I recently finished reading Claire Taylor’s Reclaim Your Author Career book, which is a fascinating take that focuses on your personality (specifically your core motivations and fears, as determined by the Enneagram), and how to apply what you learn about yourself both to your author career, and to your characters and story development.
While the past couple months have been dedicated to the first round of revisions on the rough draft of Changing Tides, I’ve also been trying to diagnose why I’ve been stuck on certain stories and haven’t been able to make much progress. (Huntress #3, the Huntress prequel, and Legends of Cirena #9 all come to mind).
One of my concerns was that character motivations were off.
I started doing some of the exercises in the book. What I have below is the edited version of my homework, but I thought that it might be helpful for anyone else trying to look into their character’s motivations.
My goal here was to determine each character’s Enneagram type, however, these are based primarily on the Reclaim Your Author Career book, specifically looking at writing motivations… so it might be a little off.
Also important to note… every test I’ve taken puts me high in Type 5 Investigator (which I think fits me pretty well), though the secondary ones tend to vary. One test put me more as a Type 1 Reformer or Type 7 Enthusiast, with Type 8 Challenger and Type 4 Individualist extra low, while others put Individualist higher with Challenger and Enthusiast as competing for secondary placement. Seems like the wings for Investigator, either 4 or 6, are almost the same (though 6 did win out in the one that said my second highest scores were Reformer and Enthusiast).
Based on what I’ve read of the Enneagram, I’d say I’m a Type 5 Investigator with a Type 4 Individualist wing.
Reclaim Your Author Career suggests starting by sticking to characters who are in your Enneagram type, or at least in your triad, but I think my particular enneagram Investigator, combined with my top CliftonStrengths (Input, Learner, Ideation, Context, and Intellection) leads me to want to explore other character types and points of view because it’s a challenge! And fun. And helps me explore the world and understand other people better.
So… I’m going to choose to ignore that particular piece of advice, especially since I’m looking to figure out Enneagram types for characters who are already established.
I think that getting a sense of character motivation based on the Enneagram could help me diagnose when things aren’t going as planned in my stories, or if I’m stuck.
Warning… these might be a little rambly since this is basically my thought process as I tried to figure out their different Enneagram types.
For this particular exercise (What enneagram type will your protagonist be?) I focus on characters who are either in current Work In Progress stories, or in stories that I’ve gotten stuck with.
Jenna (Distant Horizon Series: Changing Tides): Very focused on knowledge. Being efficient. Feels betrayed when the ideals she was promised in society turn out not to be what the society is focused on. In the current story (Changing Tides), she fights to protect her family and friends, and to see the society she was promised come to life.
I think she’s probably an Investigator, like me, especially since I created her as part of a role-play game (where I usually play a scholar). Her initial goals were to uncover the truth at the heart of a secret, and she can be easily motivated into believing that knowledge will help her solve problems (the brain seed uses this to try to manipulate her into giving it more power during Starless Night). In her growth stage, she does start leaning into Challenger territory, challenging norms and making her own rules (especially when she gets a power boost).
Unlike me though, (5w4, or 5 Investigator with Wing 4 Individualist), I think she actually might be 5w6, or Wing 6 Loyalist, because she does desire that safe world and is more confrontational of the scary things (beast transformation plants… etc).
So for her, I’ll start by thinking Jenna’s probably an Investigator with a Wing 4 in Loyalist.
(Investigators desire being competent and capable, and fear being incompetent or incapable.)
Galina (Deceived Series: Betrayed): Galina is determined to get back to her sister and protect her, since she’s afraid her sister might have powers and get sent away to a terrible transformation facility. Galina doesn’t want anything happening to her. While she doesn’t like the secrets the Community holds, unlike Jenna, she’s more annoyed than betrayed, and she’s definitely not a straight-A student. She’s bored at desk jobs and simply doesn’t have the motivation to put in the effort. However, when it comes to protecting people, or if a life needs saving, she’ll step up to the task. She wants to protect people (especially friends and family, but also anyone innocent). She’s certainly not above blackmailing someone to get the results she wants, but she tries to be conscientious of how she uses other people’s skills and powers–at least when they’re friends.
Based on that, I’d say she’s either a Type 2 Helper, wanting to help people who are struggling, build community, and inspire others, or Type 8 Challenger, because she makes her own rules (with the help of others who have power), and challenges the norm (though she’s more interested in starting by creating a safe haven for those in trouble… which could be seen as empowering others to fight back). Given that she’s actually a terrible fighter… makes sense she’d want to delegate.
Challengers desire to be strong and independent, and fear being controlled or harmed. Helpers desire being loved and needed, and fear being unloved or unwanted. Considering the motivations of the two, I think she leans more toward Challenger, which works out well for me since Challenger is the growth stage of Investigator, and also since my third highest score is sometimes Challenger, sometimes Enthusiast. Plus, since Challenger’s growth path is Helper, that seems to make sense for Galina.
Ro’nor (Legends of Cirena series: The Dark Forest of Aneth): Ro’nor is kind of reclusive and likes to do his own thing, and he’s not especially sure of himself or his abilities… especially since he’s been surrounded by others with really strong magical powers and a lore that tells of when his family could shift into dragon form. That said, he still wants to put his abilities to use (preferably in less… exciting…ways) that can be helpful to others, and he will reluctantly answer a call for help–especially if he feels obligated to the other person for any reason. Seems part of him would also like to do something awesome that achieves the status of legends like his ancestors… but part of him might also like to stay quietly out of the way and out of danger.
With that in mind, the types I can see working well with him might be Type 3 Achiever, desiring to be worthy and valuable, and fearing being worthless or valueless, or Type 5 Investigator, desiring to be competent/capable and fearing being incompetent or incapable.
