Whether you want to believe in personality typing or not, for writers building characters, the enneagram is one of the very best gold mines you’ll ever find. It is similar to a road map for human behaviour, which shows our basic motivational needs, strengths, weaknesses, temptations and what we can do to balance out our negatives (and thus resolve interpersonal conflicts in plots).
Using the Enneagram has been a wonderful tool for fleshing out the motivation of my antagonists. It’s given them depth. Instead of the good guys just being good, and the bad guys inherently having to be bad, now the bad guy is bad because he is a Reformer (the 1). He is compulsively motivated by a need to make things better, but he’s handled the challenges he is facing the wrong way. It has created fights and barriers, not change. He is out of balance (the enneagram shows you how to create balance) and is a danger to himself, as much as he is to others. I have a relatable, humanised bad guy, who doesn’t mean to be a rat and has no idea why people are opposing him, but he can’t stop himself. He isn’t a one-dimensional, one-task piece of the novel puzzle.
Let me give you another example of how this can work. Let me use an intellectual personality as an example. They are referred to as the Thinker or Observer (the 5). Out of balance, they can be withdrawn, thought-driven, self-motivated, happy to be alone and have a strong need for independence and privacy. Often they don’t fit in with social groups. This is a weakness of their personality type. Problems for fives include isolation, pride, power-seeking and their intellectual approach can drive people in the other direction, seeking friendlier company. The five can become one very frustrated, lonely individual, with answers no one will listen to.
No one has just one type they solely fit into. They have parts of all the types and two other, less dominant types which are called wings. They balance the psyche out. A five will have the wings of a four: the romantic, withdrawn ideal-seeker who wants authenticity, self-expression and who can also be deeply empathetic; and a six wing, which is the attachment-making loyalist. They can work towards balance by utilising their ability to empathise and be loyal, alongside their need to think, rather than coldly retreating.
Enneagram research will also give you lists of ways that the various types can get along with other people. It flags sources of conflicts, how to approach them and other techniques which will have writers in seventh heaven! This is a mystically based theory which has been around for centuries. At it’s simplest level it is an excellent idea generator, that you will find useful and intriguing.
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