How to Write Psychologically Consistent Characters (Part 2): Personality Type & Levels of Development

Psychologically Consistent Characters

Read part one here.

Nothing can kill a reader’s connection to a character quite like a psychologically inconsistent character can. The reason for this is because deep down we all have a pretty good grasp on personalities...on people in general. And while we might not be well-versed in personality systems or tests such as the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs, or even psychological terminology and diagnoses, we do deal with various types of people everyday, and as we grow and mature and spend more time around different people throughout our lives, we unconsciously begin to recognize characteristics, motivations, and traits that remain consistent.

Because of this, when we meet psychologically inconsistent characters on the page, they come across as unbelievable, unrealistic, and lead us to want to close the book and set it down, never to see the light of day again.

But thankfully for us writers there’s a tool that we can use to help us avoid this devastating mistake in our character development, and this tool is called the Enneagram.


What is the Enneagram?

“[The Enneagram is] an ancient body of wisdom that identifies nine core personality types and how each sees and interacts with the world.” -- The Road Back to You, Discover Your Enneagram
 

Enneagram

THE NINE ENNEAGRAM TYPES
 

The Enneagram is made up of nine different personality types:

TYPE 1 |  The Reformer: Type 1s tend to be principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.

 

TYPE 2 |  The Helper: Type 2s tend to be generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive.

 

TYPE 3 |  The Achiever: Type 3s tend to be adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.

 

TYPE 4 |  The Individualist: Type 4s tend to be expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.

 

TYPE 5 |  The Investigator: Type 5s tend to be perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.

 

TYPE 6 |  The Loyalist: Type 6s tend to be engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.

 

TYPE 7 |  The Enthusiast: Type 7s tend to be spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, and scattered.

 

TYPE 8 |  The Challenger: Type 8s tend to be self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.

 

TYPE 9 |  The Peacemaker: Type 9s tend to be receptive, reassuring, complacent, and resigned.


MEET JORDAN - TYPE 9

The character for this case study is Jordan, and as we’ve already discussed, we know that Jordan is a Type 9, known as the PEACEMAKER: Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type, Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and Complacent

Jordan is a young woman who has a soft spot for helping people in need. This characteristic is why she chooses to become a nurse and why she chooses to look past her fiance’s troubled psyche. She’s an optimist who tends to see the glass as half full, always looking for the good in people. But she also has a strong desire to avoid conflict. Some of her decisions (bad and good) are motivated by the need to keep the peace. One of these decisions lands her in a dangerous situation, ultimately putting her life in danger.
 

PRO TIP: Study the type descriptions using the following address, making sure to change each type number at the end (1-9).

For example, https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-5 will give you the description for type 5s, https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-8 will give you the description for type 8, and so on.

Once you’ve had a chance to study each of the types, see if you can identify what “types” of people are in your life.

Type Nine Description

[In brief, type] nines are accepting, trusting, and stable. They are usually creative, optimistic, and supportive, but can also be too willing to go along with others to keep the peace. They want everything to go smoothly and be without conflict, but they can also tend to be complacent, simplifying problems and minimizing anything upsetting. They typically have problems with inertia and stubbornness. At their Best: indomitable and all-embracing, they are able to bring people together and heal conflicts.

Basic Fear: Of loss and separation

Basic Desire: To have inner stability "peace of mind"

Key Motivations: Want to create harmony in their environment, to avoid conflicts and tension, to preserve things as they are, to resist whatever would upset or disturb them. - (Reference: www.EnnegramInstitute.com/type-9)

We see the traits of a nine demonstrated in Jordan when she chooses to stay with her abusive fiance, impulsively offering to get a second job to accommodate his needs (even though she has too much on her plate as it is), and playing peacemaker between the people in her life.

We also see traits of the nine demonstrated in her chosen career as a nurse.

Knowing her type helps us to understand:

-how she sees the world

Example 1: Jordan is accepting and trusting of people. She’s generally happy and easy-going. She’s an optimist, supportive of others, and aims to minimize conflict whenever possible.

-which situations she may find herself in

Example 2: Jordan eventually finds herself in a life-threatening situation because she stayed in a dangerous relationship too long, ignoring red flags, trying to keep the peace.

