The Enneagram has taken over the personality types world. Goodbye four-letter combinations, hello number types. But it’s helpful for more than just understanding yourself and those around you. As a writer, understanding the Enneagram types helps me understand characters: what drives them, what they’re afraid of, and how they might react in stressful situations.
My current read has been The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective, by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert. I love the way he digs into the root temptations and growth opportunities. And as a type 5 married to a type 3, I think he nailed those types (the ones I know best). The charts at the back make for a quick and easy reference to remind me about each type. Admittedly, some of his symbols and images of each type are a bit caricatured (the book was written in 1989 and I think his explanations of the representative countries for each type come across a bit tone deaf today). But overall, having a strong grasp of the Enneagram makes character building much easier.
I’m currently writing about a type 3 and type 4 (I try to mix up the types in each book, it challenges me to see the world through new lenses). Here’s some ways the Enneagram influences my writing:
- What Motivates My Character?
- There’s a lot of information in “writing world” about identifying your character’s main goals and motivations, but adding the Enneagram helps add a “why” to any goal. One of my current characters grew up in poverty and has been told her entire life that she won’t be successful. As a type 4, she is deeply motivated by uniqueness—she’s determined to prove them wrong.
- What Does My Character Avoid?
- Rohr’s chart includes an avoidance. My second lead character is a type 3, and while he can’t avoid failure completely, I take into consideration the type’s other flaws and sins (such as deceit) to portray how he handles failure. He will always turn it into a joke, manipulating the situation so that he always comes out on top (a habit Rohr discusses in depth in the chapter about type 3).
- How Does My Character Interact with Other Types?
- Combining the 3 and 4 has been particularly fun in this area. The four is driven by authenticity, while the three tends to become a chameleon—adapting to any situation to look his best. Knowing this affects how they interact with each other and those around them. Fully grasping this is important to the flow of the story—once I lock down a character’s world view, I can’t have them turn around and toss it to the wind in the next conversation.
- How Does My Character Grow?
- Most books in my genre follow a change/growth arc. You’ll see the characters grow and change throughout the story and following an Enneagram growth arc helps outline this more clearly. I know from Rohr’s book that the type 3 conversion is about finding hope and worth in God, following God’s will rather than the path of popularity or material success, and learning to be vulnerable. These will be crucial elements for my character’s growth arc.
- Edited to Add: How is My Character DIFFERENT from Their Type?
- I don’t identify fully with everything about my type. In fact, I do some things completely differently. So don’t feel trapped by the Enneagram either. Use it to get to know your character, but also take into consideration how other factors come into play (birth order, upbringing, religion, past wounds, etc.). They don’t have to follow everything about their type to a tee.
I’m sure there are countless more ways to use the Enneagram in a novel and I’d love to hear about them in the comments!