In the past, I’ve used MBTI and the seven deadly sins to help develop my characters, but after discovering how well the enneagram aligns with character-building, I’ve used this system primarily.
- Why the Enneagram Is So Useful for Writers
- The Nine Motivations & Fears
- Enneagram Personalities under Stress
- Enneagram Personalities at Their Best
- Enneagram Stereotypes
- Enneagram Dichotomies
- Enneagram Printable for Planning Casts
- Enneagram Basics <—————- Start here if you are unfamiliar with enneagram
Why the Enneagram Is So Useful for Writers
All three of these aspects are modeled for us by the enneagram system.
Characters become relatable when we know their motivation or fear. Knowing this about a character helps us understand them on a primal level.
Each of the nine enneagram types has a primary motivation or fear, a certain way they react when under stress, and aspects that shine when they are feeling their best.
The following summaries are my own, based on my understanding of the enneagram system from what I’ve read. I am not an “Enneagram coach.” I’m just a Five using my personal observations and reasoning. The Enneagram Institute is the best and most comprehensive source online.
The Nine Motivations & Fears in Enneagram
Ones are motivated by fairness, perfection, and upholding their beliefs. They fear judgment, chaos, and corruption. A religious One is motivated by holiness and fears being associated with evil.
Twos are motivated by feeling loved, desired, helpful, or wanted. They fear abandonment, rejection, and feeling worthless.
Threes are motivated by achievements and admiration. They fear anonymity, being forgotten, or being under-appreciated.
Fours are motivated by expression and originality. They fear blending in, being insignificant or unremarkable.
Fives are motivated by curiosity, understanding and self-sufficiency. They fear incompetence, reliance on others, and others relying on them.
Sixes are motivated by security, guidance, support, and (re)assurance. They fear uncertainty, emergency, and feeling lost without resources.
Sevens are motivated by freedom, possibility, comfort, stimulation, novelty, and distraction. They fear missing out, but mostly they fear the external pain they are trying to avoid and the internal pain they are trying to distract themselves from.
Eights are motivated by empowerment and control over their own life and destiny. They fear being controlled, being hurt or vulnerable (physically, but emotionally even more so), or appearing weak.
Nines are motivated by unity, wholeness, peace, and equality. They fear imbalance, separation, conflict, and partiality.
Enneagram Personalities under Stress
Ones start to get moody or irrational like an unhealthy Four. They crave support in their mission, but they mostly need their mission to be acknowledged as valuable or honorable.
Twos can become aggressive like unhealthy Eights, becoming possessive or domineering in their relationships. They need to learn to love themselves and find healing from past relationships.
Threes disengage and become apathetic like unhealthy Nines. They need to be appreciated and valued for what they do and who they are.
Fours like to be rescued and might need to be coddled like unhealthy Twos. Once their physical needs are met, they also need to hear that they are relevant and that the world needs their unique viewpoint.
Fives become frenetic and scattered like unhealthy Sevens. They might not leave their office, shower, or eat for days. They need to be reminded of their priorities and ideals so they take a break and return to society.
Sixes try to overcompensate their fear or feelings of inadequacy by acting arrogant or competitive like unhealthy Threes. They need to be assured that they can trust themselves no matter what happens. They also need a healthy way to channel their preparedness, like by leading a team through a plan of action.
Sevens become critical and impossible to please like unhealthy Ones as a way to excuse their inability to commit to a relationship, pursuit, or idea. They need time for and guidance through introspection so they can dwell in appreciation and seek forgiveness both internally and externally.
Eights withdraw or run away like unhealthy Fives to avoid emotional pain or avoid hurting others. They need opportunities to protect, provide, and empower others.
Nines become anxious and lose faith like unhealthy Sixes. They need to find internal harmony so that they can harmonize their environment and accept occasional disharmony outside their power to mend.
Enneagram Personalities at Their Best
Ones relax and allow spontaneity like healthy Sevens.
Twos become self-aware like healthy Fours, investing in self-care and finding unconditional love.
Threes are dependable and loyal to their team like healthy Sixes.
Fours use their expression or talents for the greater good, like healthy Ones.
Fives advocate for others like healthy Eights. They might share their special interests with another person or teach to a larger community.
Sixes let go of their fear and become hopeful like healthy Nines.
Sevens focus their interest and become invested like healthy Fives.
Eights show compassion for others like healthy Twos.
Nines make decisions and get things done like healthy Threes.
Stereotypes of each type tend to come from characteristics exhibited at unhealthy levels. Secondary and tertiary fictional characters can show some of these stereotypes, but make sure your main characters have more nuance and complexity and growth.
