Saturday, November 21, 2015

Enneagram: Create Characters Based on Personality Types

Today I’m going to show you how to use personality tests to flesh out the people in your stories. My favorite system for this is the Enneagram.
I’m not a fan of those quizzes in magazines or on websites that claim they can fit me into some narrow category that defines who I am. In general, I don’t trust anything that takes real people and shoves them into tight little cubbies. People are too complicated for that.
When I create fictional characters, however, these things can help me determine my characters’ desires and how they will act in the various situations they’ll face.

Discover how your characters tick

The Enneagram categorizes personalities into nine types:
1The ReformerRational, idealistic47
2The HelperCaring, nurturing84
3The AchieverAdaptable, success-oriented96
4The IndividualistIntuitive, reserved21
5The InvestigatorPerceptive, cerebral78
6The LoyalistCommitted, security-oriented39
7The EnthusiastEnthusiastic, productive15
8The ChallengerPowerful, aggressive52
9The PeacemakerEasygoing, accommodating63
I recommend doing an Enneagram quiz for your main characters. For your first test, answer for yourself so you can get an idea of the questions and how the test and the Enneagram works. Then, think about your characters and take the test for each of them.
The act of taking the quiz forces you to think about your character’s personality. This quiz is made up of 37 questions, with two possible answers for each. Before you take the quiz, spend some time thinking about your character so you’re not just making stuff up as you answer the questions.
Hint: At the end of the quiz, I suggest printing the page before you click to calculate the results. Then you can go back and look at how you answered the questions. Include the printed quiz in your character profile.

Deepen your characters

For a character to seem real, he or she has to react to situations in a way that is consistent with his or her personality. And, because certain character types naturally conflict, pairing a protagonist and antagonist with clashing personality types creates the tension you need for a successful story.
What I like about this system is that it doesn’t say a person is one type and that’s it. It assigns a number value that shows how firmly a person fits into each type. In other words, it acknowledges a challenger might be a peacemaker as well as a reformer, with strong individualist tendencies. It also defines which types bring either comfort or stress to each type.
I took the test for one of my characters and got these scores:
Type 1: Reformer2
Type 2: Helper8
Type 3: Achiever3
Type 4: Individualist5
Type 5: Investigator2
Type 6: Loyalist6
Type 7: Enthusiast4
Type 8: Challenger3
Type 9: Peacemaker3
This tells me Aellin is primarily a Helper, with strong Loyalist tendencies. She is not a Reformer or an Investigator.
So what could I do with this character? As the first table above shows, a Helper is stressed by a Challenger, Aellin obviously needs to be pitted against a powerful authority figure. Her sidekick should be an Individualist, because a 2 is comforted by a 4. And Aellin should be forced into a situation where she needs to be an Investigator. Maybe she needs to plot revenge against the leader. As it turns out, this is a major part of the story I’ve come up with, so the test tells me I’m on the right track.
Why does the test tell me that? Well, if Aellin is clearly not an Investigator, then having to become one means that there will be conflict, not only against her powerful enemy, but also internal conflict with herself as she is forced to act in a way that is unnatural for her. She’ll revert to her natural personality, which works against what she has to do. She’ll struggle constantly to achieve her goal because she’s fighting against her own nature.

Wash, rinse, repeat

As legendary editor Sol Stein said, each character needs to have his own script. So, if I take the same quiz for each major character in my story, I’ll get a good idea of their inner and outer conflicts, and how they’ll react to various situations. I’ll create characters with their own consistent lives, and I’ll see how to create personality conflicts.

Learn more about it

The Enneagram is a complicated system. I’ve presented a simplified explanation. You don’t have to understand everything about it to create strong characters. If you want to know more, I suggest starting with the Wikipedia article. For an even deeper dive, I or The Enneagram Institute, where you can learn more about the personality types and find additional tests.

No comments: