Is your character feeling flat? Are you stumped on how they should act or change throughout the story? Try this fun and unique method and bring your fictional person to life!
Character development is the most important thing in any story. If the characters don’t feel real, then nothing else will either. Characters have to have history, personality, physical attributes, preferences and pet peeves, desires and fears. The most important characters also need to be dynamic— they have to grow and change over the course of their adventure. They have to fail, they have to learn, and they need a reason to care.
As a true pantser, I most often tend to get to know my characters in stages.
There’s the daydreaming that starts it all, when I first begin to imagine my storyline and the emotions and conflicts that would drive it. These turmoils, goals, and stakes begin to condense into the people that will wield them. As I draft, I start getting to know these people better: their histories, their relationships, their knee-jerk reactions to fear and thrill and love. I find their voices.
I recently learned of a simple– and actually pretty fun– way to speed up and deepen this process… and maybe reduce the number of redrafts I have to accomplish to make my characters consistent.
The Enneagram is a highly specific personality test. What makes it unique is that it doesn’t focus on behaviors; it focusses on the core motivators of fear and desire. It seeks to define what a person’s primary needs are, which– through all of our growth and changes as life goes on– remain always.
The benefit of coming at personality like this is that these results inform us very acutely of how different people respond to the same stimuli or situations. The personality type allows for a dynamic character arc while also helping me as an author keep that character consistent and believable.
Another cool thing about the Enneagram? The Enneagram Institute doesn’t just provide the main description of each personality type, but also descriptions of how the type may vary at different levels of mental health, how the type may change behaviors under stress, and even how the different types may be predicted to interact with one another!
The leaders of the class I attended, authors Nana Malone and Karla Sorenson, advocated using the Enneagram personality types as a way to plot and plan the characters from the outset–at least the main characters. They illustrated how an author can very quickly generate a storyline with tension by plugging two types into a basic setting and plot proposition.
They also suggested, for us pantser types, taking the personality test as though I am the character I’ve already begun developing. Those results can be very helpful in keeping my character’s reactions and motivations consistent, while also helping me to write in believable growth.
And Since I’m a Pantser…
Obviously, I started with the fun bit and tested myself first (I’m an Eight, The Challenger, with a “Seven Wing.” The wing is the strongest adjacent type, which adds even more detail to the results). It was actually really fun to look into. When you take the tetst, make sure to answer according to what’s been most consistent through your life– not just how you feel in your current situation.
Then I just kept writing for awhile.
Eventually, I came to that point where I realized my characters kept morphing and I could save myself all those extra drafts by honing in a bit on what was most important, then branching out again from there. I decided to do the Enneagram from the point of view of Mariah, the protagonist of Crossed Lines, my current novel-in-progress. It was kind of tricky (and trippy) to put myself so far inside her head.
Turns out she’s a Six. She’s driven by a need for security (I totally knew that already; she a foster graduate with some trauma under her belt) and she doesn’t always trust herself and her perceptions. She can be anxious, and while she doesn’t make friends very easily, the friendships she does have are deep and irreplaceable.
The personality test did a pretty cool thing. It pretty much summed her up in words for me, at the most basic and instinctive level. It didn’t give me new news, but it did help me pick apart the most critical aspects of how and why Mariah makes her decisions… and that, my friend, is THE key element of a character-driven novel.
So where do I Take the Enneagram?
The great thing about Truity is not only that the test is free, but if you create an account, you can save multiple tests under the same profile. After login, I can go to a list of all the tests I’ve taken, ordered by date. I can click any of them to view the results at any time.
The downside to Truity is that most of the character analysis is at cost, but that’s why we just take our number with us and schlep on over to The Enneagram Institute. On the top menu, under Learn, select Type Descriptions or Relationships or whatever you need to know about!
What has been your most effective tactic in character building? Where is your greatest struggle? Let’s talk– drop a comment below!
The Enneagram for Authors class was presented by Nana Malone and Karla Sorenson as part of Inkers Mini Con, organized by Alessandra Torre.
You may also like: