Developing Characters with The Enneagram – Part III


E-Centers 1How do you, as the author, decide what your characters will do?

The nine personality types of The Enneagram provide a framework for relating your characters’ desire line to their underlying and innate motivation. But what keeps your readers turning the page is what your characters actually do—how they respond to the people and situations that come their way.  

You can use the three “centers” of the Enneagram to identify the powerful, but largely unconscious ways that different personality types respond to events and situations. The power of this tool lies in the detailed descriptions of the often contradictory responses that a given personality type may exhibit.

  • E-Triads_EmCharacters in the Instinctive Center (the challenger, the peacemaker and the reformer) tend to act first and only later consider the intellectual and emotional context of their actions. They are naturally confrontational and tend to respond to obstacles with anger or rage.  The same individual can be charismatic, tolerant and supportive in one setting, but self-righteous, stubborn and destructive in another.
  • Characters in the Feeling Center (the helper, the achiever and the individualist) typically enjoy other people and readily engage with them. They are sensitive to others’ feelings and needs.  Because they depend on others for their self-image and sense of well-being, however, they respond with shame, guilt or self pity when things don’t go well. At the positive end of the spectrum, they can be generous and altruistic; at the other, they can be co-dependent, manipulative and possessive.
  • Characters in the Thinking Center (the investigator, the loyalist and the enthusiast) are, at their core, driven by fear of a real or imagined threat.  They are self-protective and cautious in their approach to others, and can be very anxious when they don’t understand what is happening.  At one extreme, they can be innovative, energetic and clever; at the other, they can be paralyzed by fear or frantic in their efforts to deny their fears.

This summary is illustrative, and there are many more nuances than I have enumerated here.   My next blog will explore in more detail the way that I have used these behavioral responses in developing several of the characters in my novel. 


Copyright 2013 The Enneagram Institute.             Images Used with Permission.          All Rights Reserved.

Creating Characters with The Enneagram


 EnneagramDiagram(1)What does your protagonist want?

One of the first things I learned in novel-writing class was to establish, early on, the desire line for your principal character(s).  It’s a straightforward task if the goal is concrete—earn a lot of money, find the murderer or win political office. Where the desire line is more abstract—peace of mind, a sense of purpose, a yearning for adventure—it can be a significant challenge.

A useful tool for developing complex characters with abstract goals is the Enneagram, which identifies personality types based on the relative balance of instinct, emotion and thinking in every day behavior. While it is frequently viewed as a tool for spiritual development, it provides useful insights for developing colorful and idiosyncratic characters. 

  • Motivation. While the familiar Myers Briggs profiles emphasize conscious or cognitive behavior, the Enneagram system classifies personality types based on unconscious motivation, i.e., what people want, not just what they do.  In my novel for example, my protagonist  (Lindsey) is a “thinker” who prides herself on being intelligent, curious, thoughtful and perceptive.  It is important to her to be able to manage her life without having to depend on others.  
  • Reaction/Response: The Enneagram system identifies how each “type” tends to respond.  For Lindsey, her first reaction tends to be intellectual rather than emotional … to explain what is happening rather than simply experience it. 
  • Healthy vs. Unhealthy.  Enneagram classifications provide considerable insight into the healthy and unhealthy responses of each type.  Where a healthy “thinker” is analytical, creative and insightful, an unhealthy of the type may be anxious, self-absorbed, defensive and/or reclusive.  The transition from the unhealthy to healthy version of the type can be a powerful driver for your story.

The Enneagram does not obviate the need for good writing, but if you want to delve into the inner psyche of your characters, this is a terrific tool.

I plan to devote the next few blogs to useful aspects of the Enneagram system.  If you want to check out the basics, click here.