Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters2

5 Ways to Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters

5 Ways to Use the Enneagram to Write Better CharactersThe Enneagram. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you’ve even used the Enneagram to write better characters.

Like Myers-Briggs, Socionics, and the Four Temperaments, the Enneagram is one of many systems within the study of personality theory. These systems are designed to identify the patterns found in the different ways we approach various aspects of life, so we might better study and understand ourselves and others.

In short, the Enneagram is not only a useful life tool, it’s also the perfect character-creation tool.

I’ve always been interested in personality theory. Let’s face it, I just like theories (come to me, story theory, my love). But I don’t see it as any kind of coincidence that my interest in characters and stories dovetailed so conveniently with the ever-deepening rabbit hole of personality theory.

I’m not alone. In fact, my introduction to the Enneagram, many years ago, was on romance author Laurie Campbell’s site, where she offered a brief description of the system’s nine types as, you guessed it, a character tool. Since then, I’ve pursued Myers-Briggs—another personality-typing system—in some depth, but only this year have I finally dived headlong into the Enneagram.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it has changed my life—and my writing.

What Is the Enneagram?

Unlike Myers-Briggs, which is a “neutral” system focused primarily on the differing ways people take in and use information, the Enneagram is often called an “ego-transcendence tool.” Sounds all lofty and new-agey, but it’s really just code for “this-is-gonna-hit-you-where-it-hurts.”

(Side Note: I read once, in relation to Myers-Briggs, that if you typed yourself and had nothing but excitement about your discoveries, you very likely mistyped. A true typing is going to show you stuff about yourself that maybe you’d rather not look at. In short, you can be pretty sure you’ve found your type when you end up muttering, “Ah, dang.” If that’s true of Myers-Briggs, it’s about ten times truer of the Enneagram. But I digress.)

The Road Back to You Ian Morgan Cron Suzanne StabileIn their book The Road Back to You (which is a great overview of the Enneagram, uncomplicated by denser aspects of the theory), Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile introduce the Enneagram like this:

The Enneagram teaches that there are nine different personality styles in the world, one of which we naturally gravitate toward and adopt in childhood to cope and feel safe. Each type or number has a distinct way of seeing the world and an underlying motivation that powerfully influences how that type thinks, feels, and behaves….

Enneagram Chart for Writers

The Enneagram takes its name from the Greek words for nine (ennea) and for a drawing or figure (gram). It is a nine-pointed geometric figure that illustrates nine different but interconnected personality types. Each numbered point on the circumference is connected to two others by arrows across the circle, indicating their dynamic interaction with each other.

The Enneagram is a vast and deep system, impossible to completely summarize in a post like this, so I won’t even try. However, perhaps the simplest way to sum it up is to say that the Enneagram is designed to call baloney on the defensive lies we have been programmed from childhood to tell ourselves about ourselves and the world.

How I Discovered the Enneagram

My experience with the Enneagram went something like this.

I’d decided long ago, after reading the brief descriptions on Laurie Campbell’s site, that I was a Five: The Investigator. Introverted, studious, quirky. Yeah, totally. Fives are awesome!

Confidently, I started reading Cron and Stabile’s book—until I hit the chapter about the Three: The Achiever. It was like the authors reached out, grabbed their own book, and smacked me between the eyes with it. It was a total oh-dang moment.

Don’t get me wrong. Threes are awesome too. Productive, adept, ambitious. But I immediately knew, without question, I was a Three simply because so much of what I read hurt.

I would have been totally cool (too cool) with the Five’s problems of hyper-independence, trust issues, and sarcasm (because, hello, that’s all my favorite characters ever). I’ve always considered myself a relatively self-aware, self-honest person, but reading about the Three’s motivations made me face things about myself I’d never been willing to admit or face, things I really didn’t like about myself, such as the driving need for the approval of others and a pervasive underlying belief in, essentially, “salvation (and love) by works.”

For me, the revelations that followed were toppling dominoes that unlocked answers to questions I’d been asking about myself and my life for a long time. It was painfully liberating. My awareness of my Three-ness has since allowed me to acknowledge and own aspects of myself I’ve long hidden from, which, of course, now means I have to deal with them. It has been and continues to be incredibly exciting.

And now I get to use these new approaches to life, people, and the self to help me (I hope) write better characters.

Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters

There is just so much to say about how you can use the Enneagram to write better characters. I’m not even going to get into the wings, triads, integration/disintegration, instinctual variants, or tritypes (the latter of which I have yet to study in any depth but which, I think, bears out I wasn’t totally wrong in my initial association with the Five).

