The Enneagram is a great tool for writers for cast design. In this post, we’ll explain why.
In any story – screenplay, novel or other – characters are defined by what they do.
In fact, characters are no more than what they do.
No matter what background detail you know about them: where they grew up, what music they love, how many pets they had and what their pets were called… What a character actually does in the heat of the moment is what defines them.
Here’s an example… You have two characters: Brian and Sandra. Both are driving down a stretch of road when they see the aftermath of a car accident. A smashed up vehicle – a tell-tale bloodied arm protruding from the car. They’re obviously both first on the scene. Brian drives on, eyes fixed on the road ahead. Sandra stops to help.
Now we, the audience, make judgements about Sandra and Brian in that instant. I’ll be willing to bet we empathise with Sandra more – because we empathise with what we like to believe we would do in that situation. We like to think we’re good people. Like Sandra.
But at the same time we’re asking – why? Why would Brian drive on? Why is Sandra compelled to stop?
The easy answer is because they’re that kind of person. We judge them based on their actions.
Let’s add another layer of complexity. Brian – is a doctor. Sandra is a school administrator. We hate Brian even more now right?
But Brian is on the way to the hospital where a bus-load of tourists have been involved in a nasty accident and they need all hands on deck. Sandra is a known busy-body always getting involved where she’s not wanted.
They’re each just those kind of people. So each makes a different decision in the same situation based on what’s important to them.
And what if we were to learn that Brian isn’t just a doctor with lots of expertise – he also likes to achieve. To be recognised. He is what would be described as “an achiever” in the Enneagram. Suddenly his desire to get to the hospital is imbued with new meaning – it’s not just a greater chance to save lives – it’s a chance to look better. There is a dark overtone to that story that elevates it from “a story about someone who makes the right decision in a difficult situation” to a story about someone driven by a desire that affects their every decision. Some program deep inside them that colours every judgement.
Suddenly Brian isn’t just a character – he’s someone we know.
Sanda on the other hand is a busy-body because she’s a Helper. Her desire is to be loved, to help, to nurture. She wanted to be a mum but it never happened so she’s constantly on the look out for opportunities to make the world a better place. You can imagine she might drive around looking for places to be useful.
Again – she’s no longer a stereotypical character- she’s someone we know.
The Enneagram Explained
- The Enneagram allows us to assign a particular TYPE to each of our characters. There are nine types:
- The Reformer – who believes in change and wants things to be better – in many ways an idealist
- The Helper – who believes in love and understanding – their role is to make the world a better place.
- The Achiever – who craves recognition and success and isn’t afraid of working – and fighting – hard for it
- The Individualist – who craves to be different and creative and special – often dreamy, artistic and disconnected
- The Investigator – a cerebral type who believes the world is one of truth and deceit – it is their job to make sense of it.
- The Enthusiast – who believes life is an adventure to be seized by both hands – who rejects the mundane
- The Loyalist – who believes firmly in the commitment to an ideal or institution – who requires solidity and continuity in life
- The Challenger – who craves security and seeks to vanquish threats – someone who will take arms for their cause.
- The Peacemaker – who craves harmony and consensus – who is diplomatic and a mediator.
Each of these types (fully described in the Enneagram App) is driven by a single overriding view of life. That overriding view can manifest itself in both positive and negative ways – a peacemaker might bring harmony – but they can also be manipulative.
Within the Enneagram there are also descriptors for the various ways these types manifest in the character behaviour. Within each type there are various traits – some negative, some positive that are common across all types but that manifest in very different ways. These are:
- Holy Idea – this is an idea that the type holds as some kind of greater goal – for example, The Reformer seeks perfection in things. They are idealists – perfectionists
- Ego Fixation – this is what the type tends to fixate on when they’re at their most inward-looking – the opposite of their Holy Idea. For the loyalist that might manifest as Cowardice. They fear change.
- Basic Fear – this is the thing that terrifies the type – an inner trait that they subconsciously avoid at all costs. For a Helper, this is the sense of being unworthy of someone’s love.
- Basic Desire – another basic trait that encapsulates their heart’s desire – the sort of feeling or experience they subconsciously crave. For the Enthusiast that’s the joy of the experience of life.
- Temptation – this is the character’s weakness – how they behave when they let their personality traits get the better of them. Challengers are tempted to reject others in pursuit of self-sufficiency
- Vice – this is an outward manifestation of their personality. A physical desire they revert to. For Individualists, this can be jealousy. Being envious of others success.
- Virtue – this is a commendable trait that the character displays when they’re at their very best. For Investigators, this can be a cool detachment that gives them tremendous insight.
The Ennagram for Writers gives a full breakdown of each of these traits for each of these characters.
How it can help in the story writing process
Having a copy of the Enneagram to hand can help you very quickly create a dynamic cast – with a broad range of approaches and traits – simply by selecting a type for each character.
By assigning each major character a trait, you suddenly have insight into how they might react in almost any situation because you know exactly what is important to them.
With nine character types, this is often enough to fulfil the needs of a story that might have even a large number of main characters. (six main characters is usually the acceptable limit – it’s hard to follow more than that)
Similarly, if you do have more characters – even if you have two characters of the same type – they may emphasise certain traits more than others – one may be fundamentally good with some flaws, the other may be fundamentally bad with some redeeming qualities. They may recognise this in each other making them mortal enemies!
How to use the Enneagram App for your story
In My Projects, you can create a new project for each story you’re working on. Within each story project, you can add characters with names and a brief description. The next stage is to assign a character type to each character
You can change a character type at any time and have instant access to the traits that this character now possesses. From a simple cypher, a complex yet coherent character emerges.
See what stories emerge when you look at what traits these characters exhibit. This helps you create scenes that are about revealing character rather than just pushing on the story. We need to see both.
How does the character behaviour change when you assign them a different trait? What opportunities for conflict arise over differing approaches to the same problem.
Once your cast design is settled you can export your character list – along with all the associated traits – to pdf – or into an email if you prefer to edit it in some text document.
The Enneagram offers a simple way to view a complex character. We hope you will be inspired and helped in your writing by using the app.
Interested? Here’s shortcut…
Likewise if you have found this guide useful, please leave a comment below.