Using Enneagrams for Character Development

Have you ever felt a little stuck when trying to round out your character, or in trying to make them more relatable? What resources have you used to find out more about your own personality traits? If you’ve taken tests such as the Myers Briggs, or the Enneagram test, you may know why they could also be useful tools for developing characters. These personality tests break different traits into specific categories, providing insight into personality types by addressing the idea of what drives behavior.

First off, what is the Enneagram? The Enneagram is a model that represents nine personality types, as according the the Enneagram Institute it consists of: The Reformer, The Helper, The Achiever, The Individualist, The Investigator, The Loyalist, The Enthusiast, the Challenger, and The Peacemaker. Although one or two of the types are typically dominant, the numbers on either side of each personality type (called wings) can also be important contributors to each personality type.  Also, each personality type has a coinciding number on the model for types that show up during growth and stress, or healthy and unhealthy states. For example, I am generally a 4 with a 5 wing, but in times of growth I have the potential to become a 1, and in times of stress I may align with a 2.

As we know, our personalities can change when faced with different circumstances in life, including our mental and physical health, or our our environments. Personal growth or regression can greatly influence the traits we exhibit and how we handle different situations. So, at any point, an Enneagram number can change if the state of the person has changed. This information can also be useful when building your character and determining who they are and what drives them. It also lets you examine a character at different states in their life throughout the novel, especially when they are experiencing triumph or agony and hardship.  Also, think along the lines of transformation stories where characters change entirely throughout book. A perfect example of this is The Secret Garden. Mary starts off as a narcissistic brat that relies on everyone around her, an by the end she transforms into a caring person that finds value in connection. In this case, she may have started out as a 4, and by the end of the story she may have transformed into a 2, because of the change in her environment and other internal factors.

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Enneagrams can reveal a lot on their own, but you can also pair them with other tests such as the Meyers Briggs. The Meyers Briggs is also a personality test, and it breaks personalities into four categories with two sub-categories within each section. It provides insight into how people interact with the world, take in information, make decisions, and what their organizational tendencies are. Personally, I prefer the Enneagram out of the two, but they can both be useful tools, and might provide even deeper insight to a more complete picture when considered together.

Even if you don’t like the results of the Enneagram test, or disagree with certain aspects of a particular type, the questions themselves bring up some good points of thought. You could even focus on specific questions and think about how those ideas apply to your character. Or, maybe think about a scenario in which your character would be required to contemplate one of these questions.

If you’re still not convinced, here are some of the things that you might be able to find out about your character (or yourself):

Do they avoid or enjoy conflict? Is your character a follower or leader? Do they let their emotions play into decision making? What plays a part in their decision making in general? Be it approval, emotion, outcome of enjoyment, etc. Does your character like helping people, and do they possibly over exert themselves or give too much when providing aid? Are they a detail oriented perfectionist? What does ambition mean to them and how important is it? Are they more prone to procrastination or urgency? How important is it for them to feel included or accepted? Are they greatly influenced by insecurities and self acceptance? How do they deal with fear? What is their temperament? Are they calm or angry, and do they have to force themselves to reign in their ferocity, or is their rage undetectable? Do they trust in themselves, or do they usually second guess things because they’re an over thinker? Does your character make rash decisions? Do they trust others or are they cautious?

These different tests and tools could provide a missing link, or fix the flatness of a character. We can all think of what we want our characters to do, how they’ll react, what choices they’ll make, but you can’t build a perfect person. Well, you can. But let’s be honest, that’s not very interesting. Characters, like people, are going to be flawed, they’re going to be emotional, and sometimes they’re going to be unpredictable. This is what makes characters interesting and gives them depth. So next time you want to make your character a bit more human, maybe complete a personality test for them and see what it can reveal.

There are many books and websites dedicated to Enneagrams if you would like to explore this concept further. 

Take the test for yourself, or take it for your character!  This is the official website of the Enneagram. Tests on this site cost $12 (I have not taken the paid version, so I don’t know if there’s a difference). But this this site is a great resource for exploring the nine personality types.  This site hosts one of the free Enneagram tests,  and also good for breaking down different types. It has a little bit more of a holistic, spiritual approach, and goes beyond the Enneagram.


Let me know anything you found interesting about your results! Or tell me about the different ways you build your characters personalities. 

Happy Writing!







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