Using the Enneagram to Create Characters
The enneagram is a powerful guide to understanding different personality types. It can be very useful in the creation and development of your fictional characters.
A Big Range of Options
What makes the enneagram of personality an efficient tool for creating fictional characters? The range of options it offers. Take Type 6 (chosen at random) as an example. In his writings on the enneagram, Don Richard Riso describes nine levels of development of a 6—Healthy Levels: 1. Self-Affirming, 2. Engaging, 3. Committed Loyalist; Average Levels: 4. Obedient Traditionalist, 5. Ambivalent Person, 6. Overcompensating Tough Guy; Unhealthy Levels: 7. Insecure Person, 8. Overreacting Hysteric, 9. Self-Defeating Masochist. Riso describes nine levels of development for each of the nine personality types, from very psychologically healthy to lunatic.
The levels are dynamic, so a person or a character might be at different levels of psychological health and development at different times, depending on whether the fortunes and misfortunes of life bring character growth and integration or regression and unraveling. That is the stuff of drama.
Each of the nine primary personality types is influenced by its "wings"—the personality type on either side of each type on the enneagram. A type 6 may to a greater or lesser degree also have characteristics of a type 5 or of a type 7.
Then there are the directional arrows of the enneagram. A 6, for instance, when stressed, might act like an unhealthy 3, or the self-development of a healthy 6 might lead to his or her acting at times like a healthy 9. Each type has its directions of integration and disintegration, to use Riso's terms.
The Enneagram and Neuroses
In the following video, the narrator emphasizes the use of the enneagram to categorize types of neurotics. This was the emphasis of psychologist Claudio Naranjo when he related the "fixations" enneagram of Oscar Ichazo to neurotic extremes of personality types described in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. Understanding such under the surface neurotic impulses can help an author create interesting characters.
Huge Number of Unique Characters Possible
Have a look at the color settings of about any word processing or art software program. In Apache Open Office Writer, for instance, go to Tools-Options-Colors. Three colors—red, green, and blue—can be combined to make any of millions of colors, because each color has multiple adjustable degrees of hue, saturation, and brightness. Just so, choosing a character's primary enneagram type and then choosing his or her level of maturity and sanity, degree of being influenced by one or the other wing, and particular combination of subtypes and tritypes provides a great many possibilities from which to create a unique character, especially after such additional variables as physical traits, individual conditioning, and cultural influences are considered.
The enneagram can be a tool for actors, too. When I googled on Hamlet enneagram, I found a forum comment that said Lawrence Olivier played Hamlet as a 4, Mel Gibson as a 6.
The bare bones of a plot will determine what a character in a story says and does, up to a point. Then the enneagram can be used. A teacher steps into a classroom and says, "Good morning, class." The enneagram can help a writer or an actor choose the attitude. A 9 would say it placidly while hoping for cooperation and harmony in the classroom. An 8 would say it aggressively, expressing a do not dare doubt that I am in charge here attitude. A 7 would say it enthusiastically, hoping the class will be a pleasant but exciting, not boring, experience. A 6 would say it with the matter-of-factness of a loyal school system employee or the bluster of a devil's advocate in the system. A 5 might say it with a let's get right to business attitude because she wants to give the class a project so that she can get back to daydreaming. A 4 would say it dramatically. A 3 would say it with an attitude of we are going to jump right into action and get things done. A 2 would say it with an I am here to help you, please appreciate me, attitude. A 1 would say it with the attitude I am here to explain things to you; if you challenge that I am right and know best, I will put you in your place; if you listen with attention and appreciation, I will patiently help you understand.
Or in each case, given a different combination of wing, level of development, and other factors, the attitude might be quite different. The more a writer is familiar with the enneagram of personality as understood by different enneagram teachers, the more the options in choosing the attitudes and reactions of a character.
You may wonder if the enneagram of personality is a scientifically valid hypothesis and if scientific tests support claims made about it. Experts argue about that. To learn more on those questions, Google on: enneagram scientific validity. For the purpose of creating fictional characters, the answers makes no difference. If you end up with a hero who is motivated by envy, seeks self-expression in an art, and needs to frequently feel raw emotion, whether elation, anger, or melancholy, whether the joy of victory or the agony of defeat, whether the ecstasy of love found or the heartbreak of love lost, and if that works in the story, it's your business and secret that that character is an enneagram of personality type 4. For your purpose, it's irrelevant if the enneagram has any more or less scientific validity than astrology or Freud's, Jung's, or Adler's personality types.
