Using the Enneagram to Help Create Fictional Characters

Updated on June 17, 2020
B. Leekley profile image

Brian's avocation is creative writing. His fiction has appeared in little magazines. He posts essays and articles on HubPages and Medium.

The enneagram of personality is an effective, efficient tool for choosing a character's
• attitudes
• reactions, and
• inner motivations
as shaped by his or her predominate
• fear
• yearning
• fixation
• flaw, and
• virtue.

The differing, at times conflicting, perspectives of personality types add to the tension in a story.

The dynamic elements of the enneagram allow for the potential creation, from the nine primary personality types, of a vast number of unique, true-to-life characters.

If you are unfamiliar with the enneagram, you can jump to a brief introduction by clicking: Appendix: What Is the Enneagram? What Is the Enneagram of Personality? A link there returns you to here.

Source

A Jillion Unique Character Personalities Possible

Have a look at the color settings of nearly any word processing or art software program. Three colors—red, green, and blue—can be combined and adjusted to make any of millions of colors {255 * 255 * 255}, because each of the possible combinations of the colors has multiple adjustable degrees of hue, saturation, and brightness. Similarly, the enneagram of personality starts with nine basic types (see table below) influenced by multiple factors, enabling the creation of jillions of unique fictional characters.

Often Used Enneagram of Personality Labels

Type #
Label (Riso/Hudson)
Label (Palmer)
Label (Beesing)
Label (Maitri)
Type 1
The Reformer
The Perfectionist
Avoids Anger
Ego-Resentment
Type 2
The Helper
The Giver
Avoids Need
Ego-Flattery
Type 3
The Achiever
The Performer
Avoids Failure
Ego-Vanity
Type 4
The Individualist
The Romantic
Avoids Ordinariness
Ego-Melancholy
Type 5
The Investigator
The Observer
Avoids Emptiness
Ego-Stinginess
Type 6
The Loyalist
The Loyal Skeptic
Avoids Deviance
Ego-Cowardice
Type 7
The Enthusiast
The Epicure
Avoids Pain
Ego-Planning
Type 8
The Challenger
The Protector
Avoids Weakness
Ego-Revenge
Type 9
The Peacemaker
The Mediator
Avoids Conflict
Ego-Indolence

The following section illustrates one of the enneagram's variables—levels of development—using a type 6 as an example.

Levels of Development

(The link in the next sentence is to an online digital edition of the complete text. Other editions are available at or through local bookshops and from bookselling websites.) In their book on the enneagram, Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson describe nine levels of development for each of the nine personality types. For a type 6, they are:

Healthy:
1. Self-Affirming
2. Engaging
3. Committed Loyalist

Average:
4. Obedient Traditionalist
5. Ambivalent Person
6. Overcompensating Tough Guy

Unhealthy:
7. Insecure Person
8. Overreacting Hysteric
9. Self-Defeating Masochist

The levels are dynamic, so a person—real or fictional—might be at different levels of psychological and emotional health and maturity at different times, depending on whether the fortunes and misfortunes and stresses of life bring growth or regression. The tensions of better person / worse person urges within a character and of the effects of those contradictory urges on interactions with other characters is the stuff of drama.

Wings and Directional Arrows

Each personality type is influenced by the personality type on either side of it on the enneagram symbol—its "wings."

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.

Enneagram symbol with arrows both of integration and disintegration
Enneagram symbol with arrows both of integration and disintegration | Source

Instinctual Subtypes

And there are yet more aspects to the dynamics of the enneagram. The instinctual subtypes, for instance, pertain to how the three basic instincts of self-preservation, relating socially to others, and relating one-on-one with a significant-other person (coupling) are expressed in daily life, influenced by the dominant passion and the dominant fear of each enneagram of personality type.

Tritypes

Another instance is the tritype of each person. Enneagram of personality theorists divide the nine types into three sets, called the "centers of intelligence."

• Types 8, 9, and 1 are the "gut" (a.k.a. instinctive, body, belly) personality types, formed to cope with anger.

• Types 2, 3, and 4 are the "heart" personality types, formed to cope with shame.