Personality Types Don Richard RisoIt was in reading Don Richard Riso’s Enneagram “bible” Personality Types that I was truly blown away by both the beautiful complexity of the system and its easy applicability to writing characters. After listening to the book on audio, I immediately bought my own copy and added it to my pile of easy-reach writing-resource books. I will be referring to it regularly when I start outlining my next book.

Following are the five primary ways I plan to use the Enneagram to write better characters in the future.

>>Use Nadine Avola’s handy Enneagram Tracking tool to help discover and remember your characters’ Enneagram types.

1. Typing Characters, the Fast and Easy Way

Dreamlander K.M. WeilandLet me start with a slight digression: I’ve been studying Myers-Briggs for years. I love it. In its own way, it too completely changed my life and my writing. But I actually find the system really difficult to use in typing my characters. For whatever reason, I can type other people’s characters with reasonable confidence, but I can’t type my own to save my life. For example, I have progressively typed Chris Redston, the protagonist of Dreamlander as: ISFJ, ESFJ, INFJ, ISFP (with ponderings about ISTJ and INTJ thrown in for good measure).

(Second Side Note: I actually have serious doubts that any author is able to truly write a character with differing cognitive functions from their own. For example, as an INTJ, I might be able to fake an ESFJ character based on ESFJs I personally know, but because I share no functions with that type, can I really write about the mental process of a character who absorbs information via Introverted Sensing and makes judgments via Extroverted Feeling? Maybe, but I kinda doubt it.)

In contrast to Myers-Briggs, the deceptive simplicity of the Enneagram makes it much easier to confidently recognize a character’s likely type/number and use it as a guideline while writing. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it far less complicated to look at a character and recognize, “she’s a One,” rather than running through a litany of criteria to determine her four cognitive functions and their order in her Myers-Briggs stack.

When I do figure out a character’s Enneagram, I instantly see them a little clearer, and I instinctively know just a little bit more about them. (Chris, by the way, is a Six. In case you were wondering.)

(Third Side Note: Although there is some overlap, the Enneagram is an entirely different system from Myers-Briggs, with an entirely different focus. Typing a character according to the Enneagram doesn’t accomplish the same things as will typing that character according to Myers-Briggs. So if you feel qualified—or, like me, literally unable to resist, do both!)

2. Keeping Characters Consistent: Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the Enneagram’s primary focuses is each type’s inherent strengths and weaknesses. This is convenient, since one of a writer’s primary focuses is each character‘s inherent strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, we could argue that the pairing of strength/weakness is one of the most important aspects of character, and thus story, since it drives everything that happens in the plot and theme.

In expanding on the chart at the beginning of the post, a super-simplistic approach to each type’s strength/weakness might look like this:

One, The Reformer: Responsible and idealistic/judgmental and hyper-perfectionistic

Two, The Helper: Kind and generous/intrusive and needy

Three, The Achiever: Productive and adaptable/overly image-conscious and out of touch with emotions

Four, The Individual: Creative and idealistic/self-absorbed and unrealistic

Five, The Investigator: Perceptive and self-reliant/emotionally-detached and cynical

Six, The Loyalist: Loyal and engaging/reactive and fearful

Seven, the Enthusiast: Optimistic and fun/impulsive and undisciplined

Eight, the Challenger: Bold and decisive/domineering and combative

Nine, the Peacemaker: Calm and reliable/passive-aggressive and unmotivated

Once you really start studying the system, you realize there’s so much more to it than just this. But even just these simple starting points give you an intuitive strength/weakness pairing for your character that sets everything up right for a solid character arc.

3. Identifying the Character’s Motivation, Want, Need, and Backstory “Ghost”

Because of the Enneagram’s talent for pointing a finger at painful motivations arising from our pasts (especially our childhoods), it’s perfect for figuring out the backstory Ghost motivating your character’s goals in your main story.

The Ghost (sometimes called the Wound) is a hole in your character’s self. It’s the hole where the Lie the Character Believes first started growing, and it’s the hole she must climb out of if she’s to grow into wholeness by the end of her arc.

Again, not so coincidentally, the Enneagram offers a basic Lie for each type:

One: Mistakes are unacceptable.

Two: I am not lovable.

Three: I am what I do.

Four: No one understands me/there is something wrong with me.

Five: I am not competent to handle the demands of life.

Six: The world is not safe.

Seven: I can’t count on people to be there for me.

Eight: Only the strong survive.

Nine: I don’t matter much.

Starting with some iteration of the above for your character, you can start extrapolating consistent motivations and goals within the specific needs of your plot.

4. Charting Character Arcs

Not only is the Enneagram system helpful in setting up character arcs, it’s also helpful in double-checking that the progression of your character’s arc is consistent and realistic.