Cinderella and Prince Charming at the ball
Cinderella and Prince Charming in a Royal Carriage
I made up this little story as an exercise in using the enneagram of personality to help create characters. I happened to use a drama format. If you would like, for your own amusement, experiment with what happens when you give the characters different personalities, such as if Prince Charming were a take charge type 8 and Cinderella were an ambivalent towards authority type 6.
Cinderella Jones is an enneagram type 5. She needs alone time for reading and thinking.
Prince Stanley Charming is an enneagram type 2. He seeks self-worth in being helpful to others.
Scene: Cinderella is riding from her home to the castle with Prince Charming inside of a horse-drawn carriage. The horses and driver are out of view.
Prince: Are you comfortable, Cindy?
Cinderella: Mind if I slip out of these glass slippers, Stanley?
Prince: No, go ahead, beautiful. Get comfortable. Do the slippers fit you okay?
She takes off the slippers and sets them on the carriage seat beside her. Prince Charming is in the seat facing her.
Cinderella: Glass is hard and does not make a comfortable slipper. Do you want to know how the glass slipper fad got started? A French romance writer wrote our story and put me in fur slippers. Someone heard the story in French and wrote an English version and mistakenly replaced "fur slippers" with "glass slippers" in his version, because he thought the French-speaking storyteller said "verre", the French word for glass, when really he said "fourrure", the French word for fur. Isn't that fascinating? I would much rather have cozy fur slippers.
Prince: That's a fascinating story! I will order my furrier to make you a hundred fur slippers. Oh, I'm so thankful to divine providence and proud of myself that I rescued you from your wicked stepmother and stepsisters.
Cinderella: I'm proud of you, too, and thankful, Prince Charming. My stepmother and stepsisters, my dear late father's second wife and her daughters from her first marriage, feel threatened by my existence. I suspect irregularities in the estate settlement. In our house I am at the bottom of the pecking order. But I've been able to cope with the situation. Most days they stick me with the housework and go out socializing and men chasing. I'm a fast worker, and I get done my daily chores with time to spare. I use that time to read. I have three books that belonged to my father, about saints and heroes in olden times, and I keep them hidden in my wardrobe of raggedy clothes and read them over and over. Of course I jump up and get busy working when I hear the others arriving home. They wouldn't stand for me loafing.
Prince: I'll have the Royal Prosecutor investigate those suspected irregularities.
Cinderella: All right, but remember, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Let's treat them nice and get them on our good side.
Prince: Very well, my darling. I'll ask my father to give them titles and my mother to find them rich husbands, and then I'll ask my father to send them all on royal business to the Americas.
Cinderella: I like it.
Prince: You deserve a better—a wonderful—life, Cindy, my darling, and, as Princess Charming, you'll have it
Cinderella: Are you proposing to me, my so charming prince?
Prince: I know ours has been a short courtship, but I fell in love with you at the ball, and I love you more every minute. Will you be my bride? You'll have more servants than you can count and servants to manage the servants and a majordomo to manage them all. You'll have your own suite of rooms in which to indulge in your favorite pastimes—do you like to spin and to sew?—and to keep yourself pretty, and you will be able to step outside into your own garden, designed and tended as you instruct.
Cinderella: How about books and time to read?
Prince: As a member of the royal family, you will have access to the royal library, and you will have a personal library, with half a dozen scribes to copy any books you want to keep. While I am busy during the day ruling the kingdom, guided by my aged and wise father, your time will be free to do as you like.
Cinderella: I'd like to spend much of my time studying, learning about history, natural history, philosophy, the arts, and the sciences, especially how fairy godmother magic works.
Prince: Your wish is granted; your tutors will be the greatest scholars in the land.
Cinderella: Yes, I will be your bride. I think we'll be happy.
Prince: While I can help you be happy, I'm happy. A kiss?
Cinderella: Of course, my darling.
Prince Charming exchanged places with the glass slippers and embraced and kissed his fiancée, and they lived happily for the rest of that ride and until supper—but that's another story.
