Quite possibly you are familiar with one of the several personality tests you can take to see what type of person you are. Some of the most famous are the Big 5 test and the Jung-Meyers-Briggs formula. They break people down into four or five basic types with some sub-categories within them. You find out if you are more emotional or analytical, introverted or extroverted, organized or sloppy, mathematical or literary, etc, and how much of each you tend to be. I'm still not sure what I am supposed to do with this information. I know I don't like numbers, nor cleaning the kitchen, and would rather explain myself in pictures than in an essay. I like learning, but not school, working, but not an office. And no matter what I am working on, I would probably prefer to be doing something else. The grass is, after all much greener over there. But, I have once again become side-tracked.
There is also the analysis that determines if you are a Lion, an Otter, a Golden Retriever or a Beaver (Leader, playful, go-getter, or hard worker). Centuries ago, Europeans broke things down into the four basic humours: Phlegmatic, Sanguin, Choleric, & Melancholy. Everyone was suppose to have potential to be all of these but supposedly, they were controlled by how much bile or blood, or other fluids you had in or out of balance.
Frankly, I believe all of these methods tell us the same thing in different words for different generations and segments of the populous.
Of course, Carl Jung developed his Archetype personalities, and Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler built on these concepts. As a writer, I think it is important that we are familiar with all of these so as to help us define our characters and make them believable. But I am not going to delve into explanations all these theories. No, I am going to entertain you with my own, from my own observance and experience.
I think we can divide people into categories by how they react to rules. And by rules, I mean laws as well as social customs. Naturally, we can divide the world into the lawbreakers and the law abiders, but we know that it’s not so black and white.
Let us discuss the law abiders. People obey laws for different reasons. In a story, a law or rule represents a conflict, when we are confronted with a choice to do something our own way, or the acceptable way. Seemingly most people choose the acceptable way. Why? What is their motivation?
Some obey for fear of punishment. There are even those who will assume laws where there are none just to be safe. They just want to do the right thing. It is paramount to these personalities to get along in the world without making waves. Like worker ants, if they get out of line there might be serious reprisals; anything between social embarrassment and jail.
Closely related are those who obey rules merely to set themselves apart from the rabble. These people don’t really enjoy doing the right thing itself, they enjoy being better than others who don’t. This doesn’t just go for laws, I’m talking about social circles, too. These are the type of folks who pride themselves on immaculate grammar and vocabulary, on wearing the proper style shoes, or choosing the right wine. They aren’t just high-brow, no, rule-keepers are found in every social strata and will tell you when you bring the wrong casserole to a church function, or don’t have enough spirit at a ball game, or mock you when you don't know the difference between DSL and an IP address. They love to be in a club and to know more than you. They more rules they obey, the deeper into the inner circle they get. Fascism thrives on people like this, yet they have found fertile ground all over the world.
Believe it or not, there are the altruistic people, too, who obey the rules because they know it is the right thing to do, that the rules were set into place to help them as well as others. You can tell these people because they are not afraid to break an unjust rule, nor break a just rule at an opportune moment, obeying the spirit of the law, rather than the letter. Like Sheriff Andy Taylor explained to Opie; He gave the example of a fellow who sees another man drowning in a lake with a “no swimming” sign. Does he break the posted law? Of course, it’s only right. Our first two examples would struggle over the decision until the poor chap in the lake was dead.
Is your protagonist one of these people? Is your antagonist? It definitely calls into question how we would categorize the “good guy”. Why are they “good”, and do others around them consider them good?
Compare Jean Valjean & Inspector Javert from “Les Miserables”, one was a law-breaker who did the right thing, the other was a law enforcer who was a brother to the Devil.
I will continue my dissertation later with the subject of lawbreakers….
One person said, “There are two types of people in the world: Those who divide the population in to two groups and those who don’t.”
Another person said: “There are three types of people in the world: Those who are good at math and those who aren’t.”