*** REMEMBER: STEREOTYPES ARE UNHEALTHY AND UNFAIR. ***
Stereotypes of Ones: Critical and close-minded perfectionists who judge others. Religious bigots
Stereotypes of Twos: Codependent and jealous or sacrificial martyrs because their worth is derived from others’ reliance on them.
Stereotypes of Threes: Narcissistic, exploitative attention-seekers who will throw others under the bus for a promotion or for more Likes (on social media) .
Stereotypes of Fours: Self-pitying, melancholic artists who have to suffer to create good art in a world that will never appreciate them for who they are.
Stereotypes of Fives: Absent-minded professors. Eccentric recluses who neglect friends and family to obsess over their special interest. Incapable of love.
Stereotypes of Sixes: Paranoid and fearful of their environment, indecisive because nothing is certain, suspicious and skeptical of every person and idea. Loyal to the group until they snap with an “Every man for himself!” survival strategy.
Stereotypes of Sevens: Hyperactive. Will never be satisfied, but not sure if that’s because nothing is exciting enough or because of a self-destructive fear of commitment. Shallow because intimacy or authenticity might reveal the inadequacies or darkness deep inside them.
Stereotypes of Eights: Bullies who reject or overpower others because they are afraid of others rejecting or overpowering them. Couldn’t ever love someone truly because love means vulnerability.
Stereotypes of Nines: Doormats who can’t make a decision or assert themselves to save their lives.
*** These stereotypes may be the lies characters believe about themselves. ***
This is the mnemonic I created to help me remember the growth patterns of each type. Each labels healthy and unhealthy versions of each type.
Yes, they are oversimplifications. Some words have unfortunate connotations (another reason why the enneagram types are numbered rather than named), but I chose them for the alliteration. For example, if you consider yourself a “crusader,” it’s usually in the positive sense, though the word could also be applied negatively. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments!
Ones: Crusader or Critic?
Twos: Patient or Possessive? Caring or Clingy?
Threes: Ambitious or arrogant? Coach or cheater?
Fours: Expressive or Empty? Writer or Wallower? Artist or Ashamed?
Fives: Observational or Obsessed?
Sixes: Prepared or Paranoid?
Sevens: Adventurer or Avoider?
Eights: Strong or Sociopath? Diva or Dictator?
Nines: Peacemaker or Passive?
Enneagram Printable for Planning Casts
This printable allows you to plan out your fictional cast so your characters are distinct from one another.
Fun fact: Best friends are often adjacent types!
Print as many copies as you want, but please do not repost the PDF. Instead, direct others to this page.
You can also follow the new Instagram account @EnneagramFic for occasional typing of fictional characters.
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The nine personality types are based on nine categories of internal motivations (and consequently, fears and desires). They are numbered, but there is no hierarchy or one type better than another, which is why they are arranged in a circle.
Each type includes a continuum of characteristics from the most unhealthy (or pathological) to the most healthy (or liberated). Actual humans tend to exhibit average or healthy levels of their type as well as other types.
Stereotypes of each type (commonly seen in memes) tend to come from aspects exhibited in the unhealthy levels of each.
Each type also has a “wing,” an adjacent type they share similarities with.
When stressed, each personality can take on negative aspects of another type. This is called “the direction of disintegration.” At their best, each personality can take on positive aspects of another type. This is called “the direction of integration.” Both directions are shown by the connective lines inside the enneagram circle.
Humans tend to show aspects of every type! If typing yourself or another person or character, it might be more useful to consider which type they resemble when stressed out and which type they resemble when at their best. Their default type is the number connected to both of those through the middle of the circle.
So if you combine the default type with the wing and the disintegration and integration directions, you’ll find that one person can resemble 4-5 types or more. If that sounds messy, that’s because it is. We’re only human.
I relate to 1 because I’m a perfectionist and to 6 because I frequently consider worst-case scenarios, but I also relate to 4, 5, 7, and 8. At my worst, I become scatterbrained and even hyperactive, like an unhealthy 7. At my best, I am an advocate and encourager, like a healthy 8. Both 7 and 8 point to 5.
I don’t relate to the stereotypes of 5s—physical and emotional shut-ins who desperately avoid any type of social interaction—but I do relate more to an average/healthy 5 than any other type. Of the two possible wings, I’m a 4. I share aspects of other types because I’m human.
For more about the official Enneagram system, I recommend reading “How the Enneagram System Works” at The Enneagram Institute.
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