-how she’ll react to a situation   

Example 3: Faced with a tragedy early on in the book, Jordan reacted by becoming withdrawn and depressed as opposed to striking out or becoming aggressive.

This knowledge guides us as we plan story and scene events, conflicts, tensions, and resolutions. We want to write story and scene events that are appropriate to our character’s psyche and that will force our character to face her fears and flaws. It also helps us to develop goals and motivations that are consistent with who our character is at her core.


For instance, one of Jordan’s motivations is to avoid conflict and keep the peace in any situation. Knowing that she is a type nine, I’m not going to write a scene where she walks into a public place and confronts someone in a violent manner. As much as we might want her to do this, it would be inconsistent with who she is at her core.


LEVELS OF DEVELOPMENT

There is an internal structure within each personality type known as the Levels of Development. It’s a continuum of behaviors, attitudes, defenses, and motivations formed by that character type.

Think of it as a framework for how all the different, unique traits that comprise each type make up the whole.

The levels reveal how the traits are interrelated and how one can deteriorate through those levels depending on where they are on the spectrum at any given time.

For example, a healthy level nine may exhibit the following traits:

Healthy Levels

Level 1 (At Their Best): Become self-possessed, feeling autonomous and fulfilled: have great equanimity and contentment because they are present to themselves. Paradoxically, at one with self, and thus able to form more profound relationships. Intensely alive, fully connected to self and others.

Level 2: Deeply receptive, accepting, unselfconscious, emotionally stable and serene. Trusting of self and others, at ease with self and life, innocent and simple. Patient, unpretentious, good-natured, genuinely nice people.

Level 3: Optimistic, reassuring, supportive: have a healing and calming influence—harmonizing groups, bringing people together: a good mediator, synthesizer, and communicator. (Reference: EnneagramInstitute.com/type-9)

When a healthy nine begins to deteriorate, they may start to exhibit traits of a less healthy of development, bringing them from healthy 9 to average 9.

Average Levels

Level 4: Fear conflicts, so become self-effacing and accommodating, idealizing others and "going along" with their wishes, saying "yes" to things they do not really want to do. Fall into conventional roles and expectations. Use philosophies and stock sayings to deflect others.

Level 5: Active, but disengaged, unreflective, and inattentive. Do not want to be affected, so become unresponsive and complacent, walking away from problems, and "sweeping them under the rug." Thinking becomes hazy and ruminative, mostly comforting fantasies, as they begin to "tune out" reality, becoming oblivious. Emotionally indolent, unwillingness to exert self or to focus on problems: indifference.

Level 6: Begin to minimize problems, to appease others and to have "peace at any price." Stubborn, fatalistic, and resigned, as if nothing could be done to change anything. Into wishful thinking, and magical solutions. Others frustrated and angry by their procrastination and unresponsiveness. - (Reference: EnneagramInstitute.com/type-9)

And when an average nine deteriorates even further, they’ll begin to demonstrate traits of the unhealthy level of development.

Unhealthy Levels

Level 7: Can be highly repressed, undeveloped, and ineffectual. Feel incapable of facing problems: become obstinate, dissociating self from all conflicts. Neglectful and dangerous to others.

Level 8: Wanting to block out of awareness anything that could affect them, they dissociate so much that they eventually cannot function: numb, depersonalized.

Level 9: They finally become severely disoriented and catatonic, abandoning themselves, turning into shattered shells. Multiple personalities possible. Generally corresponds to the Schizoid and Dependent personality disorders. - (Reference: EnneagramInstitute.com/type-9)

In the beginning of Providence, Jordan is in the healthy range at a level 2, but after the death of her parents, she quickly deteriorates to a level 5, which is demonstrated in her behaviors, her interactions with other characters, and her decision making abilities.

If Jordan’s personality type was a 7 instead of a 9, for instance, then her reaction to the death of her parents would’ve been written differently and her interactions with other characters probably wouldn’t look the same. In fact, she’d probably be on an entirely different path and a completely different book would’ve been written!

What I like about the Enneagram is its dynamic nature. People are constantly changing and this system is a method that can be used to consistently and accurately portray the growth and/or deterioration of a character. It provides a framework, a skeleton, of understanding our characters at their core and how they move and change and grow within the spectrum of their personality type, helping us to write psychologically consistent characters our readers will grow to love.