One of the main reasons I ended up buying a hardcopy of Riso’s Personality Types was that the book methodically charts nine levels of “health” for each type. It divides these nine levels into three apiece under the headings of Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy. Once you know your character’s specific story Lie and the type of arc you want him to follow, you can reference Riso’s lists to nail down how a healthy, average, or unhealthy person of this type would behave.

For example, if you’re writing a Positive Change Arc for a generally likable character, you’re probably going to to start him out in one of the Average categories and let the story’s events help him progress to Healthy. Or maybe you’re writing a Negative Change Arc, about a descent into unwellness or psychosis, which brings me to…

5. Writing Better Bad Guys

For me, bad guys have always been one of my challenges. A large part of this was a struggle to find suitable motivations for their evil deeds. “Oh, they’re just crazy” is an easy out that doesn’t give due diligence to what should be one of the strongest characters in the story.

Yet another reason I was psyched by Riso’s “health charts” was that they immediately grounded my understanding of what would motivate a deeply unhealthy person to commit deeply unhealthy acts. At the bottom level of psychosis for each type (which is almost never reached without either deep-seated childhood trauma or a physiological catalyst), Riso suggests the “ultimate end” each type is most likely to fall to:

One: Punitive Sadism

Two: Hypochondria and Martyr Complex

Three: Murder (!)

Four: Suicide

Five: Schizophrenia

Six: Masochism

Seven: Addiction and Manic-Compulsive Behavior

Eight: Megalomania

Nine: Dissociative disorders

Personally, I take these with a massive grain of salt (because how likely is it that all, or even the majority of schizophrenia sufferers, are Fives?). But it is a useful guide for following the descent of personal and mental un-health to a consistent ending point. If you read all the sections in Riso’s book, it becomes easy to provide a proper motive to a character who is undergoing  a realistic personal descent.

***

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Enneagram. I’ve been studying it for months now and have barely scratched its surface. If you’re interested in digging deeper, both for yourself and your characters, I recommend starting with the book The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile and following it up with the significantly heavier and more in-depth Personality Types by Don Richard Riso with Russ Hudson.

Brace yourselves, half fun, and get ready to say: Oh, dang. :p

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever used the Enneagram to write better characters? Tell me about it in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Daniel Rhymes says

    Usually, when I’m writing characters, I’ll use three different systems to sketch out their mentality. The first is the enneagram, which tells me motivations, fears and desires. The second is the MBTI, which tells me how a character thinks through problems. And then I’ll pair that with the Dungeons and Dragons morality alignment (usually an altered one, like the Real Alignments by EasyDamus, which allows you to create heroic chaotic evil characters!).

    Now I’m not saying this gives me a whole picture, but by the time I can name my character’s Enneagram, MBTI and their morality, I have a pretty clear image of who they are, how they think, and what might have gotten them there, and I have the tools I need to write them consistently.

    (The protagonist for my current project is a Type 8 wing 7, with an MBTI of ESTP and a morality of Chaotic Neutral. She’s a go-get-em firecracker, through and through!)

    Great post, though! It’s quite a nice, concise introduction to the system.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m not a D&D player, but I messed around with their morality alignment for my last book, when I needed to quickly characterize a large-ish group. It helped me immediately get a nice mix of personalities and possible motives.

    • Nadia Syeda says

      I like that method! It’s very detailed and thorough and helps you get a deep understanding of characters and people.

  2. Casandra Merritt says

    Hi Katie, I’ve been reading your site for almost a year now, and I just can’t even say how much this has helped me! I have a few questions about trilogies. I am currently outlining a trilogy with an overreaching plot, like The Lord of the Rings, and I’m guessing that would mean the main structural beats would be scattered throughout. But does each book need its own set of plot points? And also, would it be alright not to introduce a couple of main characters that will be important in the climax until the beginning of the second book? They include the mentor, sidekick, and love interest. Thanks for your time!

  3. No! Why did you do this to me!? I’m just starting to get a hang on the depths of Myers Brigg and now you pulverate my insatiable curiosity with this!

    *moans*

    I’m so sorry. I’m a three two. *Sticks hands in pockets and kicks a stone*

    I wonder if the protagonist in Crime & Punishment was a three?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hmm, been a long time since I’ve read that, but I think Rashkolnikov’s murderous motivations were less primal and personal than a Three might have been. His were more esoteric. A Four maybe?

      • Possibly. I’m really no enneagram expert. I was just wondering because he felt he needed to commit the murder to prove that he was a truly great human. It could be a three and four wing combination? Man, I really need to study enneagram.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yeah, I recommend the books I’ve mentioned here. The Three’s descent to murder is more about protecting their image than anything.

