Creating Irresistible Characters with the Enneagram

ASLA Conference 2023 – SCBWI Super Storytellers

Please note: The following material is provided for conference attendees only and is not to be shared. Thank you for respecting the IP of kidlit creators, whose income comes primarily from workshopping material like this. It will be available here until 31 May 2023.

The best I could do with my ten minutes at the ASLA Conference was uncork the Enneagram bottle and offer a whiff of the possibilities. At the bottom you’ll find some of the slides from my presentation. I’ve listed resources you can access should you decide you’d like to learn more. Wishing you well in as you dive into the wildest rabbit hole EVER.

The Ennea-WHAT?

What’s the Enneagram? The word simply means a nine-sided figure, but it’s far from simplistic. It’s a framework for talking about personality, growth, and interpersonal relations. The Enneagram is one of my favourite tools for personal development and also for developing absolutely irresistible characters. It’s good for:

  • understanding core motivators of behaviour
  • charting character arcs
  • figuring out group dynamics
  • checking character consistency
  • using as a diagnostic tool

It’s important to note I don’t start with the Enneagram. In other words, I’ve never thought, “Hmm, I’d like to write a story with Type 9 as the protagonist and a Type 4 as the villain.” While that could be a fun classroom writing exercise, it’s not how characters or stories “come” to me. I might not consult the Enneagram until I’ve written a detailed outline or even completed a first draft.

I find the Enneagram to be most helpful once I know a bit about my characters – more of a Dr Freud-and-couch analysis than a Dr Frankenstein-and-stormy-night assembly. (Although, now that I’ve framed it that way, the latter is tempting…)

A Mud Map – Not GPS

After I guess what types my main characters are, I study the avatars to try to understand what makes each type tick, particularly looking at basic fears and desires, as these core questions are drivers of behaviour – and action.

I compare my character to people in my life of that type. It’s always an interesting discovery to me to find a character I’ve created in my head can have these nuances without me consciously supplying them!

I use the Enneagram as a loose guide, not a rigid formula or prescription. I find it particularly helpful when I get stuck, because – interestingly – my stuckness is often the result of me making my character do something that is unnatural to them. It might suit my plot, but the behaviour doesn’t suit them! This registers as a falseness or flatness that I often can’t pinpoint until I consider personality types. It can be frustrating when my carefully imagined plot doesn’t pan out, but usually my character has something better in store!

Whenever I dive into the Enneagram, it’s always a learning adventure. I find it endlessly fascinating and a wonderful way to understand myself and others in my life. I’ve found young people are usually open to it too, because it gives them words and concepts to apply to behaviour and personality, and of course they love talking about themselves. It can be a tool for personal growth, for understanding friendship dynamics, for fostering empathy and interpersonal skills, and for more technical things like analysing literary (and movie) characters! The scope and possibilities are endless.

No personality system is perfect, but I appreciate how dynamic and fluid the Enneagram can be. I hope you’re tempted to dive in and see if it might work with your students’ writing and literary studies.

Slides from my Mini Intro to the Enneagram

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