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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.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Enneagram (Part 4 - How to Use It, cont'd)

In my previous Enneagram post, I discussed using the system to add more dimension to a character you have already created. Next, I'd like to explore how the Enneagram can be used to build a character from scratch.

I certainly recognize this will not be as widespread or as beneficial as using the Enneagram to flesh out a pre-existing character. But at the same time, it is a possibility.

Suppose you begin from a bare bones idea for a film's plot, and you are in the process of building it from a mere kernel concept into a full story. You may begin by developing characters with the Enneagram, and then let them dictate how your story develops.

In my most recent scr(i)pt magazine article, on this subject, I mentioned the following example:

Imagine you are starting from a story idea about a downtrodden office worker who finally snaps and takes his coworkers hostage. That may be all you have to start with; but, by looking at the nine Enneagram types, you can "try on" each of them and see which motivation best fits your office worker. At first glance this character looks most like an Eight (The Challenger) or a Three (The Achiever). The Eight most wants to protect himself and fears being controlled. When growing less psychologically healthy, he may become violent and radical in his attempts to achieve his goal. Threes, on the other hand, are motivated by the desire to feel useful and can grow manipulative, malicious, and even murderous to avoid feeling worthless. Other potential choices include a One (The Reformer), Two (The Helper), or Six (The Loyalist). Clearly, each of these choices would take our film in a different direction, and each could move us into a distinct genre (drama, thriller, or satire). But, once you've chosen an Enneagram type for your office worker, you can go about investigating that type and thinking about some of the different traits that may present themselves through his actions.

In addition to figuring out a character's motivations, you can also use the Enneagram to uncover the arc of the character's storyline, and/or potential sources of dramatic conflict with other characters.

As we explored in Part 2 of this "series," there are a number of thing that add complexity to the "simple" pure character types. You'll remember that each of the nine types is connected to two other types, one that is its "stress point" and the other to which it is connected when in security. This offers some very logical story arcs. Usually when in a dramatic conflict, a character will be somewhat "in stress," but once post-climax resolution is achieved, the character will most likely revert to his "pure" state, or perhaps even as far as towards his security point.

Similarly, we saw that each Enneagram type also may express it's core traits in various ways, depending on the level of the person's psychological health. This too can offer a potential story arc, though most likely one for a film that is spread over a longer span of time. In the typical Hero's Journey story, the protagonist leaves his home base, confronts death in an outside world, and returns to the ordinary world with some kind of elixir to change it. Ideally, he has also changed for the better as a person. This mimics the ideal change of a person from a state of lesser psychological health ever nearer to self actualization.

Alternatively, in a more tragic storyline, we may see a character begin on the less healthy end of average in his Enneagram type. But from this position, he spirals down in a repetitive cycle of defensive behavior. Eventually, he may find himself at the truly lowest end of his type's health scale, perhaps ending in insanity or suicide.

The last option I'd like to look at entails using the Enneagram as a means of finding dramatic conflict between different characters. Here, we have numerous options to examine. For example, two characters of differing types, and potentially even from alternate triads (Heart, Head, or Gut) might find themselves in a similar attitude if one is in stress and the other in security. For example, if a Seven is in stress, she may act more like a One, which simultaneously is the security point for a Four. You'll notice that the Seven is part of the "Head" triad, and the Four operates from the "Heart." But at the moment they meet at One, they will both act out of "Gut" instinct. For the time, they may work well together, though as their situation changes, either one may have a harder time relating, particularly if he or she is on the less healthy end of the type's scale.

Wings also offer good potential for character interplay. Often, for example, a good love story may grow out of two people of the same primary type, but with opposite wings. Thus, their worldview is basically similar, though they may express it in completely opposite fashions. A romantic "happy ending" may come about through a compromise in which each learns to find greater balance between the two wings of the primary type.

Whew! I think that wraps up my primary discussion of the Enneagram as a tool for character development, though I may return to it again at some future point to explore more. I hope that I've been able to give you a decent surface explanation of the system, as well as a basic understanding of the many ways it can be used to create more realistic and three-dimensional characters. If you begin to study the system, and read more about it, I trust that you'll find it to be a most versatile tool, and one that can be as enlightening and fun as it is useful.

Thanks for reading, and please post any comments or questions you might have!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have any recommendations for further reading? Thanks.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Fun Joel said...

Let's see. One recommendation, as I mentioned earlier, would be The Literary Enneagram. It goes through each character type and highlights various subtypes of each, using figures we are familiar with from literature and/or film.

Helen Palmer's The Enneagram is another of the great overviews, from an early explorer of the system.

Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson are also major proponents of the system, and have expanded much of the standard knowledge on the Enneagram subject. Two of their books would be The Wisdom of the Enneagram and Personality Types.

Lastly, I'll mention that there is a program that I've glanced at, have not yet used, but am considering buying (it isn't that expensive) called Character Pro that is built around the Enneagram system.

Hope this helps!

7:42 PM  
Blogger The Awful Writer said...

I've been looking into the Enneagram system and came across this book:

"Enneagram Movie and Video Guide : How To See Personality Types In The Movies, 2nd Edition"

I went ahead and ordered it from Amazon.com. I'll let you know how it is.

1:26 AM  

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