  4. Sally M. Chetwynd says

    A friend of mine conducts enneagram workshops, which (sadly!) I have yet to attend. It does sound intriguing, and likely worth the experience. The better we know ourselves, the better our character development will be.

    You qualify your examples, which makes sense. Enneagrams aren’t likely intended to turn out cookie-cutter characters, with the author picking and choosing characteristics at random. And real people are far too complex for us to emulate perfectly as we build our characters. But I can see how enneagrams can be valuable in rounding out a character, focusing on building a few characteristics fully, and suggesting other characteristics that will support the primary ones by adding “seasoning” (and authenticity) to the whole personality.

    So far in my writing, my characters seem to come to be fully developed, and my task has been to find out their individual facets for myself, in order to reveal them on the page. But no doubt I will eventually find myself in the middle of creating a story and will need something like enneagrams to discover who the characters are.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Back in the day before I really started studying personality systems, I resisted the idea of using them to type characters because I felt it would force them to conform rather than allowing them to evolve. I realize now that’s the difference between *imposing* a personality type on a character, versus letting their natural personality emerge and then identifying it.

  5. This is very helpful. I’ve been trying to think through Enneagram for my characters, but it felt like I was skimming the surface or caught in the deep end without a paddle. Thanks for making it more manageable!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Riso’s book is great for delving deeper. Lots of helpful anchor points for character development.

  6. Eric Troyer says

    I am highly suspicious of any “system” that tries to describe something as amorphous as personality into a specific number of types. They typically try to present themselves as science without the rigorous process of true science.

    Nonetheless, I do find them useful for sparking legitimate questions when I try to develop character personalities. Some of my characters align with the “types,” while others are a bit of this and a bit of that. (Not to mention that some personality traits can change with situations. Professional life vs private life, anyone? Dealing with a parent vs dealing with a friend?)

    I would encourage anyone using these “systems” to use them as loose guides so that you are ultimately the one in control.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Personality theory is just that: theory. It recognizes patterns and tries to interpret them in useful ways. I’ve found the various theories endlessly useful in helping me understand myself and others better. But I agree: you can’t shoehorn either people or characters into a system. It’s a tool, not a Magic 8 ball.

  7. Sorry, this is a long comment, because I want to respond to almost everything in this post!

    This is super-fascinating. I never got into the Enneagram because I didn’t get the internal workings of the system — where the numbers come from, how the types relate to each other, what exactly is the internal logic other than just identifying nine broad types and giving them numbers. I need to learn more because it looks like there is an internal logic. But I like that the Ennegram descriptions get more into the pathology — more “here’s how you’re broken,” while the MBTI is usually, “here’s what’s AWESOME about YOU.” Both are useful — there is something to putting a name to what already hurt. The Ennegram is so much more brutal about warning against dysfunction. I generally test as a Five, but the Four dysfunction is so much more painful to read, and you’re right that there’s some pointer to truth in that pained response.

    I like that the Enneagram transcends the T/F dichotomy, which is often misleading, even if you know the MBTI system well. When I am developing characters, this is the biggest problem I have with trying to “box them in,” even though I know that that MBTI is not that simple and you can be a sensitive T or a tough F; you can do Ti in a way that looks like Fi, and Fe can be much more bureaucratic than Te.

    The MBTI is (as you point out) better for taking apart than for constructing. For me characters usually start with a holistic idea, a flavor or image or something, and I have to color in the lines a little before there’s enough there to take apart. It feels more like discovering than deciding. And taking the vague idea of a person and deciding, “He’s a Ne-dom” feels a little artificial. But I am magicalizing the writing process a little, because of course these characters are “artificial” and I do construct them.

    Have you looked at Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies? I thought that framework was extremely practical: https://gretchenrubin.com/2015/01/ta-da-the-launch-of-my-quiz-on-the-four-tendencies-learn-about-yourself/

    The first big takeaway for me was that motivational/discipline tactics that work for other people are not necessarily going to work for me. I figured out that the best way for me to get things done is to work out personal rules that actually make sense and then follow them, because following them is the logical thing to do. Seems like an obvious insight, in retrospect, but it was helpful to think through it and realize that I don’t really respond to arbitrary outer expectations if they don’t make sense. And if I think an expectation does make sense, I can and should work out a system for meeting it. The second big takeaway was gaining a better understanding of what the world looks like to Obligers, my opposite type, so I know how to be nicer.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for the link! Looks interesting.

