When we think of what defines fantasy literature, we typically think of the settings. Either it takes place in another world or something has been changed to make our own world unfamiliar. There’s magic and mythical creatures and otherworldly settings. But no matter how fantastic your world is it’s not what gives you a story.
Middle Earth is a beautiful place rich in lore and history, but would we care about it if a hobbit didn’t live in that hole in the ground? Would anyone want to read about Westeros if it wasn’t peopled with characters you care about enough to weep when they die? Could I have bothered reading about the magic system in Ixia if I didn’t want to find out what happened to Yelena next?
Without characters you don’t have a story. Their actions in your world are what drive the plot. And while worldbuilding is vital for a fantasy author (that’s what I’ve been working on lately for Women of Kern), it can’t make up for weak characters. Both have to be strong.
Which brings us to what I want to talk about today: the Enneagram. A friend recently suggested I give it a look since they know how much I like Myers-Briggs. I’m partway through reading my second book on the topic, and I’m starting to think it might be a very useful tool for helping flesh-out characters. In fact, once I buy Understanding The Enneagram I’ll have a hard time deciding whether to put it next to the psychology books or the character archetypes books.
The Enneagram describes people’s core passions, temptations, fears, and desires. Those are the sort of things that drive characters to go on epic quests, take over a kingdom, or go through hell to marry the person they love. And the Enneagram has the type of depth we need when we start digging into our characters psyches — depth that other character archetypes don’t necessarily have. One of the most helpful aspects of the Enneagram (at least as far as building characters is concerned) is the levels of development. These levels describe how each type changes based on how healthy or unhealthy they are. It’s definitely a useful tool for adding more nuances to heroes and villains.
Me trying to summarize everything the Enneagram can help you with would be pointless when I can just point you to some great resources. The Enneagram Institute, formed in 1997 by the late Don Richard Riso and by Russ Hudson, has pretty much all you need to get started. Here are some quick links:
- How The Enneagram System Works (a brief introduction to the Enneagram)
- The Nine Enneagram Type Descriptions (links to detailed profiles for each type, including levels of development)
- The Enneagram Type Combinations (overview of how different types interact with each other)