• Alyssa Rogan

How I'm Using the Enneagram to Write my Protagonist


For those unfamiliar with the Enneagram, it helps people understand how they see the world and how they see themselves. Unique to other personality tests, the Enneagram focuses on personal motivations, desires, and fears. The bit I know about it has helped me deepen characters to their core.

I first came across the Enneagram a few years ago as I was flipping through K.M. Weiland's Outlining Your Novel. On one page, Weiland had detailed all nine Enneagram types, complete with a chart of every type's ideal, fear, desire, and vice. I went through with a pen and circled which personalities I thought most matched my characters. While it was a fun exercise at the time, I didn't really delve into studying the Enneagram while I was drafting my first book.

picture from Google.com

A few years later, I noticed my dad pick up on this trendy personality study, so I flipped through his copy of The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabi. Since then, I've revisited the Enneagram here and there as it's come up in conversation, but never with any intent of using it in my writing (the Instagram account @enneagramandcoffee has also been an entertaining use of time and a means for inspiration). It's simply been a way to help me understand those around me. (The official test typed me as a One, in case you're curious. My family thinks I'm an Eight; my best friend thinks I'm a Four; I think I'm a Five).

In recent weeks, however, I've been scrolling through Enneagram personality types online--particularly Type Four, the Individualist. It was almost freaky to realize that the character I'd been crafting for two years fit the Four's traits to a T. Have I perhaps been using the Enneagram all along to help me write the protagonist of my WIP2 (Work in Progress #2)? Or do I have such an innate understanding of people, their desires, their fears, their dreams, that I knew exactly the ways my character would succeed and struggle? While I'd like to think so, I'm not sure I can give myself that much credit. We'll just say it's a little bit of both.

Anyway, let's look at Type Four, shall we? Take out your pens and a fresh sheet of paper, please. Here's what we know about Fours:

1) They have a need to be different and set apart. If they aren't, they get mad. They need to be original and unique in everything they do.

2) They're deeply creative and expressive. A lot of their inspiration is drawn from negative emotions, because negative emotions are what produce the most compelling art. As a result, they cling to feelings of sadness, fear, guilt. etc.

3) They always feel as if there is something wrong with them--that they are different from everyone else because even their flaws are unique to them only. This often leads to self-absorption, as they find themselves on a constant quest for self-discovery; something always feels like it's missing.

4) They perceive that others are "normal" and don't quite have the same depth as they, themselves have.

Now, these are just the basics that I pulled from the website. There is much, much more, and a whole lot to unpack, such as what the wings mean. We'll keep it simple today, though.

Now let me tell you how my WIP2 protagonist, Darlene Rhodes, fits this personality type.

1) Seventeen-year-old Darlene is a musician and a lover of old bands like Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles, AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and so on. You get the point. She has wall-to-wall records in her room, and rows and rows of Polaroid pictures. Her cousin, the narrator (Dakota Rivers), notes that she dresses every day like she's going to Woodstock. In conclusion, Darlene loves the 1960s/1970s aesthetic and even absorbs some of that culture, setting her apart from her yoga-loving, child-rearing, church-going, sweet-tea-drinking sisters.

2) As described, Darlene sees herself as unbelievably different from her family. Set in a fictional town in Texas, everyone in Darlene's family follows the same pattern of life: go to college, start working at the college after graduation, marry someone from that college, have lots of kids, etcetera. Darlene, however, wants to forge her own path. The problem with that? Her parents will only pay for college if she goes to the same college as everyone in the family. Otherwise, she's on her own.

3) Darlene jumps headfirst into her own lifestyle anyway by running away to Nashville and dragging Dakota with her--therefore starting her journey of self-discovery and leaving her sleepy Texas hometown behind. Dakota is very critical of his cousin, calling bull crap on her wishy-washy, hippy-dippy lifestyle. He doesn't buy into it at all and thinks it's a cry for attention.

4) He's also bothered by the fact that Darlene romanticizes his life experiences. Unlike Darlene, Dakota's life has suffered from a high degree of unpredictability: he doesn't know his dad; his mom's a drug addict; he moved four times in the course of five years; and he struggled with his weight for a time. All this instability is what drove him back to his hometown after high school graduation in the first place. Regardless, Darlene envies him for the places he's seen, the people he's met, and the stories he's told. Dakota, on the other hand, longs for the ordinary.

As we can see, there's some faulty thinking behind the Type Four. It's obvious that an unhealthy Four can be a dangerous Four--one that is decidedly discontent, selfish, ungrateful, and inauthentic. Of course this begs the question: what does a healthy Four look like? Where does Darlene need to be by the end of the book to fulfill her character arc?

Here's the short answer: she needs to stop believing she's radically different than others. Is she the same as everyone else? No, of course not. But her oddities, interests, personality, and talents are no more unique than anyone else's. The long answer is TBD; I need to process and ponder this on a deeper level.

The other question is, how do I transform her into a healthy Four in terms of plot and storytelling? I don't know yet. At the time of writing this, I'm only half-way through--but when the time comes for her heart-change, Darlene will lead me in her leather cowboy boots right where she needs to be.

#enneagram #typefour #individualist #texas #personality #workinprogress

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