In my last post, I talked about character-building basics when writing. Now I want to dig deeper and share one of the easiest ways to create a personality and backstory for your character. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s called the Enneagram method.
Enneagram is a personality type system divided into nine basic personality types. You will, of course, find a little of yourself in all personality types, as is usually the case with all personality type systems. Still, most of us fit pretty neatly into a single personality type that our childhood experiences have left us with.
The Institute of Enneagram makes it very clear they don’t believe a person can ever change their personality type, which I disagree with. I disagree with them because, as science confirms, our personality is formed through genetic and environmental factors. We can’t do much about genetics (yet), but we can do a lot about the environment. This is a fascinating topic, but without diving too deep into neuropsychology and genetics, let’s continue with the Enneagram.
Whether you agree a personality type can change during one’s lifetime or not, the Enneagram is still a great system to use while creating a fictional character. It gives clarity and direction, not to mention the psychology behind the individual types is logical. The worst thing to do when creating a fictional character is to be all over the place.
As mentioned before, the Enneagram is divided into nine basic personality types.
This type is generally described as the rational, principled and idealistic type. They are someone with a strong sense of right and wrong. They want to make things better but are sometimes afraid of making mistakes. They enjoy order but might become overly critical if they cannot meet high standards. The reformers have a sense of purpose and are generally people of action. They often like to imagine themselves as the deep-thinking type, but in reality, they are the activist type who follows instinct and passion.
Because they are so ethical, their core fear is becoming corrupt. Under stress they can become moody and even irrational. As individuals, they strive to be upright and conscientious because they fear being judged by others. This type is, at its worse prone to cruelty and severe depression, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder. The Reformer seeks to overcome adversity, and at their best they are wise, noble and morally heroic. This type is joyful and good to be around when placed in a healthy environment.
The helpers are generous and caring. They have empathy for other people and come across as sincere and people-pleasing. Because they are so driven to please others, they can sometimes sacrifice their own well-being by doing too much. This type values family and friends and people are drawn to them for their warm-heartedness and caring nature when they are in a good environment. Because they are so invested in other people, they might also become overbearing and over-involved.
Their constant seeking of validation feeds into their core fear of being unwanted or unworthy. Under stress they can become aggressive and obsessive. The self-sacrificing helper can easily become bitter and resentful if not in good head space. This type corresponds with histrionic personality disorder and factitious disorder. At their best they are altruistic and compassionate people who ultimately just want to be loved.
Success-oriented and adaptable, the Achiever types thrive on the admiration of others. They are generally very driven and energetic, and what they lack in genuine self-awareness, they make up for in charm. These competent personalities who are very self-assured often embody widely admired qualities. They should watch out for arrogance and jealousy, which they are prone to when not in a good state of mind.
The achiever type also enjoys motivating others, and at their best they can be inspiring role models. Because they are so highly driven and ambitious, their core fear is being worthless and ordinary. Under stress the achiever type can become vindictive, apathetic and, at worst, even display psychopathic or narcissistic behaviour.
4. The Individualist
This type is generally sensitive, self-absorbed and emotionally honest. They think of themselves as inherently different from everyone else, with special talents/abilities. Prone to melancholy the individualist endures suffering without complaint. They often conceal their inner self yet hope someday someone will come along and appreciate their secret self. This is the type that often feels that nobody understands them.
Under stress they are in danger of being over-indulgent and pitying themselves. At extremely unhealthy levels, this type can become tormented by morbid thoughts, and suicide is likely. Their core fear is personal insignificance and not having an identity. Disdain for ordinary life and a feeling of “something missing” within them is common with this type. At their best, the individualistic types can transform their experiences into something valuable and profoundly creative. That is, if they can let go of past negative feelings.
Curious and insightful, this type lives up to its name. Their impressive ability to focus, paired with being innovative, means that they build their identity abound having ideas. The investigator values knowledge and insight and always seek to figure out everything. This type does not depend on social validation and is sometimes in danger of being viewed by others as eccentric or socially isolated.
Under stress the investigator types are hyperactive and cynical and can, in worst-case scenarios, even exhibit self-destructive tendencies with schizophrenic overtones. Their core fear is being useless and incapable, but at their best they can easily become open-minded visionaries who thrive on pioneering discoveries.
The loyalist types are responsible and engaging, and very security-oriented. Their good qualities include hard-working, trustworthiness and commitment. On the flip side, they often suffer from anxiety and are in danger of becoming indecisive and scatterbrained. They are motivated by having security and reassurance from others.
Under stress the loyalist types can become competitive, arrogant and reactive. Finding themselves without the support and guidance of others is this type’s core fear. They can become panicky and even hysterical if they fear they have spoiled their security. In the extreme end, the loyalist types might struggle with drug abuse, suicidal thoughts or paranoid personality disorders. At its best this type is lovable, affectionate, brave and internally stable.
The enthusiast types are spontaneous, variety-seeking and like to keep themselves busy. As extroverted types, they are playful and practical, but their constant search for new and exciting things can exhaust them, making them scatterbrained. Typical problems for the enthusiast types are impulsiveness and impatience.
At their best they can focus their talents on something useful while remaining happy and high-spirited. Even though they are fast learners, it can also cause problems with choosing something to focus on, as they have such quick and agile minds. Under stress they can become gluttonous, critical, and offensive. Addictions, frustration and, in the extremes, deep depression surround type seven if in an unhealthy environment. This type corresponds with bipolar- and historic personality disorders. Their core fear is being deprived and in pain.
These types are generally described as powerful, dominating people who are willful and self-confident. It’s admirable how straight-talking and assertive they can be, but sadly they can also be ego-centric and confrontational. They must be independent, and even though they are aware of how others think of them, they do not let the opinions of others affect them. These types are very strong and have high vitality.
The challenger types have trouble admitting their vulnerability, and they build up their egos to protect themselves. Under stress they can become secretive or controlling, and their core fear is being harmed or controlled by others. At their most extreme, they can become vengeful and murderous, corresponding with antisocial personality disorder and sociopathic tendencies. When they are at their best they become forbearing and courageous and may achieve historical greatness.
The peacemakers are easygoing types who emit acceptance and stability. Generally positive and optimistic, these types support others but can also go along just to keep the peace. Because they dislike conflict, they often minimize anything upsetting and are the type who might choose to live in some false spiritual attainment just because they are unable to face the disturbing aspects of life.
Their core fear is loss and separation, which may make them anxious and worried. At their worst, when under stress the peacemaker types are undeveloped, numb, disoriented and even catatonic. The type nines, in their unhealthy states, correspond with schizoid and dependent personality disorders. Multiple personalities are also possible. At their best you can observe the peacemakers intensely alive and fully connected to themselves and others.
As you can already tell, following the Enneagram-type character building, you will get many new ideas. It is easy to keep on track with your character, knowing how they would react under stress or what they could become if they succeed. Of course, the Enneagram types are merely guiding principles, but if you struggle with your character, perhaps you can draw fresh ideas from this personality system. On the other hand, if you already feel confident about your character, why not double-check using the Enneagram types list?
Source for this blog post and further reading, visit The Enneagram Institute here.