Musings on the Craft of Writing

►Character-Crafting & the Enneagram

The dead horse has rotted to its splintered bones, and still people are beating it: “You need realistic, interesting, nuanced and believable characters that are compelling.”  Thanks.  Also in the news, the world is not flat.  OK, so while it is tiresome to hear, it remains true:  Flat/2-dimensional characters sink novels.  What should we do to prevent it?  Only read a dozen good books on the subject and ponder it as we write each book for the rest of our lives.  Helpful?  Right.

I’ve always been interested in personality inventories.   Some are crap, of course, filled with trite tautologies.  For several years I had held the Meyers-Briggs as the top of the list, and I still respect it.

But the one tool I want to recommend for your character-crafting work shed:  The Enneagram.  It is, in my opinion, the best personality structure out there. My rubric for this claim is, how nuanced and specific can a personality structure be?  The M-B accomplishes some of this, for example, by telling you the difference between Intuitive & Sensing, or Thinking & Feeling, and how the interplay of these elements within a person fleshes out.  Others, like the “Four Temperaments” just point to what’s obvious in a person–not highly valuable for in-depth character creation.


The Enneagram, however, offers multiple layers of explanation.  Here’s a sketch of how it works:  We each have a core ‘type,’ within the nine types.  [There’s an interesting (ancient) history behind it, but I’ll leave that to your own Googling.]   In addition to our main type, we all also have a secondary type, called a ‘wing.’  Interestingly, our wings are always a number adjacent to our core type (e.g., I’m a 5w4—Five with a Four wing.  [Most writers seem to be 4s or 5s]).

So, we’re given 18 types (each core type [9] + wing type [9]).  This is an excellent “skeletal” resource for us, which I find to be usefully distinct enough to start crafting a character.  And I am only suggesting it as a skeleton.  We’re not confined to 18 characters, of course.  I have other friends who are Fives (and even a 5w4 friend), and we’ve got some marked differences.  But with the Enneagram we’re given a good core layout of a character to then tweak to make them unique.


In addition to our types and wings, there are nine levels of psychological health to explore.  Each level of health predicts certain patterns of behavior for each type and wing.  So, if we take that math seriously, we have the 18 types times 9 levels of health, giving 162 behavior patterns.  To be fair (since there isn’t always a huge difference between each of the 9 health levels), we can cut that in half and say that there are 80 relevantly distinct personality-skeletons for us to use.  And, of even greater use, the Enneagram shows how people psychologically evolve/de-evolve, demonstrating the accompanying behavior with those changes.  It can answer questions like, what is this person’s behavior when things are calm and easy vs. stressful and threatening?  Each of these types (at each level of health) will react differently. It even predicts how one Ennea type relates to other types.  All of this makes some of the heroism/cowardice, malevolence/benevolence, etc., manifest from each person in a way that is consistent with their character type.


[I should point out, for those of you wanting to know what type you are, there is (in my opinion) no great test for Ennea Type discovery.  The best course: Read up on each of the types, and you will soon land on which one is you.  EG: at a glance, here is the “fun” Seven, the “helping” Two, the “artistic” Four.]

So when I am first charting my characters out I will (among other things) use the Ennea-skeleton to develop them.  I also do a quick M-B on the side sometimes if I need to make a distinction between Ennea types.  (EG: One 4w5 could be highly extroverted while another introverted).  I suspect that there’s a strong correlation between some of the M-B categories and Ennea ones.  EG:  5w4s are (strongly/de facto?) NTs on the M-B scale.  You can Google as well as I, and so I’ll not throw more pages at you.  However, if you’re serious about investigating it, I suggest Don R Riso, here or here (but not both due to huge overlap), and here. The “hardcore” Enneabook is also valuable by Naranjo.

As always, of course, we should use all of the tools we can get our hands on.  This is just one I have not heard writers discuss much.











One response

  1. Pingback: ►My Novel-Writing Methodology (Pre-Drafting) | Daniel Ionson

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