How to use the Enneagram to create better characters…

The Enneagram is well-known way of categorising people. It can really help boost the depth of your characters.

Characters in stories need to feel complete and whole and real.

What does this mean? Well it means they need to be full of conflict. But also consistent. As a writer you get told these things all the time: Make your characters consistent. Oh and full of surprises. Yep, Writing is hard.

Fortunately the Ennegram can offer just that: Consistent Characters that are brimming with contradiction…

Lets start with where most writers go wrong.

The first mistake is just to make characters randomly quirky. You know the one: Big ego, terrified of snakes. Okay bad example. But you know the thing. There needs to be some inner consistency to the character, some inner gravity or they’re just going to fly off like a set of loose cannons.

Again. The Enneagram can help. Each type has a core idea running through them like the writing on a stick of rock.

One of the other biggest mistakes writers make is to write characters just like themselves (particularly the heroes).

In these stories, everyone is anodyne and doesn’t really have flaws or contradictions, and all the characters are alike.

This in turn pours cold water on any chances of conflict: A writer doesn’t want bad things to happen to characters like them! They don’t want that character make stupid decisions that they then have to pay for! To suffer pain…

But that’s exactly what we need from a character in a story!

The Enneagram for Writers offers a snapshot of nine different types of people. Each type is like a different chemical element, or a different flavour of personality. Each type is anchored to a particular way of seeing the world, a particular belief, that affects how they interact with the world – described through their various traits.

So the Enneagram offers a writers a core personality and belief that the individual character can be built around.

Download the Enneagram for Writers on the App Store

What is so powerful about the Enneagram is that it isn’t just focused on one trait, but that the traits are all connected to each other. A Loyalist basically likes security – reliable friends, a certain future. That means they tend to have strongly held beliefs. They can be exceptionally brave. They can be loyal (surprise surprise).

From there you can extrapolate they are likely to have been in the same job for some time, one that doesn’t throw surprises at them. So you can see, you start to create a picture of how this character interacts with the world from giving them a core Enneagram personality.

Without doing much more of a character sketch that that, you already know how your character could react in a certain situation. Story flows from. there.

When you have multiple characters you can assign them different personalities – they will each approach a problem in a different way – each want a different outcome. Your story deepens.

Or your hero and villain could be the same type but with different approaches. Both could be after exactly the same thing and be proof there are many routes to a goal – but offering the audience the chance to consider which one they approve of.

As well as outer conflict the lens of the Enneagram offers opportunity for inner conflict. A character’s Holy Idea (effectively the Thing They Believe is Very Important) and their Ego Fixation (effectively the Thing They Obsess About) represent two conflicting sides of the same coin. Reformers believe in Perfection – a perfect way of doing something. At the same time, they can be godawful grumpy self-absorbed critics when things aren’t done that way.

This gives you an opportunity to play with the conflict in all of us: What We Say Versus What We Do…

Each character type has a Burning Desire that pushes them towards something and a fear that pushes them away from something else.

Most of your screenplay is going to be about putting your character in a situation where they want to reach the thing they desire and the thing they fear is in the way.

The Enneagram also describes the Temptation of the character type – that behaviour they revert to (or are tempted to revert to) in their darkest hour. Most characters reach a point in the story where they go to this place. They become, for a while, un-likelable. It’s necessary if they are to be saved again…

Finally The Enneagram also assigns a Vice and a Virtue for each character. That behaviour they exhibit that means they have either controlled their personality obsession for the good of others (for what is a Virtue but a selfless expression of ourselves) or let their personality control them and descend in a selfish (Sinful) version of themselves. What path will your character take?

So in summary the Enneagram

  • Gives us a core personality to shape the specific character around
  • Tells us how a character will most likely react in a given situation
  • Defines the sort of goals, flaws, desires, fears, bad behaviour a character type possesses, and their potential to become a true hero or despicable loser.
  • Gives us the framework for our character journey
  • Gives us a unified view of character that still bubbles with contradiction
  • Guarantees we won’t just write ourselves – and even if we do we have the tools to explore those flaws we know are there!

So if you’re interested in exploring the Enneagram more and finding out about each of the character traits, head over to the App Store to download the Enneagram for writers app. You’ll understand your characters – and just maybe the other people around you – more!

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