Myers-Briggs for world-building

When I demiurge, I build offices without officers, kingdoms without kings, planets without people.

Populating my worlds is hard for me. People are so concrete, and stories are so ethereal. (Thinking about it, it's kinda interesting that the fictional characters I know the most about in Andalusada - certainly the ones I've already written about, and a few others like Simon Twice-Traitor - are the ones who are at least partly mythical, and that the myth gets fleshed out before the man.) There's gonna be thousands of people that need at least names and a bit of personality, and Andalusada isn't my only world - or my last. And thus far, the non-mythical characters I've written up (and the one I invented) have stagnated as stubs. Not a good sign.

For projects on this scale, I'm going to need a way to mass-produce persons. And last night, while I was editing Don Musa, I had a breakthrough, brought to me by the words "Myers-Briggs."

Four-letter chargen

The initial catalyst for this thought was playing with the Random Family Tree Generator. Random generators are some of my favorite things to play with (Chaotic Shiny is my friend), but not many are useful for allohistoric purposes. My modus operandi is to button-mash until something interesting comes up. (Alas, the Alternity Daily Planet website is gone forever.)

Up until two nights ago, the RFTG had been restricted to random button-mashing, because its output isn't really useful unless you're planning families of short-lived horde races with gibberish names. They did come with Myers-Briggs types, though, and two nights ago something possessed me to decide that Don Musa was an ESTJ, and to look up what exactly that meant. (It hadn't occurred to me to read about non-INTP types, not being any of them myself.) And it struck me: this could be incredibly useful.

The Myers-Briggs history of the Caliphal Household

As a test of concept, I sat down and hammered out this:
  • Yusuf I is ENTP. Half Napoleon Bonaparte, half Haruhi Suzumiya, with a dash of Dom Pedro II thrown in there for good measure. Yusuf I (like myself) is a world-builder; unlike myself, he has the position, power and personality to enact a social vision.
    • His son Sufyan, meanwhile, is ESFP: a strong people person (you don't father that many children without being one) grounded in the here and now. Yusuf doesn't get him; he keeps expecting Sufyan to be the visionary he himself is, and keeps getting disappointed. (For his part, Sufyan sees his father as a megalomaniac making castles in clouds and bloody lines on maps, trying to build a space-filling empire.)
  • Don Musa is ESTJ. Practical and administerial, Musa Cordovero spends Yusuf's life as the Jeeves to his Wooster (or perhaps the Kyon to his Haruhi.) A lot of their clashes (that aren't
    • On his death, Don Musa experiences a bit of character evolution, reconciling himself with the new establishment. He handles this transition too smoothly (Altermeyer might type him as a case study in a transition from right-wing to left-wing authoritarianism.)
    • As senior figure in the Caliphal Household, and the one closest to Yusuf I, Don Musa steps up as the guardian and enforcer of roles - not least the role of the caliph himself. In this sense, his clash with the first post-Yusuf caliph (the one he deposes after what's shaping up to be an epic Machiavellian showdown) could be understood as a clash with another ESTJ who doesn't share that understanding of what a caliph should be.
    • After the deposition of that caliph, the UCNA goes through 40 years of what are called "the six weak caliphs," all of whom have Don Musa as their secretary. Their relative weakness can be understood in terms of them either clashing with him and being subverted, or letting him work and being eclipsed.
  • Don Ibrahim is INTJ. Because of how long the two Cordoveros serve in their offices, and how powerful that office is, the difference between the two types isn't just highlighted, it's written into world history.
    • Don Musa was a public figure, and (in Don Ibrahim's eyes) played that too much. By 1870, it was common knowledge that the buck stopped with him, and he was very much the master of ceremonies. Ibrahim wasn't, and consciously passed a lot of the more visible positions away to people within the Household. (This lets him focus the political limelight away from himself.)
  • Yusuf II is ESFJ. Charming, warm, visible, and subtly airheaded, Yusuf II is everything his advisor isn't. (ESFJs can become self-sacrificing; in Yusuf's case, this manifests as a total lack of personal ambitions beyond putting in a good day's work and partying hard.)
    • Yusuf II's regency begins on a tense note; Don Musa's initial impression of Yusuf is that they have nothing in common. They don't. Once they learn to talk at each other, though, things warm up considerably.
  • Yusuf III is INFP. More than that, an INFP with an ASD (at the very least an odd streak of train obsession.) In principle he should be able to get along with Don Ibrahim, and in the future he may well do so - but at the moment, Don Ibrahim's written him off as a weak caliph.
All of that was hammered out on Monday night, to a friend of mine whose response was: "Wow."

So why am I so excited about this?

MBTI typing offers me insight. Writing this has made me realize that I'm a behaviorist demiurge: I know how my characters act, not how they think. My people exist for my world, not vice versa; when I flesh somebody out, it's less to know them than their consequences. And it's pretty difficult, when you're thinking in, say, tropes and how a given stock character might express itself in an alien world. (Or, more concretely, in GURPS format, trying to define a personality by its dysfunctions and up to five quirks.) Yusuf I, for instance, is Pedro II, reskinned as Napoleon; Yusuf II began his concept as a blatant Teddy Roosevelt clone. Where I create original characters, they're philosophical zombies: on Monday night, for instance, I knew nothing about Don Musa's personality.

Trying to type characters by MBTI has made me think about how they think - and it's made Don Musa into Andalusada's first character defined in his own right, not for fluff or plot demands. It's also made the two father/son pairs of the Caliphal Household the first relationships of the verse that I've subjected to any fraction of the attention I normally pay to guns. Oh, and the icing on the cake? It's as transparent as astrology (which I'm also using to flesh out characters.) Until Andalusada's contingent fandom starts trying to type people themselves, this is no more visible than I choose to make it.

More than that, though, the biggest thing about applied MBTI typing for me is that it's caused an awareness of something: that personalities and relationships can shape history, no less than science or war or religion or demographics. Whenever there is somebody, there is a substratum of their identity to explore and analyze. Wherever there are two or three people, there are relationships between them - and those relationships shape their interactions, generating not only history by their results but historiography and self-understanding by their observers.

Yes, I realize that's a really remedial thing to have an epiphany about. I call myself a demiurge because at the craft of world-building I am neither competent nor good.

No comments: