Characters drive our stories. They’re the reason we pick a book up and continue to turn the pages. But what makes characters relatable? What makes them so real to us that when we close the book, we think of them as long-lost friends, wondering where they are and what they’ve been up to?
A well-written character has the power to make us cry, to make us laugh. We feel anger when they get hurt, we cheer them on in their accomplishments, and sometimes we even hold our breath as we hope they’re not successful in their evil endeavors. They bring about visceral reactions that make them as real to us as the person sitting across the table in a coffee shop.
So how are powerful characters created?
We first need to figure out who they are at their core, and identifying their personality type is a great way to accomplish this. I personally prefer using the Enneagram system as it informs us as to what drives a person (or character) at their core and reveals what they’re willing to do to meet their physical, emotional, and psychological needs.
The Enneagram system is a tool that can be used to uncover how characters interpret their world and determine how they may react in any given situation. This is important information for a writer to have as their story develops because a character that is not psychologically consistent will not be relatable or believable. Readers will pick up on inconsistencies in personalities, even if they can’t specifically identify what the problem is.
What is the Enneagram?
“[The Enneagram is] an ancient body of wisdom that identifies nine core personality types and how each sees and interacts with the world.” — The Road Back to You, Discover Your Enneagram
So basically, the Enneagram is a valuable tool that helps us to know how our character will see and interact with the world around them. We can also identify attributes that are consistent with the personality type and incorporate them into the character’s personality, reactions, and interactions in our story, presenting them as complete, three-dimensional characters.
We determine Enneagram type in a couple of ways. One is by putting our character through the Enneagram Inventory on a site such as TypologyPodcast.com or by using the tests provided in books such as “Understanding the Enneagram” by Don Richard Riso & Russ Hudson and “Discovering Your Personality Type” also by Don Richard Riso & Russ Hudson. Another is to study the descriptions of each type in the books mentioned above or on www.EnneagramInstitute.com and decide which one more accurately represents the character we’ve developed. (I’ve found that after taking the test a few times myself and studying each of the types in depth, I now have a good enough understanding to simply use a character interview and what I know about my character to determine their type.)
PRO TIP: Take the Enneagram Inventory yourself to gain a better understanding of the system. Once you’ve studied the types, look at the people around you and see if you can figure out where they fit!
Join me next week as I explore a case study of Jordan from Providence, showing how a character’s personality is created and tested for psychological continuity.