Cinderella enjoying being Princess Charming
Write these scenes after assigning an enneagram number, randomly or as you like, to each character.
1. 'Beauty' meets 'The Beast'
2. Their parents send the three little pigs out into the world to seek their fortunes.
3. At the dinner table, a married couple tell their children why this Christmas there will be fewer store-bought gifts than usual.
4. After outwitting the bad witch and getting almost safely home, Hansel and Gretel are abducted by monsters from outer space.
Or freewrite your own scene. Play with the possibilities of combining what the plot you make up requires, what your imagination pictures, and what you learn from your research about the enneagram of personality to decide how each character reacts within a scene. I recommend that you share your creative writings with a local writing group. How well what you write matches what experts on the enneagram say is of little significance; what counts is the resulting story.
Learning about the Enneagram's 9 Personality Types
My wife introduced me to the enneagram of personality in 2002 when she took personality tests during a career advancement process. Over time we acquired such books as Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso; The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele; The Enneagram: a Journey of Self Discovery by Maria Beesing, Robert J. Nogosek, and Patrick H. O'Leary, and The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life by Helen Palmer. These and other books on the enneagram of personality, each from a different perspective, describe in detail the nine primary personality types and their variations and dynamics. In the USA, use WorldCat online to find these books, and other books on the enneagram, in libraries near you.
Another good way to learn about the enneagram's nine personality types is to watch YouTube videos about them. In the YouTube search area enter: enneagram type 1. When you have watched some videos about personality type 1, change the 1 to a 2 and so on through 9. You may want to first watch some videos about the general concept.
And here are some examples of websites with information about the nine personality types of the enneagram: Helen Palmer's http://www.enneagram.com/, Don Riso's and Russ Hudson's https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/, and Renee Baron's http://www.reneebaron.com/index.html.
My article Where Did the Enneagram Come From? 6 Trailblazers and Innovators summarizes the history of the development of the enneagram of personality.
Since circa 2002 I've used either the original edition or the revised and updated edition of this book as a tool in creating fictional characters. Among books on the enneagram familiar to me to date, it has seemed the richest trove of in depth descriptions of variations of the enneagram personality types. Don Richard Riso's concept of healthy, average, and unhealthy levels within each enneagram personality type is easily transformed by a fiction writer into templates for character development, motivations, and interactions and is the stuff of drama. For example, what happens when you pit a Level 7 'Ruthless Outlaw' unhealthy type 8 Leader who is on his way to degenerating into a Level 8 'Omnipotent Megalomaniac' against a Level 9 'Punitive Avenger' unhealthy type 1 Reformer? Or what sort of romance develops when a Level 5 'Self-Absorbed Romantic' average type 4 Individualist and a Level 6 'Excessive Hedonist' average type 7 Enthusiast are attracted to one another? The possible character permutations and confrontations with dramatic potential in Riso's Personality Types are myriad.
As a tool in creating fictional characters, I have found (or imagine) the Enneagram of Personality to be:
Be cautious about assuming that a real life person, including yourself, is a certain personality type according to the enneagram of personality as described by this or that expert. Getting it right is not easy. But when you use the enneagram to create and develop a fictional character, you can't go wrong, since you are the creater of the story and the character, and it's all pretense. Have fun. Experiment. Give each character his or her individual, multi-faceted, complex, dynamic personality.
And now, just for fun, I present:
Cat Enneagram Personality Types Illustrated in Photos
A type 1 needs to always be right. The type 1 cat shown below is demonstrating the right way to hide.
Type 1: The Perfectionist
This type 2 cat seems to be thinking, "I hope she appreciates my letting her use me for a pillow."
Type 2: The Helper
"I'm going to work hard and be a success!"
"I must express my feelings with art. Next, orange or purple?"
Type 4: The Artist
A type 5 prefers to be alone to think or to inconspicuously watch.
Type 5: The Observer
"I'm not afraid of the big wide world, but I hope my human is near."
Type 6: The Loyalist
"Is the open road or the open sea next for me?"
Type 7: The Adventurer
"Move aside, small fry. I always drink first."
Type 8: The Boss
Every cat is a type 9 at nap time.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Did this photo essay help you to better understand cat psychology?
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Brian Leekley