Using the Enneagram personality types to understand your characters’ motivations

A couple years ago, I attended a seminar on using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)  for writing romance novels. While the MBTI yielded a great deal of useful information about my characters, I still felt like I needed a little more insight into my characters. Then, a friend of mine got me hooked on the Enneagram.

Unlike the MBTI, which types someone based on whether they’re an introvert or extravert (I or E), intuitive or sensing (N or S), thinking or feeling (T or F), or judging or perceiving (J or P), the Enneagram consists of nine different personality types, each numbered one through nine and with various labels, such as “The Reformer,” “The Helper,” or “The Peacemaker.” Knowing your type allows you insight into your deepest fears and desires, your key motivations, and, yes, your best and worst qualities. Within each type are various subtypes and variants and so forth, but it’s the type itself that can yield real insight into our characters—and ourselves.

type4FHere’s what I think makes the Enneagram so useful for writers: It allows us to see who our characters can be at both their best and their worst. The Enneagram reveals our greatest motivations, our deepest fears and insecurities, how we may have experienced our childhoods, our patterns of self-sabotage, and, best of all, what we are capable of becoming if we can overcome those patterns. And all of this makes great fodder for understanding how our characters will behave over the course of the story and why they behave the way they behave.

Whether you’re writing a villain or a hero, whatever your protagonist’s walk of life, the Enneagram offers a deeper understanding into your character’s actions and reactions as the story unfolds. A character who’s a Six (The Loyalist), for example, might be highly suspicious and distrustful of a prospective love interest on page one, but the Enneagram can offer a path for her to overcome her suspicions, open her heart, and fall in love by the story’s end. And nothing ends the days of cookie-cutter bad guys better than understanding the inner workings of your villain’s mind.

Using the Enneagram to find out what makes a character tick

type8MMy latest villain, for example, is an Eight, The Challenger. Using the Enneagram as a tool to understand his motivations and early, formative experiences helped me to take him from generic bad guy to a fresh character with depth and his own take on the story’s events. It helps to know, for example, that many Eights felt they had to grow up early and learn to take care of themselves. As adults, they often feel a need to be in charge and in control and, while they make effective leaders and are often very successful, they can fall find it difficult to allow themselves to be vulnerable and, at their worst, can be abusive bullies. (It’s important to note that, in another story, I have a heroine who’s an Eight. There is both good and bad in each of the types.)

If you’re looking for ways to understand your characters—or yourself—I highly recommend checking out the Enneagram Institute’s website, which offers an introduction to the Enneagram, brief tests, and overviews of the nine types. Additional Enneagram tests are available at this site.

What about you? Do you do personality profiles for your characters? If so, which tools do you find most useful? Do you use the Enneagram, either in your characters’ lives or your own?

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