• Types 5, 6, and 7 are the "head" (a.k.a. thinking) personality types, formed to cope with anxiety.

Each person's tritype consists of one enneagram type from each set or "center of intelligence," one of them the dominant type and the other two used in a consistent manner. A person's tritype is their defense strategy and focus of attention.

Multiple Variables, So Myriad Possible Characters

Choosing a fictional character's primary enneagram type; his or her level of emotional health and maturity; the degree of influence by either wing, and that character's particular set of subtypes and of tritypes provides countless possibilities for creating unique characters.

Of course, there are even more influences on a person, such as their culture, their genes, their body type, the health or toxicity of their environment, their particular life-shaping experiences, perhaps their past lives, and more.

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. I give details in my "Where Did the Enneagram Come From?" online article. Giving them under the surface (or too evident) neurotic impulses can help an author create interesting characters.

Choosing the Attitudes of Fictional Characters

The plot will determine what a character in a story says and does, up to a point. The enneagram can help a writer choose and depict exactly what a character says and does, with what attitude.

A substitute teacher steps into a classroom and says, "Good morning, class."

An enneagram 9, fearful of being rejected by the students as expressed by some disharmony in the classroom, and of losing his or her temper, would say it meekly, with the attitude, "Please, let's cooperate in making today's lessons peaceful and pleasant."

An enneagram 8, with an underlying fear of being controlled, would say it with the attitude, "Don't any of you dare test that I'm in charge here!"

An enneagram 7, fearful of pain, including of ego wounds, hurt feelings, and boredom, would say it with the optimistic and enthusiastic attitude, "Ready for a marvelous adventure in learning?"

An enneagram 6, fearful of unstable and unpredictable environments, would say it with the, "We are doing everything by-the-book," attitude of a loyal school system employee.

An enneagram 5, feeling ill-prepared, incapable, and useless, even after putting hours into preparation, would say it with the attitude, "I'm doing my best. Don't judge me. We'll get through this."

An enneagram 4, fearing insignificance and needing acceptance and appreciation as a unique individual, might say it dramatically, his tone expressing how burdensome, or how fantastic, life is to have put him and the students together in that room.

An enneagram 3, fearing failure and worthlessness and wanting a reputation for achievement, would say it with the attitude, "Let's jump into action! Carpe diem! We've got textbook lessons to conquer!"

An enneagram 2, fearing being unwanted and unloved and hoping to earn love and welcome inclusion by being helpful, would say it with the attitude, "I'm here to help you; please appreciate me."

An enneagram 1, fearing moral corruption and striving to be perfectly good and righteous, might say it with the attitude, "I'm here to explain the lessons to you. If you challenge that I know what is correct and best, I will put you in your place with sarcasm; if you listen with attention and appreciation, I will patiently help you to understand."

Or, in each case, given a different combination of influences or a different level of emotional health and maturity, the teacher's attitude might be quite different.

Imagine a Character Taking an Enneagram of Personality Test

In the next video, movie director Mark Travis explains and demonstrates his technique of helping a writer "meet" and get to better know a character by interrogating the character. I'm wondering if a writer can get at a character's enneagram type by imagining asking that character the questions in an enneagram of personality test. To find such tests online, search the Web on enneagram test.

Writing Challenge

Write a scene from a story from mythology or folklore, such as from "Adam and Eve and the Forbidden Fruit" or "Hansel and Gretel and the Wicked Witch" or "Joseph, His Snazzy Outfit, and His Jealous Brothers" or whichever, choosing from a familiar culture. As you think-up the motives, attitudes, feelings, thoughts, words spoken, and actions of each character, have in mind his or her primary type on the enneagram of personality. Go as deeply as you wish into the influence of wings, arrows of stress and confidence, tritypes, levels of maturity and emotional health, and so on. Then, if you have the time and inclination, rewrite the scene—or write a different scene—choosing different personality types.

I myself am new to using the enneagram of personality in creating fictional characters. My first—and so far only—attempt is "Cinderella and Prince Charming in a Royal Carriage." In this what happened next flash fiction story, I imagined Cinderella having an enneagram type 5 personality and Prince Charming having an enneagram type 2 personality as they ride in a carriage to the palace and discuss their future.

