The Enneagram - Use it to build great characters and conflict!

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Several readers have asked me about the Enneagram which I made reference to in Fiona's character profile. It's such a great tool for writers, I thought I'd write up an article about how you can use it too.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a personality typing system that sits somewhere between the Meyers-Briggs inventory in its social scientific basis and Astrology in its spiritual bent. Honestly, I tune out most of the literature that focuses on either approach and focus on the core of what I think makes this system such an insightful tool for people, but especially for writers. And that is that at the heart of The Enneagram you strive to identify the core Basic Fear and core Basic Desire that drives every human being.

First, let me say that in all of my type testing, both on actual people as well as on characters, I have found The Enneagram to be 100% accurate—actually to a frightening degree. The moment I took the test (which I'll link to in the first comment) and found out that I was a Type 5 ("The Investigator") and then went on to read about the typical behaviors of Type 5's, I was blown away. BUT THEN, I had my husband take the test. He is what you would call the ultimate cynic. Needless to say, he too was blown away—perhaps even weirded out—when we learned that he was a Type 3 ("The Achiever") and the behaviors of The Achiever fit him to a "T."

Now, we're also a Cancer (me) and a Taurus (him) and from what I've read about those astrological types, the general descriptions fit us pretty well too. But what sets The Enneagram apart for me is that is seemed to identify our deepest desires and our coping mechanisms, ticks, and personality traits so well. This is why I think it's a great tool for writers if you want to make your characters more realistic, layered and three-dimensional.

That's because, as I said, the heart of The Enneagram is identifying the core Basic Fear and Basic Desire that drives every human being.

Before we dig into the types, though, there are a few things you ought to know. This taken from The Enneagram Institute which does a lot of scientific study and testing of the system.

1. People do not change from one basic personality type to another.

2. The descriptions of the personality types are universal and apply equally to males and females, since no type is inherently masculine or feminine.

3. Not everything in the description of your basic type will apply to you all the time because you fluctuate constantly among the healthy, average, and unhealthy traits that make up your personality type.

4. The Enneagram uses numbers to designate each of the types because numbers are value-neutral — they imply the whole range of attitudes and behaviors of each type without specifying anything either positive or negative. Unlike the labels used in psychiatry, numbers provide an unbiased, shorthand way of indicating a lot about a person without being pejorative.

5. The numerical ranking of the types is not significant. A larger number is no better than a smaller number; it is not better to be a Nine than a Two because nine is a bigger number.

6. No type is inherently better or worse than any other. While all the personality types have unique assets and liabilities, some types are often considered to be more desirable than others in any given culture or group. Furthermore, for one reason or another, you may not be happy being a particular type. You may feel that your type is "handicapped" in some way. As you learn more about all the types, you will see that just as each has unique capacities, each has different limitations.


Identifying Your Basic Personality Type

If taken properly the questionnaire (see the link in the first comment) will identify your basic personality type for you. Below is a short description that will give you a basic understanding of the various types with a slightly more in-depth description of some of the types throughout the piece.

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