At first I thought he might be a Type 2 Helper (wanting to be loved/needed, fear of being unloved or unwanted), but the more I think about it, the more I don’t think this is really his core motivation.
Honestly, it’s kind of interesting actually trying to examine these for different characters, because I didn’t even think about him being an Achiever or Investigator until I actually started trying to look closely at him and re-read through the different Types and their motivations.
Given that I keep feeling something is off about the story I’m trying to write with him right now… I’m kind of wondering if I was right about thinking something was wrong with character motivation here.
When looking further at the motivations (writing-focused), Type 3 Achiever works well for Ro’nor wanting to be recognized for his skills, but I question that he actually wants to be an inspiration for others or add value to the world, or if it’s just that those things were so valued within Darden society that he simply thinks he wants those things. (Am I sensing a possible character arc here? Note to self… this might actually be a really useful way of re-evaluating that problem in the story). So I looked at Type 5 Investigator for Writing Motivations, which didn’t seem quite right for him. He’s not looking to build his own world or explore life’s mysteries or create puzzles and solve them…
Or is he?
He did leave the Darden Isles because he wanted to see the outside world beyond his own. The types of jobs he actively wants (when not getting wrangled into helping people) allow him to look into weather patterns and make suggestions for farmers to make the most efficient use of their crops. Solving puzzles.
I think he might be an Investigator, though from a different angle than I would have first considered.
Well then… I guess I’m going to be re-evaluating the story with that lens in mind, and with the idea that his character arc might involve him needing to shed what he thinks he wants based on society’s expectations to what he actually wants.
This is still a little iffy, but I think it’s a step closer in the right direction.
Zynia (Legends of Cirena series: The Dark Forest of Aneth): Zynia is devoted to honoring her god, Harethn, the god of travel. (He is known for being a helper to strangers on the road, safe travel, and also a proponent of freedom, one who has often been invoked among the Network of those who try to get slaves to safety). Zynia is also a listener, and will question her own teachings when evidence is produced counter to what she believes, though she is skeptical until she sees the evidence in full. She tries to be helpful, and to help those in need.
I felt like my memory of her original story arc was vague, so I reviewed that before deciding for sure on her Enneagram type.
Types that might apply to her: Type 3 Achiever, for wanting to be worthy or valuable and fearing not being those things (especially to her god), possibly Type 6 Loyalist, for wanting to be supported and secure (though more focused on fearing not being supported), possibly Type 9 Peacemaker, for desiring to be whole/unified and fearing being separate or cut off.
Honestly, though, none of these immediately stand out to me as “Oh yeah, that’s Zynia.” With that in mind I looked at the Writing Motivations section in Reclaim Your Author Career.
There, Type 1 Reformer has promise for wanting to show people the right way to live and create a better world, Type 2 Helper, for helping people who are struggling and maybe for being inspiring and uplifting, possibly Type 3 Achiever for wanting her skills recognized (by her god specifically), wanting to add value to the world, and wanting to be an inspiration to others, or possibly Type 9 Peacemaker, for sharing her hopeful vision, or creating harmony from conflict…
I went back and skimmed the story with Zynia as a protagonist (The Dragons of the Mist), and came up with these notes about her character:
Values fairness, the gods offering help rather than being arrogant. Being generous. Considers the high god…oblivious…but not power hungry. She’s concerned about being a burden to others (especially Harethn), and doesn’t want to ask for a favor if she’s not sure she needs it. She very much enjoys when her devotion to her god is recognized by him. Wants to be looked on fondly/loved by Harethn. She’s a little skeptical, worried about trickster immortals. Genuinely prays to Harethn for guidance in uncertain times. She does have a curiosity about the world around her, especially mysteries/immortal things, but she tries to be thoughtful about approaching them. Values freedom/sovereignty, and the ability for mortals to make their own choices.
After reviewing those, I re-reviewed the various Enneagram core motivations.
Type 2 Helper makes sense when looking at her desire to be loved and needed by Harethn, and same with Type 3 Achiever in terms of wanting to be worthy/valuable to Harethn. In terms of writing motivations, Type 2 of helping people who are struggling could make sense, or Type 3 adding value to the world and being recognized for her skills (though I’d almost think she really wants to be recognized for her self worth and devotion to Harethn, not so much for the skills themselves.)
With that in mind, I’ve narrowed her type to being either Type 2 or 3.
At which point I went and did a little more in-depth looking at the definitions for Type 2 and 3.
I used The Enneagram Institute pages for the Helper and the Achiever…and it immediately became clear which type she would likely be.
The Helper leans more toward being “the caring: interpersonal type: generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive” whereas the Achiever is “the success-oriented, pragmatic type: adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.” Here, it feels clear she is a Helper. Especially when Helpers have a tendency to have trouble acknowledging their own needs.
Now that I know she’s a Helper, I can look more into that Enneagram type to determine what goals and fears she might have going forward.
One thing this exercise helped make clear to me was that I really didn’t have a clear picture of Zynia’s wants and fears, especially as related to the current story she’s part of, and that might be leading to some of my uncertainties in regards to how to push the story forward, and how it should resolve in a way that would be satisfying.
I also want to do this for characters in the Huntress universe, but I need to go back over what I already have written to remind myself of their values and motivations.
Anyway, I hope seeing my thought process has been helpful for you.
Happy writing! 😊
Reclaim Your Author Career by Claire Taylor
2 responses to “Thoughts on Writing – Protagonists and the Enneagram”
Your commitment to writing and to helping others with their process is admirable. I wish I had your energy and focus.
Thanks! 🙂 I’m not sure you’d want my focus, though… it tends to be a little scatter shot and jumps from project to project before eventually coming back to the first project. (Hence having multiple ongoing series that I’m just now starting to wrap up).
Good luck with your writing! I know you’ve got a few projects you’ve been working on polishing. 🙂