How to use the Enneagram to create better characters…

The Enneagram for Writers App is a handy little pocket guide to the Enneagram. Read on to find out how to use it to improve 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…

For a brief introduction to what the Enneagram is and how it can benefit your writing I strongly advise you read this post

If you’re already familiar with the Enneagram, then let’s go into a bit more detail.

How the Enneagram can help

Let’s 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.

This is where the Enneagram helps. 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 people like them! They don’t want that character make stupid decisions that they then have to pay for! To suffer pain…) So conflict gets set aside.

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

With the Enneagram for Writers you have psychological templates for 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

How to use the Enneagram for Writers App in your writing

The first thing to do is make sure you understand the different types. Spend some time looking around the various traits that each character type displays. You’ll start to pick up that common notion that drives everything a particular character does.

The next job is to assign each of your characters a particular type. This is most important with your main character, but also with your secondary characters so you’re making sure you have a wide range of viewpoints and potential reactions.

You can go to the My Projects section to create a new story and store the personality type of each character.

Don’t feel you have to cover every base. It can work well if you hero and villain are the same type but with different approaches. Both could be after exactly the same thing and show there are many routes to a goal – but offering the audience the chance to consider which one they approve of. Also we hate the things we recognise in ourselves right?

Then for the major characters consider where and when they are going to display elements of the various traits. The more they do display, the more rounded they will appear.

This is where the Enneagram journey comes in.

The Enneagram Journey

A character usually starts in Act One displaying a notion of their Holy Idea (effectively the Thing They Believe is Very Important). Fairly early on the character will make it clear that “this is the sort of thing that’s important to them” – whether it’s justice (Reformer) or being original (Individualist). However in that first act we’re also going to get a sense of their Ego Fixation (effectively the Thing They Obsess About). This is also sometimes called their flaw. Remember the Enneagram deals with psychology so you need to think of a way for that flaw to manifest itself. It’s no good having the character just say “But I do get angry when I see injustice…”!

By having the character express their Holy Idea (through action) but also inadvertently display elements of their Ego Fixation we instantly see a character in inner conflict…

In Act Two, the character is propelled to try to achieve something in the real world. In this act they’re balancing two other traits.

The first is their Burning Desire that pushes them towards something and the second is their Great Fear that they subconsciously are constantly avoiding.

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…

In the latter part of the story the characters must face their Vice and a Virtue. Usually they are presented with a choice that is theirs to make alone.

Whether they chose Virtue (a selfless expression of ourselves – putting ourselves before others) or Vice (the selfish path) should only become clear at the very end. This is the point that we the audience decide whether we’ve seen an up ending or a down ending… Either way we’re kept waiting to see how it turns out… guessing to the end about a character we really feel we know…

Conclusion

By adding an Enneagram type to each character we suddenly have a set of consistent, but contradictory actions that offer almost endless possibility AND a fully formed character arc.

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!
  • Provides a ready made, but infinitely adaptable character arc

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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