How I Used the Enneagram to Develop My Book Characters

Hi, my name is Sarah, and I am a 7. A 7 wing 8 to be exact. I constantly seek satisfaction, variety, and, most importantly, fun! But, because I have a wing in “The Challenger” and, therefore, no patience, I need to have fun, like, right now.

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The day I first took the Enneagram test was big for me. Never have I felt so exposed and understood. Everything that The Enneagram Made Easy had to say about being an Adventurer (or Enthusiast or Idealist) was spot on. Do you struggle to take projects all the way to the finish line? Yep. Do you feel most at home in a crowded bar? Sure do. Do you shop for new clothes that you don’t need, simply because the novelty has worn off the items in your current wardrobe? You bet.

After I discovered this personality typing tool, I made it my mission to encourage everyone else in my life to take it so that I could learn more about them and better understand them. (Being enthusiastic about the Enneagram is a very 7 thing to do.) I found out my husband is a 6, my mother is a 5, my best friends are mostly 2’s, and I’m pretty sure my dog is a 7, like me.

I recently finished my third novel. Woot! Hooray! Congrats! Okay, enough of that. Its four main characters, Jesse, Kate, Carson, and Audrey, are all drastically different people. They want different things, they fear different things, and they approach conflict differently.  I wrote the book from all four of their perspectives, which was fun for me (See?  Fun!  That’s all I want!) but also a challenge because their motivations and thought processes were so different from one another. Around the time I became enthusiastic about the Enneagram was when I found myself struggling with the writing of this book.

And then, it occurred to me. How better to understand my characters than to type them?

I didn’t just assign them a type, either. I actually took the test as each of them.  And I must tell you, it was the best thing I could have done in developing these four.  Now, figuring out their reactions and motives would be easy: I had a handy guide explaining how each type behaves under stress and in growth (and I definitely put them through plenty of stress and growth in Four Stars in Crossing.) This is what I learned:

Kate is a 3, the Achiever, with a wing in 4, the Romantic. She is motivated by success and can be overly-image conscious (hint: wearing a fake engagement ring.)  Her wing plays a part in her dramatic nature.

Audrey is a 2, the Helper, with a wing in 1, the Perfectionist. She wants to be loved more than anything in the world.  Her wing cripples her with self-critiques and the guilt of not being more.

Jesse is a 7, the Adventurer.  When in a state of personal growth, he takes on the positive qualities of a 5, the Observer, and can focus intensely on his films.  When unhealthy, he is self-indulgent, scattered and directionless.  (For a while, I thought Jesse might be a 4, the Romantic, because he is so creative.  Discovering he is a 7 made me love and hate him even more.)

Carson, my sweet Carson, is a 9, the Peacemaker with a wing in 8, the Challenger.  He literally keeps the most important facet of his identity a secret so he won’t have to face any conflict.  His wing in 8, however, gives him the strength to stand up for what is right.

Knowing their types helped me to understand how they would interact with one another. For example, Audrey craves love, and in high school while she is dating Carson, he puts off coming out to her and breaking up with her because he is conflict-avoidant. He waits until he has a valid excuse, that they won’t be living in the same town anymore, to part ways. This is so typical of a 9. But because she doesn’t understand that this is just Carson’s type doing what it does, Audrey takes it as a personal rejection, and as a 2, it hits home with her.

I highly recommend this exercise for anyone working on developing their main characters for a work in progress.  It takes the guesswork out of figuring out what it is that makes your characters tick, and puts you on the fast-track to knowing them on a deep level.  And, it also helps you understand yourself.  Plus, it’s fun! (Ah, there she goes again.)

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