Using the Enneagram for Story Development

Lyons Fin 018In the first class of my interview series with Enneagram and story development expert Jeff Lyons (recordings no longer available), we talked about “The Secrets of the Enneagram Most Writers Are Overlooking.” We had a mix of participants on the line, it seemed to be about 50-50 on who had prior experience or knowledge of the Enneagram and who did not, and Jeff did a great job of making the material accessible to everyone. Today’s post is a recap of what we learned.

Jeff talked about how powerful the Enneagram can be for writers because of its archetypal patterning of human drives and behaviors that transcend cultural boundaries.

He walked us through a quick overview of each of the nine Enneagram types, or styles, as he calls them. He describes the styles as being nine basic strategies for living, including showing us how we behave when we feel successful, weak, vulnerable, and strong. His descriptions of the types quickly demonstrated how powerfully the Enneagram types can be used for character development and why so many writers have used the Enneagram that way for so long. He also described several ways writers can use the Enneagram beyond simple character development, which I’ll give you the highlights of in a moment.

The Nine Core Enneagram Styles

To start, though, let’s take a look at the nine core Enneagram styles:

  • The One is the “do the right thing” person who derives their sense of safety, security, and love in the world by following the rules and doing things perfectly.
  • The Two is the “to be loved” style, sometimes called “the caretaker”. Twos look for the person with the most power in their environment and make themselves indispensable to that person in order to feel loved. They manipulate in order to get the love they want. Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction is an example of an extremely unhealthy or “disintegrated” Two.
  • The Three is the “performer or achiever” and focuses on getting EVERYONE’s approval (not just one person in power, like the Two). Jeff described the Three as a “therapist’s nightmare”, because they tend to perform emotion rather than feel it (though they do have and feel emotions deeper down).
  • The Four is the “to be special” style. This type has a negative side, feeling that something is missing. They can be melancholy, depressed, and always looking for someone to help them solve the problem of “what’s missing”. They “long to long” and are often overly self-oriented.
  • The Five is the “thinker” type who controls their environment by controlling information. They don’t like intense emotions and control the people around them by controlling (sometimes withholding) information. Keanu Reeve’s character “Neo” in The Matrix is a great example of a Five who controls his world through data, at the beginning of the story in particular.
  • The Six is the “safety-security” style. Sixes always have a plan, they know where the pot holes and the landmines are. They tend to have a problem with trust, but if you win their loyalty, they’ll be a friend forever. If their lives are working, they tend to be happy, but they will also dismantle their entire lives in order to have a problem to solve. There are also “counter-phobic” sixes who tend to strike first if they think you might be a threat to them.
  • The Seven is the “to have fun” style. “Why have one friend when you can have 100 friends?”, as Jeff said. Sevens are great at having fun and enjoying life, but they also have a tendency to be addictive types and their fast-paced, highly-active lifestyles are designed to help them avoid their inner pain.
  • The Eight is the “self-reliant / leader” style. They control people by making the rules. They are the most projected on than any other Enneagram type, because they have such a strong presence that can feel confronting. They can be very protective of the downtrodden and provide leadership or can become dictators at an extreme. They avoid relying on other people.
  • The Nine is the “peacemaker”, the one who finds safety by finding common ground. Nines make sure that everyone is heard except themselves — they are self-abandoning. They don’t get in trouble, but they are also not seen.

Character Development & Beyond

Here are some story development applications Jeff described for the Enneagram:

  • Determining your characters’ core personality types — this has been done by writers for years.
  • Determining your protagonist’s growth arc — Each of the nine types has a specific drive toward “disintegration” and a higher place within them for “integration”. Studying those paths of disintegration and integration can help writers get clearer about their characters’ growth arcs in their stories. This has also been done for years by writers.
  • Choosing the best protagonist for your story, depending on the moral problem you want your character to solve in the story and the type of story you are telling. For example, love stories are often Two-driven stories, and pure sci-fi stories are often Five-driven stories.
  • Selecting the best opponent for your protagonist, based on your protagonist’s Enneagram type and growth arc, so they are designed for maximum conflict that will provoke the protagonist’s growth.
  • Choosing the best allies for your protagonist, so your characters interplay with each other for best effect.
  • Designing and structuring your story to naturally take your protagonist through exactly the right crucible that forces them to move from their moral problem into their point of integration, or revelation, by the end of the story.
  • Understanding the types of stories we will be innately drawn to tell, based on our own Enneagram styles, which can make us more conscious writers.

All of these help us “pre-structure” our stories BEFORE we go into story beat development, which is what so many of us are familiar with already and tend to think of as story structure (like Blake Synder’s Save The Cat method, for instance).

Next week, in the second class of our series, Jeff will be talking to us about:

  1. Premise line development and its critical importance in story development.
  2. Story structure components.
  3. How to tell the difference between whether or not you have a story or a situation.

Your turn

Are you familiar with the Enneagram? What has it helped you shift or change in your own life? If you’re a writer, do you use it in your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

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Graphic courtesy of http://www.fitzel.ca/enneagram/graphics.html

Comments

  1. Steve says:

    I enjoyed the TeleClass and I look forward to the remaining sessions. I live in the Philly area, so I might considering taking a train up to the Big Apple when Jeff gives his workshop there.

    When I first read about the Enneagram, it seemed to me that it would be a great way to construct characters, because unlike many other personality typing systems, it includes a character arc. But other than reading a few books and websites, I haven’t done much to put it into practice.

    Are you familiar with Tom Condon’s book, *The Enneagram Movie & Video Guide*? He uses examples from hundreds of movies to explain the Enneagram. This book will appeal to screenwriters and storytellers in all mediums.

    I’m a Five, by the way.

    • Jenna says:

      Steve, great! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the class and I’m sure Jeff will be happy to see you in NYC. I agree, there’s so much that can be done with the Enneagram, it’s exciting! I’m not familiar with the book you mentioned but I’ll check it out. Thanks!

  2. Lee says:

    After listening to the first session and reading some of the resources, I am inspired by the real and rich content of this series … enough so that I am getting ready to pick up a previously abandoned writing project again (my monomyth) … thank you. I have not studied the Enneagram yet and only know the very basics of basic theory … so if you can speak to this at some point … how the ‘wings’ effect and can be viewed as a part of premise and character development. Until next Tuesday …

    • Jenna says:

      Lee, what great news!! We love to hear about writers being re-inspired to write! That’s a true success. Thank you for sharing it with us. :)

      I’ll be sure and put your question into the list for the call next week.

  3. Hi–

    I registered for the course, but missed the first session. I can’t find a link to the recording. Can you help me out so I can catch up?

    Teresa

    • Jenna says:

      Hi Teresa, Did you get the automated message with the phone number for the class? I added in the recording link there last night, so you should have access to it from that message. I’ll try to send it to you again too!

  4. After publishing 14 non-fiction books, I am in the proof phase of my first novelette. I love your enneagram! I’d like to print a large version of it as a pdf file to post by my desk for inspiration, if it is possible to get a print-friendly version that would not become too pixelated when enlarged.

  5. any chance of getting a pdf file of that enneagram image? I’d like to post it on my writing wall for inspiration.

  6. Lee says:

    Hi Jenna,
    Great summary … thank you! I’m so sorry I won’t be able to join live this Tuesday … the course has been great … you and Jeff are a powerful team both in content and delivery. I plan to join your Writers’ Circle sometime next year … once I decide what and how I’ll be writing. And I’ll certainly be listening to the recorded missed session. Cheers,

    • Jenna says:

      Lee, so glad you’ve been enjoying the series! I’ll look forward to having you join the Circle when it’s the right and perfect time for you. :)

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