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Written by: Sue Krinard
The Enneagram and Myers-Briggs: Frameworks for Characterization by Sue Krinard
As writers, we’re always looking for new tools and shortcuts to make our job of constructing stories just a bit easier. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face is creating memorable, complex, fully-developed characters.
A few years ago, a writer friend introduced me to the Enneagram, a system of nine basic personality types that has its beginnings in a synthesis of several traditions of teaching. Many books have been written about the Enneagram; I have chosen as my two basic sources Don Richard Riso and Helen Palmer.
The Enneagram posits that there are nine personality types, symbolized by a geometric symbol with nine points within a circle. Each type is interrelated with the others, but each has its unique essence, drives, and priorities.
Each of these nine personality types is identified by a code word, which differs from author to author.
Type or Point One is “The Reformer” or “The Perfectionist” Type or Point Two is “The Helper” or “The Giver” Type or Point Three is “The Motivator” or “The Performer” Type or Point Four is “The Artist” or “The Tragic Romantic” Type or Point Five is “The Thinker” or “The Observer” Type or Point Six is “The Loyalist”or “The Devil’s Advocate.” Type or Point Seven is “The Generalist” or “The Epicure.” Type or Point Eight is “The Leader” or “the Boss” Type or Point Nine is “The peacemaker” or “The Mediator.”
It would be impossible to offer detailed descriptions of each of these types in this article, because each is, of course, highly complex and cannot be reduced to a matter of a few words. Some are a little more obvious than others. “The Boss” might be represented by your typical Alpha Male hero, but one who is more inclined to lead than be a loner. “The Helper” is one who is generally caring and generous, but on the downside can be possessive and manipulative. “The Artist” is the type most prone to depression, but is also highly individualist and creative. (Many writers undoubtedly fall into this category!) “The Epicure” is always in pursuit of the new experience, but may have trouble sustaining intimate relationships. No one type is superior to the other, and each one has its positive and negative features.
Each type or point is also influenced by its “wing”, one of the two points on either side of it, and by the “direction of integration or disintegration.” Depending on the level of development of a person or character, he or she will exhibit different characteristics in keeping with his or her type. A person or character at a high level of development will exhibit the best qualities of his or her type. Thus, what may seem like a very limited number of “types” actually expands considerably when all additional factors are taken into account.
In Discovering your Personality Type, Don Richard Riso offers a comprehensive test to identify your own personality type. This can be used to create characters as well, and provides an excellent framework for determining what motivates a character. As with all such systems, it’s not necessary to follow the Enneagram descriptions slavishly; it simply provides a useful starting point. What is the primary drive of your character? What does he or she most fear, most desire? How is he or she apt to interrelate with others? These are the questions the Enneagram helps to answer.
I have observed that some types produce fictional romantic heroes and heroines more consistently than others. We look for specific characteristics in our protagonists, at least in genre fiction. For instance, Romance heroes tend to be the principled, rational Ones, the adventurous Sevens, or the aggressive Eights. More rarely, you’ll find a “Thinker” hero, though he’ll tend to be more cerebral than romantic, or a “Three”, confident but often more concerned with the outer package than inner development, or a “Four” or Artist, who is likely to be both self-absorbed in his own world as well as idiosyncratic. You’ll rarely see a “Two” hero, since Two characteristics are so firmly associated with women in our culture.
We associate feminine attributes with the “Two”, who is devoted to helping others and considers love a high priority–though this, too, has its downside. The “Six” also has many of what we consider to be feminine characteristics, including lovability, a desire to belong and a sense of duty to the group. The “Nine” is outwardly passive and peaceful and agreeable, most interested in harmony. However, more dynamic romance heroines will often be Ones. “Fours” might include the quirkier, more dramatic heroines. “Eights” are rare, since they will usually attempt to be the dominant partner, unless the story is about the clash of two equally dominant people. Watch the sparks fly!
In reality, of course, both men and women fall within all these categories and aren’t meant to slip neatly into gender-defined boxes. Some types, under certain conditions, will even mimic other types, so categorization is not always simple. This is what makes the Enneagram such a useful tool for building character frameworks.
Another personality system that can be used in conjunction with or separately from the Enneagram is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)®. (The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a registered trademark of Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.) While the MBTI test in full can only be taken via licensed professionals and for a fee, there are a number of books that interpret the system for the layman.
The MBTI breaks into 16 personality types, depending on various combinations of “Preferences”. These preferences are (as listed in What Type Am I? by Renee Baron):
Extroverting (E) or Introverting (I): Where we focus attention and what energizes us: being with others or being alone. Sensing (S) or Intuiting (N): How we prefer to take in information. Thinking (T) or Feeling(F): How we evaluate information and make decisions. Judging (J) and Perceiving (P): Our lifestyle orientation. In each pairing, an individual will lean toward one preference or another. When testing reveals a preference in each category, a final “type” will consist of a four-letter code, such as INFJ (Introverting-Intuiting-Feeling-Judging, which happens to be my type!) Each of these sixteen combinations produces a different basic personality.
