Using the Enneagram of Personality to Create Characters

The Enneagram

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Learning about the Enneagram's 9 Personality Types

My wife introduced me to the enneagram of personality in 2002 when she took personality tests during a career advancement process. Over time we acquired such books as Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso; The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele; The Enneagram: a Journey of Self Discovery by Maria Beesing, Robert J. Nogosek, and Patrick H. O'Leary, and The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life by Helen Palmer. These and other books on the enneagram of personality, each from a different perspective, describe in detail the nine primary personality types and their variations and dynamics. In the USA, use WorldCat online to find these books in libraries near you.

Another good way to learn about the enneagram's nine personality types is to watch YouTube videos about them. In the YouTube search area enter: enneagram type 1. When you have watched some videos about personality type 1, change the 1 to a 2 and so on through 9. You may want to first watch some videos about the general concept.

And here are some examples of websites with information about the nine personality types of the enneagram: Helen Palmer's http://www.enneagram.com/, Don Riso's and Russ Hudson's https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/, and Renee Baron's http://www.reneebaron.com/index.html.

My article History of the Enneagram: Gurdjieff, Ichazo, Naranjo, Riso, Palmer, Ali and Beyond summarizes the history of the development of the enneagram of personality.

A Big Range of Options

What makes the enneagram of personality an efficient tool for creating fictional characters? The range of options it offers. Take Type 6 (chosen at random) as an example. In his writings on the enneagram, Don Richard Riso describes nine levels of development of a 6—Healthy Levels: 1. Self-Affirming, 2. Engaging, 3. Committed Loyalist; Average Levels: 4. Obedient Traditionalist, 5. Ambivalent Person, 6. Overcompensating Tough Guy; Unhealthy Levels: 7. Insecure Person, 8. Overreacting Hysteric, 9. Self-Defeating Masochist. Riso describes nine levels of development for each of the nine personality types, from very psychologically healthy to lunatic.

The levels are dynamic, so a person or a character might be at different levels of psychological health and development at different times, depending on whether the fortunes and misfortunes of life bring character growth and integration or regression and unraveling. That is the stuff of drama.

Each of the nine primary personality types is influenced by its "wings"—the personality type on either side of each type on the enneagram. A type 6 may to a greater or lesser degree also have characteristics of a type 5 or of a type 7.

Then there are the directional arrows of the enneagram. A 6, for instance, when stressed, might act like an unhealthy 3, or the self-development of a healthy 6 might lead to his or her acting at times like a healthy 9. Each type has its directions of integration and disintegration, to use Riso's terms.

And there are yet more aspects to the dynamics of the enneagram, such as the subtypes and the tritypes.

Huge Number of Unique Characters Possible

Have a look at the color settings of about any word processing or art software program. In Apache Open Office Writer, for instance, go to Tools-Options-Colors. Three colors—red, green, and blue—can be combined to make any of millions of colors, because each color has multiple adjustable degrees of hue, saturation, and brightness. Just so, choosing a character's primary enneagram type and then choosing his or her level of maturity and sanity, degree of being influenced by one or the other wing, and particular combination of subtypes and tritypes provides a great many possibilities from which to create a unique character, especially after such additional variables as physical traits, individual conditioning, and cultural influences are considered.

The enneagram can be a tool for actors, too. When I googled on Hamlet enneagram, I found a forum comment that said Lawrence Olivier played Hamlet as a 4, Mel Gibson as a 6.

Choosing Attitudes

The bare bones of a plot will determine what a character in a story says and does, up to a point. Then the enneagram can be used. A teacher steps into a classroom and says, "Good morning, class." The enneagram can help a writer or an actor choose the attitude. A 9 would say it placidly while hoping for cooperation and harmony in the classroom. An 8 would say it aggressively, expressing a do not dare doubt that I am in charge here attitude. A 7 would say it enthusiastically, hoping the class will be a pleasant but exciting, not boring, experience. A 6 would say it with the matter-of-factness of a loyal school system employee or the bluster of a devil's advocate in the system. A 5 might say it with a let's get right to business attitude because she wants to give the class a project so that she can get back to daydreaming. A 4 would say it dramatically. A 3 would say it with an attitude of we are going to jump right into action and get things done. A 2 would say it with an I am here to help you, please appreciate me, attitude. A 1 would say it with the attitude I am here to explain things to you; if you challenge that I am right and know best, I will put you in your place; if you listen with attention and appreciation, I will patiently help you understand.

