Working Your Characters With An Ancient System

Working Your Characters With An Ancient System
June 19, 2017 No Comments » For Authors, Writing, Writing Advice Nancy E Miller

 Sometimes it isn’t the newest tool in the box that does the best job. It might take a tool your grandfather passed down to you to make sense of the situation. Such is the Enneagram. The graphic is representative of an ancient symbol and system of thought.

David Wisehart explains in his book, “How to Write Great Characters”, how a writer can set up an Enneagram to create more in depth characters for your story.  Going beyond basic description, traits, or function, his system allows us greater possible insight into the motivations, fears, and arcs of the players on your stage.

To fully understand the system, I suggest you read the book. Once you have, the process is quite simple. It’s just hard to explain here in five hundred words. I’ll try to present his three main categories.

Nine Fundamental Fears that Motivate Your Character and their character types.

1.       Fear of being evil (The Reformer)

2.       Fear of being unloved (The Helper)

3.       Fear of being worthless (The Achiever)

4.       Fear of being insignificant (The Artist)

5.       Fear of being incompetent (The Observer)

6.       Fear of being without support (The Loyal Skeptic)

7.       Fear of being deprived (The Adventurer)

8.       Fear of being controlled (The Leader)

9.       Fear of separation. (The Diplomat)


The concept is that you are what you fear. Always has, always will. It controls our decision making process.

Fear was hard-wired into our matrix from the very beginning. It is the basis of survival. If the prehistoric man/woman was not vigilant of dangers then they didn’t live long. We have advanced in our presentation but not in our make-up.

It motivates us to create the new and better. Fear that other countries might beat us into space launched a whole series of items we now take for granted.

Fear pushes us to demand to be heard and seen, to not be forgotten. The concept of burial and placing of a headstone goes back to a basic fear of not being forgotten.

Wisehart also presents Nine Stages of a Compelling Character Arc.


1.       Liberated

2.       Capable

3.       Valuable


4.       Imbalanced

5.       Controlling

6.       Overcompensating


7.       Violating

8.       Delusional

9.       Pathological

Wisehart uses the Enneagram with its numerations, labels, and tension/relaxing lines to work up varied and believable characters. It takes more space than I have here to explain his complete principle.  That is why I suggest reading the book.  He weaves an interesting concept.

Nancy E Miller Nancy E. Miller, romantic suspense author of Shark Bait and Crystal Unicorns, lives near St. Louis with her husband and three dogs, pygmy goats, chickens and a cranky rooster named Ketchup. Her degree is in Psychology and Sociology. She has worked in education and mental health as a case manager and crisis counselor.

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