On Sunday, Jilly talked about the class we’re taking, Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Emotional Conflict, with award-winning author Linnea Sinclair.*
One of the things that makes me such a slow writer is because it generally takes me 100 or more painfully typed pages to know my characters well enough to understand what they’ll do in any given situation. Up to that point (and sometimes, as with my current WIP, even longer) I head off in wrong directions and follow blind alleys and generally wander in the wilderness while I get to know them.
It’s not an efficient process.
Now Ms. Sinclair has given me a tool to (I really hope) shortcut that painful process–the Enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram). According to the Integrative 9 website, the Enneagram is an archetypal framework that offers in-depth insight to individuals, groups and collectives. Put more simply, it’s a psychological test that categorizes people into 9 different groups based on personality/character factors.
The nine groups are:
- Strict perfectionist
- Considerate helper
- Competitive Achiever
- Intense Creative
- Quiet Specialist
- Loyal Skeptic
- Enthusiastic Visionary
- Active Controller
- Adaptive Peacemaker
If you’re interested to know where you’d fall, you can take the test here. You can share your results in the comments, if you’d like.
What Ms. Sinclair had us do was to take the test as if we were our main character. My protagonist, Megan, is a best-selling author, so after reading through the Enneagram type descriptions, I decided she was probably a 4 (“I must be unique/different to survive.”). But when I took the test, she came out as an 8 (“I must be strong and in control to survive.”) with strong hints of 1 (“I must be orderly/planned to survive.”)
Um, I’m pretty sure that’s not Megan. I’m pretty sure that’s me.
After numerous retakes, Megan slowly turned into a 3 (“I must be impressive and attractive to survive.”) with shades of 8 (because, underneath, all my characters are me. Sigh.) and 1 and then 4.
Why bother going through this over and over? Because I want my characters to be consistent. And by knowing what answers on that test add up to what characterizations, I’m in a much better position to make them act consistently.
I plan to take the test as each of the major characters in the book. Here is where I think they’ll come out:
- James, Megan’s lawyer and ex-boyfriend is a 3 (Competitive Achiever) with some 6 (Loyal skeptic–security focused) mixed in.
- Lilith, the she-demon who signed Megan to the contract with Satan is a combo of 3, (Competitive Achiever) and 7 (Enthusiastic Visionary, known for being adventurous).
- Samael, Lilith’s ex-husband and the head of Hell’s legal department, is also a 3 (Competitive Achiever) blended with 8 (Active Controller).
- Karriel, aka Karrie, Megan’s guardian angel is a combination 9 (Adaptive Peacemaker) and 2 (Considerate Helper). You don’t get much more angelic than that.
- Gibeon, aka Gib, James’s guardian angel, is also a 2 (Considerate Helper), but his is mixed with 1 (Strict Perfectionist). He’ll help you–but only after he judges you worthy.
For the two main characters, I will weave in backstory to explain why they are the way they are.
I’m pretty psyched about my new tools.
How do you build your characterizations?
*If you’d like to take a class with Ms. Sinclair, my RWA chapter, COFW, is offering Pitches, Blurbs and Taglines, Oh My! in June. For more info or to sign up, go to http://www.cofwevents.org/classes
I had a friend who was big into enneagrams for a while, so she dragged me along. The thing that surprised us both was that when I took it for myself, I came up with multiple aspects (all of them, maybe? I’m not sure now) being equal. And then she did it as me, and got the same result. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way, according to the teacher. So…I’m not sure what that says about me. I was a little unnerved, to tell you the truth.
However, any tool that helps with characterizations is good. I feel like I know my characters pretty well when I begin a story; it’s the conflict that gets me down. But whenever I wonder if I’ve gone off the rails with characterizations and how my characters would behave with each other, I check in with a book I’ve found valuable: “Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes” by Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders. It describes its archetypes (eight for men and eight for women) using examples based on common movies and books, and then shows how each would react with each other archetype. So for example, how the “bad boy” (James Dean) or the “swashbuckler” (Errol Flynn, or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones) would pair up with the “free spirit” (Lucille Ball or Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe in Friends) or the “crusader” (Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich). And what if someone is part “warrior” and part “lost soul,” or part “librarian” and part “boss”? It’s been a handy guide for me, but anything that works, is my motto. 🙂
I found one of those archetype books (don’t think it was the same one) to be really helpful. It cracked me up to realize that Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ heroines are almost always “the spunky kid.”
Tools for writing are like tools for carpentry or plumbing–you need them, but even more you need to know how to use them effectively.
It might have been the same book. This one also has a “spunky kid.” Which just the name cracks me up.
Same here. SEP writes a great spunky kid, but my heroines lean a little more mature than that.
A friend’s husband was into the Enneagram, and did a teacher’s workshop on how it works and how it can apply to students’ behavior.
To be frank, I found it to be a lot like the zodiac. You can find loopholes to justify anything your character is. Like if your character is a Virgo perfectionist, but you find they have a dreamy Aquarius moon (or whatever — I don’t know astrology super-well), you can let them be a bit zany. In the same way, the guy was justifying people’s “but I’m not like that, I’m like this” insights . . . it was the opposite, or it was the next number over, or I think there were even relationships in thirds — three over was a magic number.
Kind of a lousy idea when working with kids, because you can easily reinforce your story that “The kid is a 3” and excuse evidence to the contrary as being “oh, that’s just an influencing”. But I don’t think there are dangers like that in a character, per se. I mean, it’s your character. The main job the Enneagram has to do is help you realize what the character would do. It’s building a character . . . like a thesaurus, it offers you some other options to consider, and those options can help you choose faster, I think.
The websites target corporations with the idea, I think, being to maximize team performance by helping people understand how other people think. In addition to the 9 groups, there are 27 subgroups that account for spillover between groups (though not to the extent Kay evidently manifests!).
Like you, I take it with a grain of salt for use on actual human beings, but I’m hoping it will be a helpful addition to my writer toolbox.
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