Because I'm a beginner at this approach to character creating, it's a quite simple, rudimentary example. I hope and expect that, with practice, I'll get increasingly adept at using the enneagram of personality to assist my imagination in creating fictional characters.

Me as a 9

I recommend that fiction and drama writers interested in the enneagram of personality as a tool in creating characters keep a filing system (paper or computer) for organizing notes on real-life examples of enneagram types. Many first-hand anecdotes and descriptions of how each type experiences the world and life can be found in published and posted writings, interviews, etc. As a contribution to that research material, here is a brief reflection on myself as a type 9.

When I was a young schoolboy, there were times when I had the urge to push a button and destroy the universe because of many offenses to my ego. And when someone hurt my feelings, I'd fantasize getting even in some awful manner comparable with the revenge by the crazy narrator in Poe's story "The Cask of Amontillado."

But then I confronted the dilemma that the persons who most often and strongly hurt my feelings and triggered my anger were also the persons who most often and strongly gave me love, friendship, and emotional and practical support. If I destroyed the bad people who were mean to me, I would also destroy the good people who were kind to me, since they were one and the same persons.

Besides, my expressing childish anger—or even assertiveness—merely annoyed my parents and triggered my big brother to respond with ridicule and sometimes violence—and he was bigger and stronger than me and had a longer reach.

So I learned to replace angry feelings, thoughts, and actions with appeasing feelings, thoughts, and actions as the more effective strategy to defend my inclusion, with some modicum of autonomy, in a social group, such as my immediate family.

Scientifically Valid?

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 your characters and their interactions work well in the telling of a gripping story, it's your business and secret if each character, in your conception, is a certain enneagram of personality type at a varying level on each of the enneagram's continuums. For your purpose, it's irrelevant if the enneagram has any more or less scientific validity than astrology, the theory of humors, or Freud's, Jung's, or Adler's personality types.

I and many others have found the enneagram of personality to seem to correspond to reality, albeit probably not perfectly, since it is a schema, a mental construct.

Learn More: Four Study Suggestions

1. In a YouTube video series, psychotherapist and enneagram educator Beatrice Chestnut interviewed three or more persons at a time of a single enneagram type. Watching those interviews will help fiction writers see how actual persons experience being a particular enneagram of personality type. Here, in a nearly hour and a half video, is Type 9 in the series:

Beatrice Chestnut - Type 9 Enneagram Panel

2. Helen Palmer's The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life, published in 1991, was one of the first books about the enneagram of personality. She teaches the enneagram as a tool for self-development and spiritual growth—an aspect that I think could help a writer create a character's arc in a story.

Reading my copy of The Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your Intimate and Business Relationships by Helen Palmer has helped me very much to understand better both the wonderful and the less than wonderful dynamics of my relationships with persons close to me. For instance, reading about characteristic ways that enneagram 7s and 9s interact has helped me to better understand the arc of my 1995-2018 marriage. (I'm a 9.) This book by Palmer is, I think, a mine of material for creating fictional characters and stories about them. (If someone buys a copy via this link to Amazon, I'll get some tiny cut.)

3. Helen Palmer has a number of enneagram videos on YouTube. Here, in a nearly one hour interview, is one of them:

Helen Palmer ‘Relationships Matter – The Enneagram Tells us How’ Interview by Eleonora Gilbert

4. For Franciscan friar Richard Rohr, too, the enneagram of personality is a tool for self-understanding and spiritual growth. Here, showing an hour-long lecture, is one of his enneagram YouTube videos:

The Enneagram: The Discernment of Spirits (Conclusion)

Poll

As a tool in creating fictional characters, I have found (or imagine) the Enneagram of Personality to be:

See results

Conclusion

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.

Regarding the Acevedo photo, the appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

I welcome and encourage comments. If you do not have or want a free account allowing you to post original writings on HubPages, submit a guest comment. Just enter your name (or a name) and a comment.

How are you faring at using the enneagram of personality as a source of prompts when creating fictional characters? Did anything in this article especially resonate with you? Do you have a question? What improvements do you suggest to make this article even better?

