Can deliberately pigeonholing a character make them less two dimensional?

Over the course of my career I have had the opportunity to attend quite a few different training courses designed to develop softer skills. From a writer’s perspective, some of the most interesting and useful ones have been the sales training courses designed classify individuals into different personality types to better predict what influences them and makes them buy things.

Of course, in the real world, every person is unique. Their reactions to any event will be dictated by the random and often unknown mix of nature and nurture. An excellent line of argument can be completely derailed by using a phrase that just happens to be one that reminds the listener of a lazy ex-boyfriend. A smell can change someone’s mood. But that doesn’t devlaue the work undertaken by these sales trainers. From a writer’s perspective, these methods can be really useful in either helping you come up with a new character, or to better understand their character to make them more consistent with themselves.

I’ve included links below to three of the more helpful systems I’ve had some exposure to. As a first step, I’d suggest going through them to identify yourself – that way you can get a better feel for that particular system of pigeonholing and if it works for you. Then try it again for some of your main characters and see if you learn anything about them.

One of the most famous personality tests is the Myers-Briggs:

This is a relatively complex method that puts everyone into 1 of 16 different groups by viewing their position on fours issues… Extrovert/Introvert, Sensing/Intuitive, Thinking/Feeling and Judging/Percieving. Wikipedia also has individual pages with extra infomation on each of the 16 types.

Another that I like is Empathy Styles:

Instead of defining all of humanity into a set number of neat boxes, the Empathy Styles approach identifies 7 different elements that may be present in someone’s personality to varying degrees. It suggests that most people will be stronger in 2 to 4 of these, and it is the interplay of how those dominant elements work with each other (and how they react with the factors dominant in others) that shows how people are likely to react / be persuaded. Too much work for all the characters in your novel, probably, but definitely worth doong if you are trying to create the kind of protagonist who can support a 15 book series.

Finally, here is the Social Styles method:

I like this one, mainly for it’s simplicity. It puts us all in only 4 boxes based on only two questions: Do we tend to emote or control? Do we tend to ask or tell? This simplicity means it’s much easier to keep track of as you go to use as a sense-check on your characters.

I should also point out that the inventors of Social Styles acknowledge that a person’s style changes. It may evolve over time. Someone may have a different style depending on what circle of people they are currently with, or what situation they are reacting to. As such, I’m more likely to use this over the course of piece of writing to track a character’s responses. Are they being consistent with their current approach? Are they reacting in a human way to their evolving surroundings?