This week, we move on to Sensing vs. iNtuition. (Yes, spell check tried to automatically correct the deviant capitalization. Fight back. The people who created this test were geniuses. Spell check is just a computerized tool. Who are you going to side with here?)
Introvert and extrovert have entered our daily vocabulary. Pretty much everyone knows what they mean, and they sound like words too, which is a bonus. But it would sound pretty dumb if I called people who fit into these next categories “Sensors” and “Intuitors.” (Although they do sound like some kind of mutant superheroes with mental powers.) So I’m going to use the terms S and N by themselves, because that sounds slightly less dumb.
Once, my sister asked what the difference was between an S and an N. A friend of ours said, “The example most people use is how you describe something like this apple.” We decided to give it a try. Here’s how it went.
Erika: That’s an apple. It’s the size of my fist, red—probably Red Delicious—a little bruised…um…there’s a stem. There’s a sticker on the bottom. That’s all I’ve got.
Me: An apple, Red Delicious…I hate those—why do they call it delicious when it’s gross? Snow White. The Fall…except that probably wasn’t an apple. We just portray it that way because red represents temptation, which fits with the Fall. The season of fall, when you pick apples. We went to an apple orchard once, and even though they were freshly picked, the Red Delicious apples still weren’t delicious. William Tell. Newton. Wasn’t that how he discovered gravity? I think I learned that in elementary school. School. Teachers. Children’s alphabet flashcards….
And it went on and on and on.
These labels are about how you process information. An S focuses on details and sticks with the basics, while an N is more big-picture and enjoys deeper meanings behind the facts.
Unlike my extrovert-introvert scale or the two traits I’ll talk about next week, I am a solid N. As in, 100% N. So dominated by N that one of my classmates said of me, “Basically, you barely know the real world exists.”
Yep. That just about covers it.
How, if I am so strongly N, can I give advice about writing that includes treatment of both Ns and Ss? Because my Myers-Briggs profile says that I am the most observant and intuitive of all types, that’s why. Which basically means that I have a trump card that I can pull out whenever I want to justify anything I write. (“Oh yeah? Well, I’m an ENFP. What now?”)
(This, incidentally, is one of the wrong ways to use the Myers-Briggs tests, either on yourself or your characters—using the profile to decide that you have a certain trait instead of the other way around. Only ridiculous people do this. Don’t be like me.)
Here are some common mistakes I’ve seen regarding N and S characters, mostly in my own writing:
- SuperSensingIntutitiveMegaAwesome Characters – Yes, it is possible to have someone who is really logical and detail-oriented as well as creative and an outside-of-the-box thinker. He can probably also sing in soaring baritone in eight different languages while juggling heavy objects on a tightrope. The point is, it doesn’t happen very often, and even when it does, one kind of thinking usually takes more work than the other. Often, writers try to equip their heroes with the ability both to develop intense, logical escape plans and the improvisational skills to spout off witty comebacks and have Captain-Jack-Sparrow type ingenuity. Unless your character has some other major weakness, it’s better to stick with one or the other.
- Gender Stereotypes – Not every girl is an N. Not every guy is an S. In fact, it might be more interesting if you switch this up a little (the same is true of next week’s labels, Thinking and Feeling).
- Hobbies and Interests – Again, this is an area where it would be fun to go against stereotypes. Although a love of the arts is usually associated with N types, what if an S took an analytic approach to learning choreography for a dance? Or if you have a historian who is an N, he would talk more in terms of stories and themes rather than having students memorize lists of dates and names.
- Narration Style – If you have a first person narrator, you should be able to tell right away whether you have an S or N on your hands. An S is more of a reporter or a witness in a court case. They are very specific, and events usually progress in a logical order. They say what they mean, and things are generally pretty black-and-white to them. An N, on the other hand, will often jump around chronologically, make associations that others don’t always understand, and are more often naturally funny. They are also more likely to provide commentary on the significance of what is happening, even before having time to look back on it. These two categories aren’t always true, but they’re good general rules.
As far as interacting with Ns in the real world, we love concepts and discussing things that “don’t matter” (i.e. have no practical significance in day-to-day life). You may get lost trying to follow our train of thought, because it isn’t really a nice, orderly train at all, progressing at a certain speed on a specific track. It’s more like a pogo stick of thought. And, finally, we add our own interpretation to things (i.e., “This is what it means” or “This is why it matters”). Sometimes, we’re completely wrong, such as when we interpret someone’s tone of voice on the phone to mean he was upset when he really just had a sore throat. Other times, we look like mind readers. It’s pretty cool.
Despite my superior intuitive powers *cough*, I think I’ll leave the analysis of Ss up to someone who has even a fraction of a percent of that in them.
So, what’s up next? Thinking vs. Feeling, and believe me, there are a ton of misconceptions to work through there. I’m also putting together the most non-boring Myers-Briggs test you’ll ever take. I’ll post it in a few Wednesdays after I’m done with the other two pairs of traits.