What Motivates Your Characters?
I don’t know about you but I’ve never had much success in drafting those ten page character sketches before I begin a novel. It just seems I get to know my character along the way and as her personality comes through it changes the plot and the book goes through an evolution. I do lots of re-writes and sometimes feel as though I’m running around in a dense forest occasionally glimpsing the path to my characters. It’s frustrating and not very productive.
If you’re like me, the good news is there is a tool called the Enneagram. Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele define it in their book: The Enneagram Made Easy:
“The Enneagram is a study of the nine basic types of people. It explains why we behave the way we do, and it points to specific directions for individual growth. It is an important tool for improving relationships with family, friends, and co-workers.
“The roots of the Enneagram go back many centuries. It’s exact origin is not known, but it is believed to have been taught orally in secret Sufi brotherhoods in the Middle East. The Russian mystical teacher G.I. Gurdjieff introduced it to Europe in the 1920′s, and it arrived in the United States in the 1960′s.”
The nine basic personality types as put forth in Gloria Kempton’s book, Dialogue, are: (This is just a thumbnail sketch of her definitions, the Enneagram is much more complex.)
1. The Reformer – this one is motivated to live the right way, improving themselves and the world around them.
2. The Giver – They are motivated to be loved and valued and to express their positive feeling to others.
3. The Achiever – They are motivated to achieve success and avoid failure.
4. The Artist – They are motivated to experience their feelings and to be understood, to search for the meaning of life and to avoid being ordinary.
5. The Observer – They need to know and understand everything, to be self sufficient and to avoid looking foolish.
6. The Questioner – They need security. They can be outwardly fearful and seeking approval. Or they can confront fears. Both of these can appear in the same person.
7. The Adventurer – They are motivated by the need to be happy and plan enjoyable activities, contribute to the world and avoid suffering and pain.
8. The Leader – They are motivated by the need to be self-reliant and strong and to avoid feeling weak or dependent.
9. The Peacemaker – They have a need to keep peace, merge with others, and avoid conflict.
Gloria Kempton uses the Enneagram to chart out the personalities of her characters and gives examples of how the different personalities might relate to each other. In a sampling of dialogue she has a #1(Reformer) speaking to a #9 (Peacemaker) about the progress of the cops in finding their missing daughter. The Reformer (Wife) is lambasting the cops, wondering why it’s taking them so long to find the monster who kidnapped their daughter. The Peacemaker (Husband) is saying things like: “I’m sure they’re doing the best they can.” And “I’m sure they’re frustrated, too,” etc. The wife gets more and more irate as he tries to make peace finally accusing him of “defending” the police and of not caring. That shuts down the husband and he cannot figure out why she would say that to him, he is hurt and his feelings turn to despair.
It is a very powerful example of the different personality types, what they want and how they go about expressing it.
Do you see the different personality types in yourself? In your friends and family?
How do you choose personalities for your characters? Does the plot choose them or do the personalities create the plot? Or both?