Again, it would be difficult here to synopsize each of the sixteen types, and there are excellent books that offer short tests and descriptions. One of these is Keirsey’s Please Understand Me, which uses the MB preferences in conjunction with Keirsey’s own Temperament Sorter. His book provides a test called the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, which is similar but not identical to the MBTI test.
What I have found most useful in creating characters is utilizing both MB and Enneagram in conjunction, helping me to hone in on what I’m seeking in a character. In fact, several books offer a pairing of these systems. Are you My Type, Am I Yours? provides a chart that links the likely correlation between Enneagram types and Myers-Briggs preferences. Often I’ve found that I can further refine my characters by starting with the general Enneagram type and moving on to a more detailed MB framework.
For instance, I am a type Four, the “Artist” in the Enneagram. I am also an INFJ. the chart in Baron and Wagele’s book shows that female Fours who are also INFJs are “Most common”, i.e., the majority of INFJ’s seem to be “Fours” on the Enneagram scale. This is also true of INFP’s. On the other hand, a female ENFJ will almost never be a Type Four. She is far more likely to be a type “Two”, the “Giver.”
When I start my character building, I think about the role my character will play and how I perceive him or her within the structure of the story. Then I start skimming my Enneagram and MB books to see which types most closely match my inner vision. By the time I’m ready to write, I generally have both an Enneagram type and MB “code” for each major character. While I don’t feel absolutely bound by these types, and feel free to adapt them as I see fit, I find that the framework does help me rule out behavior that would be completely inappropriate for the personality of my characters. This creates a consistency that, I feel, is very beneficial.
Another handy trick with both the Enneagram and MBTI is determining romantic relationships between characters. In Are you My Type . . . , the authors suggest which Enneagram types of either sex are most likely to be attracted to other types. In Helen Palmer’s book The Enneagram in Love and Work, she gives examples of combinations of Enneagram types in work and romantic relationships. Again, this is only a working tool, but it can spark a deeper understanding of what makes your characters tick.
I’ve discovered that these systems have not only helped me create more complex, “real” characters, but have also enhanced my understanding of myself. For a typical “Four”, that’s sheer heaven!
Baron, Renee and Wagele, Elizabeth
The Enneagram Made Easy ISBN: 0-06-251026-6 Very Basic introduction to the Enneagram What Type Am I? ISBN: 0-14-026941- X Very basic introduction to the MBTI®, includes some information on the Enneagram Are you My Type, Am I Yours? ISBN: 0-06-251248-X Basic introduction to Enneagram, includes romantic preferences of each type and connection to MBTI®
Keirsey, David and Bates, Marilyn
Please Understand Me ISBN:0-0606954-0-0 The MBTI® as it relates to Keirsey’s temperament system. Fairly comprehensive questionnaire.
Kroeger, Otto and Thuesen, Janet
Type Talk ISBN:0-440-50704-9 Full introduction and type descriptions of MBTI®
The Enneagram IBSN:0-06-250683-8 One interpretation of the Enneagram, including detailed descriptions of types The Enneagram in Love and Work ISBN: 0-06-250721-4 A useful examination of Enneagram relationships in romance and work
Riso, Don Richard
Discovering your Personality Type ISBN 0-395-71092-8 Basic test and brief descriptions of Enneagram types Understanding the Enneagram ISBN: 0-395-52148-3 More detailed type descriptions and short questionnaire Personality Types ISBN: 0-395-79867-1 Most detailed description of types and psychological breakdowns
Note: I personally find the Riso books most useful for a clear description of Enneagram types, but others prefer the Palmer. The Baron/Wagele books are excellent for quick reference. Each of these books is available on Amazon.com.
Web sites on the Enneagram and MB Systems:
www.Sirius.com/~aohair/psyc/Egrambooks.html About Enneagram books graphics.lcs.mit.edu/~becca/enneagram Tests, papers, other useful information www.ling.rochester.edu/~duniho.det.html Quick enneagram test www0.dephi.com/enneambtigram Enneagream and MBTI www.wizvax.net/tap3x/EMBTI/j3keirsey.html Discussion of Keirsey’s theories metalab.unc.edu/personality/faq-mbti.html List of books related to the KTS and MBTI
Happy reading! Sue Krinard
Susan Krinard writes fantasy and paranormal Romance for Bantam Books, and is best known for her best-selling werewolf series, which began with Prince of Wolves and Prince of Shadows and continues with the forthcoming Touch of the Wolf. Her other books include Body and Soul, Twice A Hero, and Prince of Dreams.