Lower Functions in Writing: Starring Hamilton

Well, I haven’t done an MBTI post in awhile. So here we go… with Hamilton! (And Burr. Him too).


Pick the Thinker and the Feeler. It’s not as easy as you’d guess.

In the MBTI theory, you use four of eight possible cognitive functions. The order that your top two appear gives you your four letter ‘type,’ like ISTJ or ENTP.

The stereotypes for each type are often based on those top two functions only. For example, INTPs are considered socially awkward robots, because their tertiary Si and inferior Fe are ignored.

One reason I like typing characters so much is that it can be a good indicator of how well developed a character is. I’m often surprised at how much a shallow character fits into an MBTI stereotype, even though the writer may not use the MBTI theory.

So how do writers combat stereotypes and shallow characters? By involving the tertiary and inferior (third and fourth) functions.

People use these functions to varying degrees. Sometimes they act as a healthy balance to the dominant and auxiliary functions, like if an ISFJ stepped back and analyzed a situation logically (healthy Ti), or considered alternatives to what they’ve always done (healthy Ne).

Other times, they can be a pain to manage, like if that ISFJ was hypercritical all the time (unhealthy Ti) and feared every possible negative outcome (unhealthy Ne). Most people, though, aren’t completely healthy or unhealthy with their lower functions. And that can be an excellent source of character development.

lin-miranda-800Take Hamilton.

He’s an ENFP, an extremely well-written one. His tertiary Te crops up to get his Ne ideas out of his head (“Non-Stop”). But he’s too forceful with it. It’s not balanced enough that he can “take a break.” Although his tertiary function is healthy in that it helps him get stuff done, it’s unhealthy in that he doesn’t have much control over it.

Hamilton’s inferior function, Si, is even more erratic. He’s often focused solely on the future of the country (an intangible idea): Ne. When his Si does appear, it’s when he’s under a ton of stress. All of “Hurricane” is a great example of panicking Si- he wrote his way out before, so that has to be the best way to handle the current situation, right? Right?

aaron-burr-full-b-w-535d3f769e43324513760db821859e465748dbb0-s900-c85Meanwhile, Burr is an excellent INTJ depiction, especially in the balance between dominant Ni and inferior Se. He ‘waits for’ the perfect moment to act, even if it takes years. He’s extremely hesitant to purposefully engage with his environment, and can’t see opportunities before him (inferior Se). It takes him forever to even fix on a definite goal: presidency.

And then when that falls through, he’s devastated. He has no plan B; that was his whole Ni vision. He lashes out with wounded Fi and impulsive Se, challenging Hamilton to a duel. But it’s his hesitancy that defines him, his lack of opportunistic Se.

Lower functions can be a great asset to writers in figuring out how characters would react to stressful situations in a non stereotypical way while still being consistent. Their lower functions can be erratic, like Hamilton, or completely ignored (until just the right moment), like Burr. Play around with what works for your characters and plot. And don’t throw away your shot… to write well-developed characters.


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