Or in each case, given a different combination of wing, level of development, and other factors, the attitude might be quite different. The more a writer is familiar with the enneagram of personality as understood by different enneagram teachers, the more the options in choosing the attitudes and reactions of a character.

Scientifically Valid?

You may wonder if the enneagram of personality is a scientifically valid hypothesis and if scientific tests support claims made about it. Experts argue about that. To learn more on those questions, Google on: enneagram scientific validity. For the purpose of creating fictional characters, the answers makes no difference. If you end up with a hero who is motivated by envy, seeks self-expression in an art, and needs to frequently feel raw emotion, whether elation, anger, or melancholy, whether the joy of victory or the agony of defeat, whether the ecstasy of love found or the heartbreak of love lost, and if that works in the story, it's your business and secret that that character is an enneagram of personality type 4. For your purpose, it's irrelevant if the enneagram has any more or less scientific validity than astrology or Freud's, Jung's, or Adler's personality types.

Cinderella and Prince Charming at the ball

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Cinderella and Prince Charming in a Royal Carriage

I made up this little story as an exercise in using the enneagram of personality to help create characters. I happened to use a drama format. If you would like, for your own amusement, experiment with what happens when you give the characters different personalities, such as if Prince Charming were a take charge type 8 and Cinderella were an ambivalent towards authority type 6.

Characters:

Cinderella Jones is an enneagram type 5. She needs alone time for reading and thinking.

Prince Stanley Charming is an enneagram type 2. He seeks self-worth in being helpful to others.

Scene: Cinderella is riding from her home to the castle with Prince Charming inside of a horse-drawn carriage. The horses and driver are out of view.

Prince: Are you comfortable, Cindy?

Cinderella: Mind if I slip out of these glass slippers, Stanley?

Prince: No, go ahead, beautiful. Get comfortable. Do the slippers fit you okay?

She takes off the slippers and sets them on the carriage seat beside her. Prince Charming is in the seat facing her.

Cinderella: Glass is hard and does not make a comfortable slipper. Do you want to know how the glass slipper fad got started? A French romance writer wrote our story and put me in fur slippers. Someone heard the story in French and wrote an English version and mistakenly replaced "fur slippers" with "glass slippers" in his version, because he thought the French-speaking storyteller said "verre", the French word for glass, when really he said "fourrure", the French word for fur. Isn't that fascinating? I would much rather have cozy fur slippers.

Prince: That's a fascinating story! I will order my furrier to make you a hundred fur slippers. Oh, I'm so thankful to divine providence and proud of myself that I rescued you from your wicked stepmother and stepsisters.

Cinderella: I'm proud of you, too, and thankful, Prince Charming. My stepmother and stepsisters, my dear late father's second wife and her daughters from her first marriage, feel threatened by my existence. I suspect irregularities in the estate settlement. In our house I am at the bottom of the pecking order. But I've been able to cope with the situation. Most days they stick me with the housework and go out socializing and men chasing. I'm a fast worker, and I get done my daily chores with time to spare. I use that time to read. I have three books that belonged to my father, about saints and heroes in olden times, and I keep them hidden in my wardrobe of raggedy clothes and read them over and over. Of course I jump up and get busy working when I hear the others arriving home. They wouldn't stand for me loafing.

Prince: I'll have the Royal Prosecutor investigate those suspected irregularities.

Cinderella: All right, but remember, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Let's treat them nice and get them on our good side.

Prince: Very well, my darling. I'll ask my father to give them titles and my mother to find them rich husbands, and then I'll ask my father to send them all on royal business to the Americas.

Cinderella: I like it.

Prince: You deserve a better—a wonderful—life, Cindy, my darling, and, as Princess Charming, you'll have it

Cinderella: Are you proposing to me, my so charming prince?

Prince: I know ours has been a short courtship, but I fell in love with you at the ball, and I love you more every minute. Will you be my bride? You'll have more servants than you can count and servants to manage the servants and a majordomo to manage them all. You'll have your own suite of rooms in which to indulge in your favorite pastimes—do you like to spin and to sew?—and to keep yourself pretty, and you will be able to step outside into your own garden, designed and tended as you instruct.

Cinderella: How about books and time to read?

Prince: As a member of the royal family, you will have access to the royal library, and you will have a personal library, with half a dozen scribes to copy any books you want to keep. While I am busy during the day ruling the kingdom, guided by my aged and wise father, your time will be free to do as you like.

Cinderella: I'd like to spend much of my time studying, learning about history, natural history, philosophy, the arts, and the sciences, especially how fairy godmother magic works.

