A friend introduced me to the Enneagram recently as a tool for understanding character development and motivation. I’ve been playing with it since. I find it pretty easy now to assign most characters I read about or see in tv or movies to their numbers.
Using it for creation feels a bit backwards though. I have to hear characters in their ‘natural’ voices before I can start with them. But once I’ve got them, the Enneagram helps me keep them from all turning into me.
The Enneagram is a personality/motivation sorting system similar to the Myers-Briggs. Each person has a number that they most resonate to. The best online resource I’ve found so far is The Enneagram Institute which gives quite a bit of information on each type including a chart showing how the types react to growth or decay.
There are also a number of comedians doing bits on how the various numbers react to circumstances. One of my favorites is Leanne and Michelle who act out the types and Frank James when I need the male version. When I’m at a loss, I tune into their channel to get a sense of how my character will react to various things and I use that.
Here are the types:
From The Enneagram Institute the nine types are described this way.
Type One is principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.
Type Two is generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive.
Type Three is adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.
Type Four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.
Type Five is perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.
Type Six is engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.
Type Seven is spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, and scattered.
Type Eight is self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.
Type Nine is receptive, reassuring, complacent, and resigned.
There is a lot more complexity to this system with information on “wings” on changes to the types under stress and so forth. It’s interesting and useful. Obviously you cannot take real people with all their complexities and reduce them to a single type. But for characters, especially secondary characters, that’s a different story.
I will confess here that I found learning my number useful to me as well. It gives me ways to work on my frustrating issues and helps me realize that everyone is not actually secretly just like me. I recommend taking a look to see if it helps your writing or yourself. But don’t get too hung up on it. At the end of the day, it’s just another map and maps are never the territory.
Be well, friends!