I won't approve and publish, but I will appreciate, comments of temporary value, such as that call my attention to a typo or other minor flaw in the text that I can easily correct.

Appendix:

Source

What Is the Enneagram? What Is the Enneagram of Personality?

The enneagram is a symbolic figure designed by George Gurdjieff (1866?-1949), a scholar of esoteric spiritual paths, who used it in teaching his system of self-development. He coined the word 'enneagram' by combining the Greek words ennea—nine—and gramma—that which is written or drawn. The enneagram figure is a circle with nine numbered points on its circumference connected by lines in a particular order—3-6-9-3 and 1-4-2-8-5-7-1.

Bolivian-born philosopher Oscar Ichazo (1931-2020), influenced by a number of ancient traditions of mysticism and philosophy, created the enneagram of personality as a set of labeled enneagrams. These showed aspects of nine ways that humans in childhood get psychologically trapped by egotistical fixations and anxieties. Chilean-born psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo (1932-2019) learned about the enneagram from Ichazo in 1970. Giving the enneagram of personality his own spin, he taught it to a few others. One resulting trend was its use among Catholic religious in teaching spiritual direction and growth.

The enneagram's predominant development has been within the psychology of personality typology, used to help people better understand themselves and others.

Each number is a personality type, distinguished by the strongest psychological fears, yearnings, flaws, and strengths that motivate the attitudes and actions of a person with that type. A person with a type 1 personality, for instance, fears being corrupt, evil, defective; desires to be good, to have integrity, to be balanced; has the flaws of being overly perfectionistic and being readily triggered to feel resentment or anger (hidden by a facade of objective or sarcastic criticism), and has the virtue or strength (after achieving freedom from the flaws) of serenity.

The article above includes links and references to more information about the enneagram of personality nine types. The audio recording below is an interview with a prominent enneagram expert.

A podcast interview with enneagram expert and author Russ Hudson

© 2012 Brian Leekley

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    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 weeks ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      I hope and expect you'll find it helpful, Marlene, as one way into choosing / understanding your characters' personalities and relationships. I'm eager to go from theory to practice in putting the enneagram of personality to that use in my writing. Whenever I dream-up a fictional character, I think of the play Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello. (It's online at several sites in pdf.) Characters want their stories told.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      5 weeks ago from USA

      This is something very new to me. I like it a lot and think I will try using it as a creative tool.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Hope you write about the experience if you do, Bill. I'm new to the idea myself. Now when I am first mulling and brainstorming a story and working on the first draft and getting acquainted with and making decisions about the characters, enneagram personality type is a factor I consider, especially as regards motivating anxieties.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very interesting, Brian. I admit, I've never heard of this approach, but it's something I'm willing to try. Thank you!

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      5 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Kathryn, I admire Dickens and his writings very much. I hope you find the enneagram helpful in creating characters. I am in the process of exploring the possibilities in my fiction.

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 

      5 years ago from LA

      Printing this up. I too love creative writing.

      I love C. Dickens.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks for commenting, twoseven. I'm glad you love this hub.

      I hope using the enneagram of personality types is helpful when you make up bedtime stories.

      As a student of the enneagram, you might find my hub on the history of the enneagram interesting.

      My "Cat Enneagram" is just for fun.

    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 

      6 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      I love this! I've read a lot about the enneagram and I love how you capture each of the types just through how they would say a simple phrase. As a 7 myself, I felt perfectly captured :)

      I don't really write fiction, but I do make up bedtime stories for my sons. I love the idea of using the 9 types to create characters! I am definitely going to do that now.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks, DDE.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Incredible ideas here and so well informed on the title.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks very much, Martie.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      B. Leekley, this - the Enneagram for personalities - is extremely interesting and precious information worth more than gold to writers of fiction. I've seen a lot of interesting hubs on your profile and would like to take the time to read them all.

      Voted up, well-presented, shared and pinned.

    • B. Leekley profile imageAUTHOR

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Thanks much, unknown spy.

    • unknown spy profile image

      Life Under Construction 

      7 years ago from Neverland

      sharing to all. Great info.

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