Prince: Your wish is granted; your tutors will be the greatest scholars in the land.

Cinderella: Yes, I will be your bride. I think we'll be happy.

Prince: While I can help you be happy, I'm happy. A kiss?

Cinderella: Of course, my darling.

Prince Charming exchanged places with the glass slippers and embraced and kissed his fiancée, and they lived happily for the rest of that ride and until supper—but that's another story.

Cinderella enjoying being Princess Charming

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Writing Exercises

Write these scenes after assigning an enneagram number, randomly or as you like, to each character.

1. 'Beauty' meets 'The Beast'

2. Their parents send the three little pigs out into the world to seek their fortunes.

3. At the dinner table, a married couple tell their children why this Christmas there will be fewer store-bought gifts than usual.

4. After outwitting the bad witch and getting safely home, Hansel and Gretel are abducted by monsters from outer space.

Or freewrite your own scene. Play with the possibilities of combining what the plot you make up requires, what your imagination pictures, and what you learn from your research about the enneagram of personality to decide how each character reacts within a scene. I recommend that you share your creative writings with a local writing group. How well what you write matches what experts on the enneagram say is of little significance; what counts is the resulting story.

Poll

As a tool in creating fictional characters, I have found (or imagine) the Enneagram of Personality to be:

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Conclusion

Be cautious about assuming that a real life person, including yourself, is a certain personality type according to the enneagram of personality as described by this or that expert. Getting it right is not easy. But when you use the enneagram to create and develop a fictional character, you can't go wrong, since you are the creater of the story and the character, and it's all pretense. Have fun. Experiment. Give each character his or her individual, multi-faceted, complex, dynamic personality.

And now, just for fun, I present:

Cat Enneagram Personality Types Illustrated in Photos

A type 1 needs to always be right. The type 1 cat shown below is demonstrating the right way to hide.

Type 1: The Perfectionist

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This type 2 cat seems to be thinking, "I hope she appreciates my letting her use me for a pillow."

Type 2: The Helper

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"I'm going to work hard and be a success!"

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"I must express my feelings with art. Next, orange or purple?"

Type 4: The Artist

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A type 5 prefers to be alone to think or to inconspicuously watch.

Type 5: The Observer

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"I'm not afraid of the big wide world, but I hope my human is near."

Type 6: The Loyalist

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"Is the open road or the open sea next for me?"

Type 7: The Adventurer

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"Move aside, small fry. I always drink first."

Type 8: The Boss

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Every cat is a type 9 at nap time.

Type 9: The Peacemaker

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Did this photo essay help you to better understand cat psychology?

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Comments 12 comments

unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 3 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

sharing to all. Great info.


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA Author

Thanks much, unknown spy.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 3 years ago from South Africa

B. Leekley, this - the Enneagram for personalities - is extremely interesting and precious information worth more than gold to writers of fiction. I've seen a lot of interesting hubs on your profile and would like to take the time to read them all.

Voted up, well-presented, shared and pinned.


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA Author

Thanks very much, Martie.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Incredible ideas here and so well informed on the title.


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA Author

Thanks, DDE.


twoseven profile image

twoseven 2 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

I love this! I've read a lot about the enneagram and I love how you capture each of the types just through how they would say a simple phrase. As a 7 myself, I felt perfectly captured :)

I don't really write fiction, but I do make up bedtime stories for my sons. I love the idea of using the 9 types to create characters! I am definitely going to do that now.


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA Author

Thanks for commenting, twoseven. I'm glad you love this hub.

I hope using the enneagram of personality types is helpful when you make up bedtime stories.

As a student of the enneagram, you might find my hub on the history of the enneagram interesting.

My "Cat Enneagram" is just for fun.


Kathryn L Hill profile image

Kathryn L Hill 18 months ago from LA

Printing this up. I too love creative writing.

I love C. Dickens.


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 18 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA Author

Kathryn, I admire Dickens and his writings very much. I hope you find the enneagram helpful in creating characters. I am in the process of exploring the possibilities in my fiction.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 8 months ago from Olympia, WA

Very interesting, Brian. I admit, I've never heard of this approach, but it's something I'm willing to try. Thank you!


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 8 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA Author

Hope you write about the experience if you do, Bill. I'm new to the idea myself. Now when I am first mulling and brainstorming a story and working on the first draft and getting acquainted with and making decisions about the characters, enneagram personality type is a factor I consider, especially as regards motivating anxieties.

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