      “The MBTI is (as you point out) better for taking apart than for constructing.”

      Great way to put it. I will add that, in line with what you’re saying, I find all personality applications to character most helpful when I’m using them to examine already dimensional characters rather than trying to create a character from scratch to fit a particular box.

  8. M. Lee Scott says

    I love Eric’s reply and this is the way I handle my character’s development. Quite frankly, any personality test confuses me and gives me hives. Early in my writing journey, I took Laurie Campbell’s class on Enneagrams and while I tried to type my characters, they had a mind of their own and would buck at my type-casting. I gave up and just wrote the story and we all got along famously. Awesome podcast and article…one I’m certainly bookmarking and will use if and when my characters settle down and give me control.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although I do tend to believe that all dimensional characters resonate with typology systems (in that all dimensional characters resonate with real-life patterns), I also think it’s ultimately difficult for authors to *truly* write characters whose minds work differently from their own. I tend to think this is one reason it’s hard for authors to type their own characters, because ultimately aren’t we just trying to type various aspects and projections of ourselves?

  9. This post has already been very helpful to me by reminding me of the Enneagram for personal use. I’m a Type 4 who’s been going through a period of stress, and after reading this post, I read more about my type, and the listed coping mechanisms prompted several “oh, dang” moments. 😛 So I’ll be using that knowledge to start being proactive instead of reactive in my personal growth.

    I’m trying to edit my novel draft to more accurately reflect the protagonist’s emotional journey, which is a unique (though exciting) challenge when he is an ESTP male and I’m an INFP female – gender differences aside, those are completely opposite cognitive functions! My sister is an ESTP, but even that familiarity has limited applications for a character in a different world with different life experiences.

    I can already see that using the Enneagram to type and analyze my protagonist and other important characters will help me stay consistent to their personality when describing their behavior and responses. As you noted, the Enneagram deals with the fears and internal conflicts that direct a character’s journey, which has direct bearing on the story itself, and in some cases knowing a character’s Enneagram type could be more important than knowing his/her MBTI type in making the story succeed. (By the way, I’m pretty sure my protagonist is a 7w8.) Thanks for all the helpful information; I’ll be referring back to this post for sure!

  10. This information was published in 2015

    How to Write Great Characters: The Key to Your Hero’s Growth and Transformation
    by David Wisehart
    Link: http://a.co/d/hCbYwGe

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for sharing!

      • Yeah, they lifted it almost completely from David Wisehart.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          They? The Enneagram system has been around for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Riso, who pioneered a lot of development in the theory, first published his book in 1987.

          • I stand corrected. There is no reference or acknowledgement to Riso in Wisehart’s book. It is nearly verbatim.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            A lot of the credit for who thought of what in personality theory gets blurred along the way. Riso’s addition to the study, I believe, was particularly the 9 Levels of Development. The rest of the stuff has come down to us piecemeal through history. So it may have been that Wisehart was just discussing the same theoretical ideas and terms that Riso did and that many others have and will.

  11. I like Myers-Briggs. It makes way more sense to me than any other system. I’m also the second rarest type, a female INTJ, and it’s the only thing that pegs every little thing about me and how my brain works. I truly don’t care what other people think about me and I’m not driven to achieve anything external. I’m almost entirely inward focused. Which is why I’ve nearly been run over by courtesy carts in airports multiple times.

    I’ve been typed in the official paid Ennegram. Answering the questions was an exercise in frustration because nearly every single one of them both answers were a hell no for me and I had to pick the lesser of two evils. What it spit out at me is soooo not me that it’s almost funny. Even my family didn’t see me in it.

    Because of that personal experience with it, I’ve never been able to dig into it or understand it. It just doesn’t make sense to me. MBTI, on the other hand, makes total sense. I operate so strongly out of my Ni (94% N) that I’m more likely to engage my Fi than I am my Te. Especially when it comes to characters. I was also raised by an ISFJ mom, and I think that made a big difference in how I access my functions.

    I now have the skills, as a mature INTJ with a handle on my Fi, that I can mine my own feelings and pull out all kinds of stuff that logically doesn’t make sense to my Te. But it works with my characters because I always get strong reactions from readers.

    It clearly works for me, so I’m going to keep at it.

    Since my I is also in the 90’s, I almost exclusively write introverts. That sort of defining makes total sense to me, whereas the Ennegram–that lacks that dimension–leaves me confused.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As an INTJ woman myself, I would point at that though the INTJ is the second rarest of the MBTI personalities, the INTJ female is by far the rarest. 🙂 Though there are a lot of us in the writing world!

