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  • Writer's pictureJessica Van Devanter

A Writer’s Guide to Creating Unforgettable Characters Using the Enneagram

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Have you ever been reading a book and found yourself thinking "this character would NEVER do that"? Readers can tell when a character's personality hasn't been fully fleshed out by the author. In a previous post, I discuss the value of using personality tests developed by phycologists to help you write characters that feel real. In this post, I will focus on creating unforgettable characters using the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a system that categorizes human personality into nine distinct types. Each type represents a unique worldview and set of motivations. Here’s how you can use the Enneagram to enrich your character development process.

 

Understanding the Enneagram Types:

Each of the nine personality types of the Enneagram have general positive and negative characteristics. Knowing the basics of each will help you know where to start when researching what personality type is the best fit for the characters in your story.

  • Enneagram 1: "The Reformer" - Principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.

  • Enneagram 2: "The Helper" - Generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive.

  • Enneagram 3: "The Achiever" - Adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.

  • Enneagram 4: "The Individualist" - Expressive, dramatic, self-focused, and temperamental.

  • Enneagram 5: "The Investigator" - Perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.

  • Enneagram 6: "The Loyalist" - Engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.

  • Enneagram 7: "The Enthusiast" - Spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, and scattered.

  • Enneagram 8: "The Challenger" - Self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.

  • Enneagram 9: "The Peacemaker" - Receptive, reassuring, complacent, and resigned.

 

Exploring Character Motivations and Fears:

The Enneagram provides insight into what drives your characters and what they fear most. These motivations and fears shape their actions and decisions. For example, a Type 3 (The Achiever) is driven by the desire for success and fears failure. This can influence their relationships, career choices, and how they respond to challenges.


Assigning Enneagram Types to Characters:

Identify which Enneagram type best fits each of your characters. Consider their core desires, fears, and motivations. For instance, if your character strives for perfection and fears making mistakes, they might be a Type 1 (The Reformer). Understanding their Enneagram type helps you delve deeper into their psyche.

 

Creating Internal and External Conflicts:

Use the Enneagram to generate both internal and external conflicts for your characters. Internal conflicts often stem from a character's core fear. A Type 6 (The Loyalist), who fears uncertainty, might struggle with trust and decision-making. External conflicts arise when characters' Enneagram types clash. A confrontational Type 8 (The Challenger) might conflict with a peace-seeking Type 9 (The Peacemaker).

 

Developing Character Arcs:

The Enneagram can guide your characters' development arcs. Characters often start with their type's negative traits and gradually learn to embrace healthier aspects. A Type 4 (The Individualist) might start off feeling misunderstood and isolated but grow to appreciate their uniqueness and connect with others more deeply.

 

Enriching Dialogue and Interactions:

Understanding your characters' Enneagram types can enhance dialogue and interactions. Each type has a distinct communication style. A Type 2 (The Helper) might speak warmly and seek approval, while a Type 5 (The Investigator) might be more reserved and analytical. Your character's voices will be more distinct and authentic when you have a strong idea of their personality and tailor their dialogue to fit.

 

Crafting Subplots and Relationships:

Subplots and relationships can be enriched by the dynamics between different Enneagram types. Romantic tension, friendships, and rivalries can be deepened by understanding how different types interact. For instance, a Type 7 (The Enthusiast) might find both excitement and frustration in a relationship with a Type 1 (The Reformer), who seeks order and perfection.

 

Enhancing Emotional Depth:

The Enneagram helps you explore the emotional depth of your characters. Each type has specific emotional struggles and growth paths. A Type 8 (The Challenger) might have to confront their vulnerability, while a Type 2 (The Helper) might learn to set boundaries and practice self-care. These emotional journeys add depth and relatability to your characters.

 

Balancing Characters’ Strengths and Weaknesses:

Every Enneagram type has strengths and weaknesses. Use this balance to create well-rounded characters. A Type 3 (The Achiever) might be ambitious and charismatic but struggle with authenticity. Highlighting both positive and negative traits makes your characters more believable and engaging.


Utilizing the Enneagram for Supporting Characters:

Don’t limit the Enneagram to your main characters. Apply it to supporting characters to make them more memorable and impactful. Understanding their types can help you craft compelling secondary storylines and interactions that support and enhance the main narrative.


 

The Enneagram is a valuable tool for developing rich, complex characters. By understanding and applying the nine types, you can delve deeper into your characters’ motivations, fears, and growth. Use the Enneagram to create dynamic conflicts, enhance dialogue, and craft meaningful character arcs. Embrace this system to add depth and authenticity to your storytelling, making your characters truly unforgettable.

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