Friday, May 22, 2020

Using the Enneagram's 9 Personality Types to Create Vivid Characters in Fiction and Memoir

No one likes to be categorized or typecast, but when it comes to creating vivid characters on the page, I find the personality system of the Enneagram a life saver.

Twenty-some years ago, when I first began studying this system, not many people knew about it.  It had no huge institutes or psychologists tooting it, as it does now.  It was Greek and new age, a little odd.  My introduction was through Eli Jaxon-Bear, whose book, From Fixation to Freedompromoted an Eastern approach that appealed to me.  Later I discovered the more Western approach  used like Myers-Briggs typing and promoted by Don Riso and Russ Hudson in their Enneagram Institute.  

Like Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram helped me understand my tendencies and those of others, have more compassion, and get along better in my personal and professional lives.  But when I star
ted applying the Enneagram to my writing, the bells really began to chime.

Consider that most vivid characters you encounter in fiction and memoir are troubled.  They carry a wound from their past.  That wound has implanted certain beliefs which guide their decisions and actions.  A mother abandonment (or insanity) might create the belief of not getting close to anyone, as in Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant Is Perfectly Fine.  Being born a bastard might led to the false belief of being an outcast forever, never belonging, as in the Jon Snow character in Game of Thrones. Dad's attitudes towards school being a trap instead of a blessing might led to certain decisions that exclude education, despite smarts, as in Educated by Tara Westover. 

The Enneagram offers 9 types for your character and can show you how to bring this false belief to the page in actions chosen for that type.  After I explore the wound the character carries, I can look at the possible beliefs that come from this wound, and use the Enneagram to create scenes that demonstrate it.

In both Jaxon-Bear and Riso's approach to the Enneagram, a person can fall on the healthy or unhealthy end of their type's spectrum.  I usually start my characters at the unhealthy end, and by the end of the book, unless they are tragic characters, move them more towards a healthy type.

I recommend Don Riso's The Wisdom of the Enneagram for writers who want to bring their troubled characters more vividly to the page.  If I take the steps described in Riso's book into my storyboard, for instance, I can actually chart the internal state my character would be at each turning point.

By the end of the book, the character has changed.  Let go of their false belief.  Replaced their fixation with a wider, healthier view of life.  We can chart the false belief on the storyboard's main points (I'll teach this in detail in my June 13 workshop on Zoom).   At point #1, the false belief is full blown; at point #2, the character sees the fixation but denies it; at point #3, they try to renegotiate; at point #4, it is fully faced.  What the character decides to do with the realization of their fixation at point #4 determines the trajectory to tragedy or growth.  

There are many excellent websites and posts on using the Enneagram for character building.  Here are a few of my favorites.  If the link doesn't work, go to that website and search for "Enneagram."

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Called to Write

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