      I would also say that the not caring “what people think” or about “external achievements” isn’t always intrinsic to the INTJ. The Enneagram plays a huge role in how that manifests.

      I would say, based solely on what you’ve mentioned here, that you seem like an Enneagram Five, which is the most common Enneagram for INTJs. I, however, as a Three absolutely do care what people think and about achieving external successes. For a long time, I felt weird about this. “I’m an INTJ. I shouldn’t care about this stuff!” But after studying my Enneagram type, it all makes sense why I don’t fit a lot of the INTJ expectations.

      • Actually no. I typed as a 6w5. It couldn’t be more wrong. I’m none of those things, and have never been any of those things at any point in my life. Yes, I have trust issues now as an adult, but they’re 100% caused by a bad marriage and it only extends to certain types of men. Not in general. I have zero issues with self-doubt or lack of confidence, I don’t get anxious or worry about things and never have.

        Even when I look up the Defender description, it’s still not me. The only part of it that fits me is the observing people and environment part. I don’t have a desire to deconstruct systems. I’m more interested in building ones that work for me. I don’t get involved in stuff, I’m no one’s champion, nor do I identify with people or groups or systems. Other than being an INTJ or a follower of the Curly Girl Method. I don’t fully understand the concept of loyalty in my personal life either. I’m also one of the least insecure people you’ll ever meet.

        The motivations for all of those descriptions leave me scratching my head at why anyone would even care, let alone allow it to drive what they do.

        I do fit most of the INTJ stuff, with the exception of my being more creative as opposed to understanding math. I’m also not a plotter in any way, shape, or form. That kind of structure shuts me down. It extends into the rest of my life too. I have a hard line for how much structure is too much, and it’s a lot lower than most expect.

        Like I said, on all but maybe three or four questions, both answers were a hell no from me. I wouldn’t do either of them and I had to pick the one I found least objectionable. I’ve never done well in either/or. I need multiple choice or sliding scale stuff for any system to actually get me.

        I do things for personal satisfaction and truly don’t care what anyone else thinks about me. I’ve always been that way for the most part. I tell people Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child was written about me.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Sounds like you’re just really healthy and centered. 🙂

          One thing I will add is that I hate personality tests. Particularly with MBTI, I find they test wrong about 50% of the time (as one example, my brother who is absolutely an INTP originally tested INTJ). If you’re struggling with the Enneagram simply because of a test’s questioning format, I would recommend looking at the system more holistically.

          Or leave it alone. That’s cool too. 😉

          • Some of the free MBTI tests are more accurate than others. My result is consistent enough that I’m confident in it. And digging more into it was like somebody studied me.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Yeah, that’s how I felt when I discovered Myers-Briggs as well. And now the Enneagram as well.

  12. I’m a four, I think, right down to considering suicide– a LOOOOOOng time ago. At this point, meh, I’m good.

    I’m in the 2nd half of the outline for the 1st draft of my first novel. It’ll be interesting to take just this general information to the characters and see what changes might be made in the first edit.

    Love your blog, Katie. It’s been my guide for much of this year and this draft. Just when I think I’m ready to write, there’s more “research” and outlining to do. But, I’m on it, now. Eager to type “The End” well before Christmas. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m Three with a strong Four wing. I have a feeling there a lot of creative Fours around here. 🙂 Glad you’re in a better place these days!

  13. Eh, I’ve been classed as an INTJ/ISTJ before, but I never took it too seriously because I am no mastermind type. I can’t be bothered to take over the world, and I’m allergic to cats, which are required pets for a mastermind trying to take over the world. Hollywood says so 🙂

    About the most I’ve ever used is the Dungeons & Dragons alignment mentioned above … but mainly when analyzing other people’s characters. For example, Robin Hood is often slotted into Chaotic Good (characterized as a person who would waylay the evil baron’s tax collectors), and Lawful Good is usually thought of as someone who slavishly obeys authority.

    But a case could be made that Robin is Lawful Good to the proper authority (King Richard) but is Chaotic Good when dealing with usurpers of lawful authority (King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham). I thought Danai Gurira’s character in “Black Panther” was a good example of a Lawful Good character who is duty bound to serve an evil ruler who happens to be the lawful authority. I like such an archetype in such situations; in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I played a Light Sider working for the Empire. It was fun!

    But I approach the personality/characterization from a different angle. I’ve always had an interest in “anti-social personality disorders” — previously called psychopaths and sociopaths. That led me to the Hare Psychopath Test, created by Dr. Robert Hare. It’s a list of personality traits common to serial killers and the like. The thing about it is that a lot of not-nice people have those traits, too, but Hare stresses that it’s a question of degree and quantity. A person who tells blatant lies doesn’t have to be a serial killer, but they will make for a terrible boss/girlfriend/brother. You could get some good villains out of that test.

