Why Write?

“The written word is a powerful thing, you have to be careful with it.” –Inkheart

I am a Christian. I am an INTJ. I am also a writer. It’s a very simple formula for all sorts of fantastical novels. Or for revolution, come to think of it. 

But, of all the things I could do, why do I write? From an outside view, all I do is sit in a chair and type word after word after word about fake people and the feats they never really did, and I drink a lot of coffee in the process. That seems insignificant. Yet, if you asked me what I would regret if I died today, one of my first responses would be, “I wish I had finished my books first.” Why is writing so important to me?

pen-and-paper_400x295_39

Writing itself just looks pretty. (image credit)

Well, for one thing, I am naturally introspective, and I love writing for creativity’s sake. God blessed me with a severely overactive imagination and a mind that constantly asks, “What if?” I have to answer those questions. I spend a good deal of time inside my own head and dig into those questions, making up my own worlds. Mine is an imagination that is set afire by one single image- resolute castle gates weathered and rough from ancient battles, purple lakes frozen over with glowing whiteness. It strikes me, and I have to write it.

For another thing, I love writing for language’s sake. For all my introspection and thinking, some of it is bound to spill out, and while I’m no virtuoso at crafting imagery out of spoken words, I can build anything with a pen and paper. I can’t tell it to you, but I can write it for you. Writing is like constructing a Gothic cathedral, for you have to learn all the mechanics and the rhetoric, then you must take a grand idea and build a strong-standing structure out of it, and finally you must make it ornate and color it with stained glass. I do love a good challenge.

For the most part, though, an INTJ writes because of the nature of writing itself, because the pen really is mightier than the sword. Harriet Beecher Stowe created an avalanche with her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, opening the eyes of a nation to the evils of slavery. Upon meeting Stowe, Abe Lincoln said, “So this is the little lady who started this big war.” Again, long before the bloody wars against communism broke out, Marx wrote a book that attacked capitalism and everyone who possessed more than someone else. That book sparked revolutions all over the world, and we still suffer repercussions of that today. One German book- and it led to warfare across the Pacific and Atlantic.

Let me ask you something: why has every totalitarian regime in the last century started with banning books? Why are the historians, philosophers, and writers always the first to go? Why does the government desire to control the press? I’ll tell you why- people who hate the truth necessarily hate writing. They hate that ideas can be recorded and handed out for all the world to see and consider. They especially hate the Bible.

Oh, yes, the Bible is at the top of the list here. You should have known Christianity would make its way into any of my posts on truth and life purpose. Ho and hum and beat around the bush as long as you like, but you cannot erase the fact that whenever philosophers and writers are taken away, the Bible is taken away with it. That has got to count for something. People who try to take away the Bible don’t hate do-good-er morality or legalism (which aren’t actually in the Bible), nor even the inspiring stories and scientific truths (which are actually in the Bible). Enemies of freedom, of love, really of anything good will always hate the life-changing message of the Gospel, and that is because it is true and challenging. Everyone who reads and believes it is commissioned to share it, and it spreads like a wildfire. Take away that rudder of truth, and you can wreak all manner of havoc on everything good in the world.

I am an INTJ, and that means I want the truth. I am a Christian, and that means I am commissioned to share the truth. I am a writer, and that means that I will share the truth. Writing is one way that I do my life’s work: a plain yet beautiful, simple yet complex, tiny yet powerful weapon, the pen is a spark that starts a worldwide fire. It is a tool to change the world, and no one will ever stop me from doing that.

“There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.” –The Two Towers

Now you tell me- why do you write?

MBTI: How It Can Help Your MC

Note: If you are unfamiliar with MBTI – the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – or missed Part 1 of this series, click here. Once you’ve read that, this post will make much more sense!

Once upon a time, there was a young author named Hannah who never had any struggles with characterization. She had in her head a wide array of staggeringly diverse characters, each with their own imagination, goals, and personal history, and even a few annoying habits to make them stand out. You see, she was one of those obsessive plotters who writes a biography for every one of them.

No individuality- just like the whole Star Wars hero-quest cliche, come to think of it.

Yet when Hannah sat down at her desk, armed with a laptop and her favorite peppermint coffee, and wrote the story for real, all the characters’ individuality was gone! They fell flat. She couldn’t put her finger on the reason, but her characters lacked that all-important sense of realness. No matter how much she rewrote and edited, they all just felt the same. So Hannah finished her peppermint coffee and buried her head in her hands, thinking, “I am a horrible writer.”

The end.

Now if this has never happened to you, mazel tov. You no longer need to read this post. If, however, you are the kind of writer who struggles with characterization, I’d like to encourage you that it’s a normal problem. The problem isn’t a lack of imagination. The problem is the writer’s own personality filter. Every time you sign up to write a character with a different personality from your own, you are agreeing to take on a whole new set of traits, values, and thought processes. And most writers don’t even realize it.

Here’s an example for all of you Sensing types. I plotted one of my protagonists, Elkay, as an ESTJ: a tough, steely leader with a sense of duty. However, by the time I finished the story, Elkay had morphed into an INTP: an objective puzzle-solver with big dreams. What facilitated such a change? It was myself; the ESTJ in my imagination had to go through me before he reached the paper, and I rubbed off many of my own traits to make him an INTP. Slightly different…

How on earth do we avoid this? I have a few suggestions:

Get familiar with various kinds of personalities. The truth is that you can’t write a different kind of person accurately until you get to know that kind of person. So spy on people. Talk to people. Analyze people. Be it an official temperament test like Myers-Briggs or simply an informal people-watching experiment, you must find some way of understanding how other people work. Read 16personalities.com and learn how people think, and then get to work applying this new knowledge.

Decide on an inspiration for your character. It’s permissible to have some sort of real-life basis to which you can refer as you write. Is your protagonist like Abe Lincoln? Read a book about him and get that character into your head. Find out his personality type. Is a villain like your sister? Take your sister’s personality and just transfer it to the villain (but be tactful about that one, my friend).

Write one scene over and over until you know what your character is really like. Try writing one scene multiple times, giving a different voice, worldview, goal, etc. to your character each time. It need not even be a scene that you will use in the final draft. Just play with the character, tweaking, rearranging, flipping him on his head until you find the essence of the character.

Rethink and rewrite. Sometimes a certain personality just doesn’t work for a character. Looking back, I realize that making Elkay an ESTJ would not work well at all with my plot, and it was for the best that he changed. Be flexible. You have to write more than one draft anyway; you might as well experiment with different personalities while you’re editing.

Has MBTI helped you write “real” characters? Let me know in the comments.