Using the Enneagram for Developing Characters

I discovered the Enneagram for developing characters a number of years ago. I came to it in a bit of a roundabout way. Basically, I discovered a site for character development with some cute names for nine types of characters and some great information on these types. I was an instant fangirl. Then I realized all the information was really just a renaming of the Enneagram. So still super fun if you are into developing realistic characters that readers will connect with, but… well… it’s the Enneagram and it predates the cute names.

What is the Enneagram?

enneagram for developing character writing

The Enneagram is a method of understanding people. All people, no matter their gender, culture, religion, or political leanings, fall somewhere on the circle/within its nine types. It’s a theory on personalities types that can get very detailed and intense.  For character development, we don’t have to wade in too deeply though, which is where my nine steps come in, but we’ll get to those later…

Enneagram literally means drawing and nine. This describes the basic symbol of the Enneagram, a circle with nine points labeled (one for each type) and nine lines connecting these points.

Each type has a different basic view of the world and each type is driven by different motivations and fears.

Why use the Enneagram for Developing Characters?

The beauty of the Enneagram for fiction writers is that since it is based on real people, it is a great tool to use when developing characters that readers will relate to. And, since fear and motivation are built right in, it keeps the writer from suddenly forcing a character to do something out of character.  If you follow it of course.

What are the Nine Types?

  • One- Perfectionist, Improver, Reformer
  • Two – Giver, Nurturer, Helper
  • Three – Achiever, Succeeder
  • Four – Romantic, Individualist
  • Five – Observer, Thinker
  • Six – Sceptic, Trouble-Shooter, Pessimist, Loyalist
  • Seven – Adventurer, Visionary, Enthusiast
  • Eight – Leader, Boss, Challenger
  • Nine – Peacemaker, Mediator

These nine types at their simplest give you a basic glimpse of who a character might be.

Enneagram for Developing Characters: Types and Examples

Enneagram Type One

enneagram for developing characters type one writingAtticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird, is a great Enneagram Type One. He knows what is right and what is wrong. He wants to reform his world but can keep things in perspective and work his cause without burning everything down around him to do it. Nurse Ratchet, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is also a One, but not so “healthy.” For her what she feels is right is all that matters.

Enneagram Type Two

Enneagram Type Twos like to help. Twos also like to be recognized for helping. A healthy Two is Ray Romano from Everybody Loves Raymond. A Two who has tipped over to the other side and is WAY too focused on the helping/recognition of helping is Annie Wilkes from Misery.

Enneagram Type Three

My favorite Enneagram Type Three character is probably Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.  Like all Threes, Scarlett is driven to succeed, or at least “appear” to succeed. This “appearance” piece is key with a Three. For many of them, it is far more important than actual success and can tip them over to the side of con artist/scammer. An example of an unhealthy Three is Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Oh, and side note… another great Three who I love is Midge Maisel from the new Amazon series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Enneagram Type Four

Enneagram Type Fours are romantics and dreamers. They fear being without personal identity or significance. Being “one of the crowd” would be hell on earth for a four. To see examples of a couple of fours in action check out Grey’s Anatomy and the two lead characters from the early years: Meredith Grey and Dr. Derek Shepherd. An unhealthy example of a four can be found with Blanche duBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and a healthy romantic at his best is Rick Blaine in Casablanca.

enneagram for developing characters type fiveEnneagram Type Five

I personally love a good Enneagram Type Five in a book, movie, or TV show, and if you are a fan of detective fiction, you probably do too. Fives are thinkers. They really like knowledge and can even love it so much they value it over actual human interactions. My personal favorite Enneagram Type Five is Dr. Gregory House from House M.D.. Another example is though Scrooge from A Christmas Story. (Read a character study of Scrooge here.)

Enneagram Type Six

I didn’t realize how much I love a good Enneagram Type Six character until I discovered Alex Karev in Grey’s Anatomy. Enneagram Type Sixes are skeptics, but loyal skeptics. It may take a while to gain their trust, but once you have, they are a friend for life. Enneagram Type Sixes also tend to be anxious. Some show this by obvious nervousness (phobic six), others by being aggressive (counterphobic six). Alex, by the way, is counterphobic. Other examples of sixes in fiction are Dr. Watson from Sherlock and Jerry Seinfeld from The Seinfeld Show.

Enneagram Type Seven

The Enneagram Type Seven fears being deprived or trapped in pain, a situation, a relationship, etc. A Seven needs to be free to fly, to chase the next big adventure, to have fun. Their basic desire is to be satisfied and fulfilled. An example of an unhealthy Seven is Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones Diary or Hugh Grant in about anything. Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a healthy Seven.

Enneagram Type Eight

The Enneagram Type Eight fears being controlled or violated. Their most basic desire is to protect themselves. Eights want to be seen as self-reliant and important. Their flaw is their lust for power, activity, challenge, purpose, etc.. An example of a healthy Eight is Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. An unhealthy Eight is Michael Corleone in The Godfather.

Enneagram Type Nine

enneagram for developing characters type nineThe Enneagram Type Nine fears loss and separation. The Nine wants peace of mind and wholeness. Nines are patient and good-natured, optimistic, and supportive. They make a great listening board and friend. They can also though be neglectful, stubborn, and repressed. An example of an unhealthy Nine is Professor Humbert Humbert from Lolita. A healthy example of a Nine is Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

This is a very brief overview of the Enneagram, but it hopefully gives you some idea of how you can use the Enneagram for developing characters of your own.

Check back. I’ll be posting more on the Enneagram for developing characters and other character development tips.

Disagree with any of the Enneagram type calls I made? Let me know. I love to discuss character.

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Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check out her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.

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