    I’ve also looked into people who stay in abusive relationships — hint, the abuser doesn’t usually start with the punching — and people who join cults. There’s a lot of overlap between abusers and cult leaders. For one thing they both like to isolate their victims. Your character who stops seeing her Best Friend Forever because the BFF’s boyfriend is such a jerk is actually playing into the boyfriend’s hands: he wants the BFF to be without a support system. The actions of the abuser/cult leader also tie into the conditions for the Stockholm Syndrome, a phenomenon that is readily reproduced. What’s even more insidious are the ways that basic biology may tether a victim to the abuser.

    Bottom line, when writing of people in such scenarios, don’t assume the character must be stupid or weak. Real life people in those situations aren’t necessarily any different than other people.

    I also like to explore the traits of normal people who survive extraordinary circumstances. There’s a paper somewhere about Admiral Stockdale, a former POW who talked about the differences in outlook between those who survived captivity, and those who didn’t. One was that it was important to not set a deadline on when you’d be free. The people who believed they would eventually be free did better. The people who believed they’d be free by Christmas … by Easter … by summer were more likely to suicide, or just break upon reaching those milestones and finding themselves still in captivity. A good setup for the “dark moment of the soul” in your plot points.

    These are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re resistant to Myers-Briggs or Enneagrams, at least consider exploring psychological factors from the angle of “type of person in a type of scenario.” It can make for more realistic characters and juicier conflicts.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Great stuff here. Ultimately, what personality theory provides is a structure for studying aspects of psychology, development, personality, and trauma–among other things. It’s certainly not the only way to approach any of these topics, and indeed I believe *should* eventually lead to a deeper study of all its aspects.

    • I actually start character building with archetypes. I understand those, how to use them, how to mix them up. And I can layer in MBTI traits too. But I don’t rely on MBTI, or any other personality typing system for that matter.

      When I started using archetypes is when I started writing characters who feel real to people other than me. There’s room for so much variation.

  14. Thanks for pointing this out to us. I can see how it will help. The “ultimate end” chart is a great tool for getting villains fleshed out. K., you rock!

  15. Yep! I came across enneagrams a few years ago and decided to give my characters a personality test. It helped me figure out a few things about my MC that I hadn’t quite gotten nailed down, and gave me some ideas on how my characters should respond to each other. Most interesting was that I used the test after I’d written the first draft and discovered that the characters were (mostly) behaving according to their personality types. But this helped me stay on track.

    Unfortunately the website I used to take the test doesn’t seem to be active any more.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I totally recommend reading the books. Tests are fun in their place, but ultimately provide a pretty limited overview of the system. The books offer a much deeper, more holistic overview of the whole theory. You’ll get to a place where you won’t need a test to figure out your characters’ types.

  16. Great article – I was like you in a way when I discovered it – I thought I was a ‘cool’ 3 with all the achieving and that fit me really well, then I read the 5 and went “oh oh, that’s a little too close to home” lol.
    I’ve just started applying it to characters and that really helps – looking forward to reading that book – the road back to you.

  17. Gary Lee Webb says

    Sorry for the duplication — I used the wrong e-mail for WordPress, the first time.

    The nice thing about the D&D system, in my opinion, is that it is not an either-or (you must be one or the other) system. It allows characters to be middle of the road in one axis or the other (or even both). My problem with MBTI (and its kin) is that I know I test out very even on one axis, thus do not fall into a corner. Of course, that would be easy enough to fix, but …

    Thank you for your post. I had known about the Enneagram, but had not considered using it. You provided enough information to make it useful, yet did not overwhelm us. I just spent the last few hours running through 17 character sketches for a novel I am plotting for a class, expanding 14 of them using material. In about half the cases, one of the nine types worked; in the other half, I made a composite. Either way, very helpful (thank you again).

    Let me add. you read that very well. No umms, ahhs, or other fillers, good vocal variety, a pleasure to listen to. I wish more people would practice their speaking skills (you obviously have).

  18. I prefer the Myers-Briggs, but a lot of that is because I was carefully introduced to it by a professional psychologist, who taught me how to administer the written test and score it.

    However, I did a breakdown of the Enneagram system for my writers’ group this spring, so I had to do an intense crash course in it. I wound up building a 3-d model as part of my powerpoint presentation, so I could demonstrate healthy or deteriorating behaviors.

    I found the “stacks” part of this incredibly illuminating, personally, and have found ways to apply this with characters very different from myself. Writing from a perspective other than my own has taken some time, but it’s doable. There’s a trick to it.

