, career, and learning environments. For free.

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I also found out which Game of Thrones character I am 🙂

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There it is folks, your character outline, done. Just be mindful of how far you fall down that rabbit hole, because you can get lost for hours investigating this stuff! Best. Research. Ever. Which type are you?

Briana MacPerry is a creative arts therapist with ten years clinical experience working predominantly with traumatized women and children. Currently, she teaches personality development and thesis writing at Pratt Institute. When she isn’t corralling her five-year old son, she’s blogging, painting, drawing, or otherwise plugging away at passion’s pursuit. To learn more please visit her blog at, or follow her on Twitter @macperrytweets.



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