Think of your favorite fictional characters. Chances are they have a personality you can recognize and motivations you can relate to. Drawing on personality systems can help you craft characters who are dynamic and believable enough to live beyond the page. In this post, I’ll introduce the nine personality types of the Enneagram, an insightful personality model for understanding ourselves and others that can easily be adapted for character creation. It describes the intrinsic motivations that cause different people to behave the ways they do, and sheds light on ways that each personality type can grow.
Below is a little taste of the motivations and personalities of each Enneagram type. See which ones fit your favorite fictional characters, and your own characters, most closely. If you’re starting a new story, try using these personality types as characterization starting points.
In search of a principled ideal, your character seeks to bring themselves and the world around them as close as possible to that ideal. A One character might be a mover-and-shaker activist, a perfectionistic top student, or a homemaker who keeps a spotless house and arranges their book collection alphabetically. Whatever their station in life, they strive to live by personal standards and put in the hard work to improve things that matter to them. Character growth comes from learning to loosen up and find the perfection in the here and now.
Seeking connection, your character focuses on helping others and demonstrating love. They might be a caring mentor, a person who tend to the needy and readily volunteers to help, or a networker or matchmaker who knows exactly which people will benefit from getting to know each other. Warm and interpersonal, Twos are adept at understanding others’ needs and earning affection by fulfilling them. Character growth is marked by attending to inner life and caring for personal needs–not just everyone else’s.
Success-driven characters cultivate an image that earns them external regard. They are adaptable enough to embody traits and roles that others find valuable, making their presentation quite varied based on what their family or culture models. A Three character could be a high-powered CEO, an outrageous rock star, or the most involved parent at the PTA meeting. Driven by the desire to excel, they inspire and motivate others. Build in character development by having them connect with who they truly are and want to be.
Identity seekers focus on their feelings, striving to know and express themselves. Their introspection lends them a rich inner life. Fours feel like outsiders, and tend to focus on how they are different from others. However, they can understand other people’s emotions more easily than they’d like to admit. Four characters might be distinctive artists, empathetic therapists, or that angsty teenager who feels like they just don’t fit in. Their growth journey involves moving outward, overcoming self-absorption to make a positive impact in the world.
Seeking clarity and mastery over knowledge, these characters tend to specialize in a particular topic or interest. They might be an IT professional on the cutting edge, a biologist who researches crawfish mating habits, or a musician who knows a wealth of musical trivia and invents a new performance style. Fives like to stay ahead of the curve and innovate–that’s how these thoughtful, reserved people feel they have something to contribute. Show growth by having them engage with others and broadening the scope of their curiosity.
Loyal and skeptical, these characters seek guidance externally, yet tend to doubt themselves and others. They are on the hunt for a sure thing, and on the lookout for anything that could go wrong. Sixes make excellent fictional detectives, and are often cast in the role of supportive sidekicks. They’re relatable as protagonists because readers can connect with their doubts and anxieties while admiring their courage to persevere through them. Growth comes from getting in touch with their inner compass and finding their own path.
These distractible adventurers pursue options, freedom, and happiness. They’re always looking on the bright side and looking forward to the next thing. Whether they’re a party planner, a parent, or a pirate, Seven characters are distinguished by their high spirits and their focus on entertaining people. Generalists rather than specialists, they have wide-ranging interests and may have talents to match. Growth comes through focusing on finding happiness in the present rather than pursuing future options.
Seeking power and impact, this personality type acts more forcefully than they realize. Eights are the characters who step into a room and get noticed. Being bold and proactive comes naturally to them, making them easy fits for heroics, fight scenes, and big decisions. Archetypal Eights include the boss, the gangster, and the “tough one.” They are fiercely protective of the people who matter to them, and they don’t pull their punches. Show growth by having these characters embrace their tender, sensitive side.
Dreamers and peace seekers, these characters can fall into habits and self-effacing agreement. They want both the world and their inner lives to be harmonious. Whether they act as wisdom-imparting mentors, mediators, or affable heroes, they excel at setting people at ease. Nines can make great “everyman/everywoman” protagonists who see themselves as nobody special, but come to realize their own capacity to take meaningful action. Growth can be shown through asserting themselves and owning their power.
If any of your characters clearly fit an Enneagram type, can you work aspects of growth into their journey? Do you have a favorite tool or system of your own for creating fictional characters? Feel free to share in the comments!
Melanie Bell is the author of The Modern Enneagram. Her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in various publications including The Fiddlehead, Cicada, Grain, CV2, xoJane, and Autostraddle. She offers writing coaching and editing services through Inspire Envisioning, and you can connect with her work on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.