    Thanks for this, it’s good to know where to get a better summation of the Enneagram than what I had to work with. 🙂

  19. The first time I heard about the Enneagram was while playing the video game Xenogears, a PS1 RPG highly praised for its story. The creator (Tetsuya Takahashi) relied heavily on the Enneagram to write his characters, which made them believable and multi-dimensional. He had never published a novel or anything before nor did he study/practice writing extensively, yet he created one the deepest, most engrossing stories in the whole medium of gaming. The Enneagram really allows you to understand people and yourself, which in turn helps you write better characters.

  20. Thanks for this–I’m going to check out one of the books you recommend. I adore psychology–it’s where my education and work experience lie–and my protagonist is a research psychologist. No surprise, I also love considering psychology when developing characters. I’ve never looked into this before, but I’m looking forward to it!

  21. Beth Farmer says

    Interestingly enough (to me anyway), I found a used book at the library a couple of weeks ago, titled The Enneagram Made Easy by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele. It’s a very simplified, illustrated introduction to the subject, with questions and lists. An easy and quick initiation to the subject.

    I thought it would be great to use for character identification and development, but I see I’m way behind the curve. I agree with you, though, that it would be difficult for an author to “truly” write another type. Great article. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That was the first book I read on the Enneagram. In all honesty, it made zero sense to me. :p Maybe it was just me, but if you don’t like that particular book, don’t stop there!

  22. C.M. - II Tim. 1:7 says

    Thanks for this excellent post/overview on the Enneagram, Ms. Weiland! I love reading about the MBTI system and found that I’m a female INTJ myself ;), and I’m quite certain that I’m a Three as well. (Hmm… is that why I find your posts so relevant and communicated in a way that I totally understand and agree with every time?!) Is there a good test you recommend for determining the Enneagram?
    I’m def. going to apply this to my characters. And, yes I do find this system to be simpler for typing characters than the MBTI!

    BTW, would you say that Sherlock from the BBC adaptation is a type 3 or 5?

    Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I discovered recently that there are ton of INTJs who read my stuff. Makes sense. :p

      As I mentioned in another comment, I’m not a big fan of tests for personality typing. They tend to oversimplify things and are only as accurate as the taker’s ability to analyze themselves at the given moment. From what I’ve seen, Enneagram tests seem to be a little better than MBTI tests, but I don’t have one I’d recommend. I think it’s much better to read the info and get a holistic view of the whole system before typing yourself.

      As for Sherlock, I don’t watch the show, so couldn’t personally say. But a Tumblr I follow types characters according to both MBTI and the Enneagram. She’s got him as a 5w6.

  23. Michael McGinty says

    Thank you for this post! It is really helpful. Your comments about Myers-Briggs are spot on. Its widespread use suggests in industry that some really knowledgeable people have assessed it as a very useful tool. Unfortunately, I am not one of those really knowledgeable people. I need something which is more accessible. I read about the Enneagram in your book Creating Character Arc but chose to start with Myers-Briggs as a possible character-building tool. Aim high, I thought. I missed. I will definitely be reading The Road Back to You and Personality Types. Thank you again for this and your other posts! You put a lot of work into them and we all benefit from it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Enneagram is a very deep system. It’s just as deep, if not more so, than Myers-Briggs (although, for the most part, dealing with totally different aspects of personality than Myers-Briggs). However, I do think the Enneagram has a much simpler entry point than Myers-Briggs. It’s pretty intuitive, whereas Myers-Briggs requires some figuring out before you have a foundation on which to base further discovery.

  24. Hi Katie,

    Another interesting post, but a subject I have deliberately put on the back burner while I complete the plot for the whole book. I have characters of course, my main ensemble created for a particular purpose and role, while the secondary characters assist or otherwise as needed. At the back of my mind, I intend to go back for another draft and concentrate on character then, but my question is, if it would be possible to create a well-rounded character, with a proper changing arc, with feelings and emotions and actions, that is all dictated by their role in the story, by the environment they live in, and by the people they interact with. For instance, the grumpy and devious hen in the coop that is sick and tired of still being second-peck. Her motives are clear from her position, her change-arc can see her become head-peck, and therefore perhaps, less grumpy, or alternatively see her drop in the rankings and become suicidal or even murderous.
    My point is, cannot the story dictate a character’s make-up organically and not have it imposed on them before-hand, just by being part of the plot?

    Cheers!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If you’re asking whether a character’s surroundings can create the Lie that drives their character, then absolutely. The Normal World is often the catalyst, or at least a symbol, of the causes behind the character’s foundational Lie.

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