Use the Enneagram for Robust Character Development

Characters are arguably the trickiest element of a novel to create. Even if you have a stereotypical personality in mind (i.e., the leather-wearing rebel with a secret heart of gold) or a real-life person you want to exaggerate (we’re looking at you, quirky Uncle Bill), it’s still challenging to make them feel like fully realized individuals.

Some authors enjoy the process of deep-diving into each character and developing an entire backstory and psychological profile before the pen ever hits the page. But if you’d rather not play faux therapist to a bunch of fictional people, there is a cheat sheet you can use: the Enneagram.

Character development is about creating individuals who live beyond the confines of the page, whose journeys and transformations engage the reader’s empathy and imagination. This process can be daunting, as it demands a nuanced understanding of human psychology and the myriad ways it can manifest in behavior and relationships.

The Enneagram offers a framework for this exploration, providing a rich tapestry of personality types that can serve as the foundation for character development. By mapping out the core motivations and fears of each type, the Enneagram acts as a shortcut to understanding the internal dynamics that drive characters.

Depthful characters enrich the narrative, creating opportunities for conflict, growth, and resolution that are grounded in their intrinsic traits. The Enneagram can inspire writers to think beyond clichés and stereotypes, encouraging the creation of characters who are as complex and contradictory as real people. Through this lens, characters become vehicles for exploring the broader themes of the story, making the narrative more compelling and more resonant with the human experience.

What is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram is a personality system that organizes people into nine types based on their motivations, fears, and internal dynamics. According to The Enneagram Institute, it was developed in the 1960s by Bolivian-born teacher Oscar Ichazo as a way to help people understand themselves — and why they do the things they do — a little bit better.  

Each type has its unique traits and tendencies that can manifest as either positive or negative depending on how the individual processes and interprets their internal world. While you can really nerd out on the Enneagram, even understanding just the basic personality types can help you create multidimensional characters.

The 9 Types

There are nine types laid out in the Enneagram: the Reformer, the Helper, the Achiever, the Individualist, the Investigator, the Loyalist, the Enthusiast, the Challenge, and the Peacemaker. Let’s take a quick look at each one and what popular characters might embody them.

Type 1: The Reformer

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Rational, principled, highly self-controlled, and slightly perfectionistic, Reformers are always trying to make themselves and their environment better. They’re frequently seen as the leaders of social reform or crusaders for a particular cause.

Example: Hermione Granger from Harry Potter

Type 2: The Helper

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Generous, empathetic, and always willing to lend a hand, Helpers are driven by their need to feel loved and appreciated. They’re naturally caring personalities make them prime candidates for people-pleasing and getting a little too possessive over those they love.

Example: Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings

Type 3: The Achiever

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Ambitious, competitive, confident, and image-conscious, Achievers strive to be the best and look good while doing it. They are skilled at adapting to different situations and may have a tendency to stretch themselves too thin in pursuit of their goals—often at the expense of their own well-being.

Example: Don Draper from Mad Men

Type 4: The Individualist

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Introspective, creative, and emotionally sensitive, Individualists are always searching for a sense of identity and authenticity. Their rich inner world can make them a bit moody and secretive, but who doesn’t love a little mystery?

Example: Lemony Snicket from A Series of Unfortunate Events

Type 5: The Investigator

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Observant, cerebral, and innovative, Investigators are always seeking knowledge and understanding. They can be withdrawn and may struggle with social interactions, but their thirst for learning makes them valuable sources of information.

Example: Sherlock Holmes from Sherlock

Type 6: The Loyalist

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Loyal, responsible, and anxious, Loyalists are always looking for security and reassurance. They’ll be the first to question others’ intentions but will go to the end of the earth to protect those they trust.

Example: Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Type 7: The Enthusiast

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Adventurous, spontaneous, and enthusiastic, Enthusiasts are always seeking new experiences and avoiding boredom at all costs. They can be a bit scattered and struggle with commitment but bring an infectious energy to any situation.

Example: Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Type 8: The Challenger

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Assertive, decisive, and confident, Challengers (unsurprisingly) don’t back down from a challenge. They can be confrontational and have a tendency to bulldoze over others in their pursuit of power.

Example: Jeanine Matthews in Divergent

Type 9: The Peacemaker

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Easy-going, agreeable, and diplomatic, Peacemakers strive for harmony in all aspects of their life. They can struggle with asserting themselves and may prioritize others’ needs over their own.

Example: Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz

How to Use it

As you can see from even these brief descriptions, the Enneagram types offer a wealth of personality traits and motivations for authors to pull from. Here’s how you can use it to bring your fictional people to life:

  • Identify their core type: Decide which Enneagram type your character embodies. I recommend getting to know the types a little deeper by reading books such as The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.
  • Use the wings: Each type has two adjacent types (called wings) that influence their behavior. Incorporating these into your character can add depth and nuance to their personality.
  • Consider the levels of health: Each type has three levels of health: healthy, average, and unhealthy. These can serve as inspiration for how your character may behave or change throughout your story’s arc.
  • Reference real-life examples: Take the test yourself and encourage your friends and family to do so as well. This can help you understand how different types express themselves in real life and give you a broader pool of inspiration.
  • Remember, it’s just a tool—not a rule: While the Enneagram can be helpful, it’s not the end-all, be-all for character development. Like real people, the fictional ones we create don’t always have to fit into neat little boxes. Use the Enneagram as a guide, but don’t let it limit your creativity.

If you need additional guidance on leveraging the Enneagram for novel writing or any other personality typing system, check out my book coaching services. I offer customized, bespoke support for authors of all genres and experience levels. We’ll work together to fine-tune your audience, flesh out your characters, and create a compelling story that will keep readers turning the page.

Click here to learn more.

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Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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