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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Enneagram (Part 1 - Intro)


In a previous post or two, I mentioned the Enneagram. It is a tool that I've begun to use for character development, after coming across it about a year ago. I've read a lot about it, and continue to read more. And I wrote about using it as a tool for character development in an article in the current issue of scr(i)pt magazine (May/June 2005 issue, with Batman Begins on the cover).

The more I read about it, the more I become convinced that the Enneagram is a truly powerful tool for building realistic and well-rounded characters, and so I thought I'd tell you all a bit about the system. I foresee this being an ongoing piece (as I'm considering eventually building much of this into a book on the subject), and so this will just be "Part 1" -- some basics.

There are many different personality typing systems out there. Astrology is probably the best known system, and works based on the alignment of stars and planets when a person is born. I like to point out that for a writer, it doesn't matter if you believe in the science of astrology -- you can still use it to build well-defined characters. Whether the various character traits actually stem from the position of heavenly bodies when a person is born, clearly somewhere along the line, people recognized that certain character traits frequently manifested together in certain people. Thus, whether a character is actually born under a specific sign or not, we can still think of a character we're writing as a Taurus, Cancer, Scorpio, or whatever. This will give us a host of character traits to consider, traits that frequently coincide in the same person's personality.

A more psychologically-based system is Myers-Briggs, based largely on the work of Carl Jung, building on his system of archetypes. In Myers-Briggs, people are evaluated in terms of four different dichotomies: how they relate to other people, how they learn, how they decide things, and how they interact with the world. For each of these four fields, a person is seen as embodying one of the two polarities. Respective to the four categories, everyone is seen as either Extraverted (E) or Introverted (I), Sensing (S) or iNtuitive (N), Thinking (T) or Feeling (F), and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). Thus, there are 16 basic personality types in this system, marking every possible permutation embodying one each of the four dichotomies (for example, ENTP, ISFJ, or ESFP).

But where Myers-Briggs offers a wide range of possibilities based on our psychological make-ups, the Enneagram explores the underlying motivations that cause us to act the way we do. Supposedly built on a combination of psychology and mythology, the Enneagram nonetheless offers a more easily understood and more useful (for writers) system of classifying personality types. It classifies all people as primarily being one of nine basic character types (etymologically, Enneagram comes from the Greek for 9 types). These types are universally referred to by their numbers, though different people use different names to describe the types. Thus, while the Enneagram Institute calls a One "The Reformer," Judith Searle, author of The Literary Enneagram, refers to a One as "The Critic." They both agree, however, on the One's traits and underlying motivations.

Each of the nine Enneagram types has a basic fear, and basic desire (essentially the flip sides of each other). These will manifest in numerous traits, and will vary when the person is psychologically healthy, average, or unhealthy. It is specifically these underlying motivations that makes the Enneagram such a potent tool for dramatists -- we often say action is character, and this ties directly in with that.

There are also many layers of complexity beyond the simple nine types, and I will explore those more in my next posting on the Enneagram. Plus, people are people (at least, so said Depeche Mode), and being such will often display "outlier" traits that may not fit neatly into the description. Clearly saying there are only nine types of people would be a gross misrepresentation. But with the many areas of potential diversity and the possibility of outlier traits within the basic types, we find that the Enneagram is a versatile and realistic system of classification.

That seems a good basic intro. Next Enneagram post will explore the various modes in which the Enneagram works, and the areas of potential complexity. Then I'll discuss specific techniques for using the Enneagram to help build characters. If any of you have experience with using the Enneagram for this purpose, I'd love to hear from you as well!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I've been using the Enneagram for years (I'm a Nine), though I haven't formally used it for character design yet (I just picked up The Literary Enneagram). In my early scripts I tended to make my main characters Nines, as well, which can make it tricky to avoid the "passive lead" problem. Looking forward to Part 2.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Thanks Anon. Love your writing btw! (Sorry, bad joke, about how so many great quotes are attributable to that famous Greek philosopher Anon.)

When you mention the "passive lead" problem, is that because of the inherent "easygoing" characteristics of the Nine, or because you were making your lead too close to yourself? Because, in its "Peacemaker" capacity, the Nine can actually be quite active as well. But if you meant the latter, I think that's a pretty standard issue for many writers when they are beginning -- writing lead characters that are similar to themselves, but underdeveloped. Stems from a lack of self-examination at first, probably.

Oddly, though my early characters were as underdeveloped as anyone's, I can't think of any true Seven characters that I've written. Hmm. I wonder what that's all about.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! Actually both issues you cite, as well as structural problems, especially in the early drafts. Combine those with unformed youths in coming-of-age narratives, and well, you end of with a Luke Skywalker who chose power converters over following Obi-Wan "on some damned-fool idealistic crusade."

2:39 AM  

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