Monday, 20 April 2009

Guest Blog by Roderic Vincent - What's Your Number?



I always wanted to do English, but a small voice said it might not lead to a job - it was the voice of the school careers adviser. He told me you had to do a BSc to have any chance of employment. So I took psychology and it did lead to a job – I ended up as a Chartered Psychologist. Since turning my mind to writing stories, I’ve also come to believe that psychology is a great training for a writer.

Over the last twenty years I’ve assessed the abilities and personality of hundreds of business leaders and coached a good few of them including, topically, the chief executive of a bank. That gives you the chance to ask the questions that most people don’t get to ask. I’ve also done “job analysis” studies ranging from foreign exchange dealers to bus drivers. Ostensibly these were to help design selection methods, but as a by-product you get to spend time with them, watch them work and ask all those questions again. It’s all good raw material. I’ve also used frameworks for human behaviour in my fiction - The Grieving Cycle, for example - to show a character reacting to bad news.

In the limited space here, I’d like to mention one structure I’ve found useful: the enneagram. It’s no substitute for the deep curiosity and insight into humanity we all need as writers, but having a guidebook can help too.

According to the enneagram, there are nine personality types. When you are learning all about a character you’ve created – was she popular at school, why does she hate her brother, when did she first do acid – her type is another aspect you can consider. A proper understanding of the enneagram could suggest how your character will react when her husband crashes the car or when a colleague suggests a quick one after work.

The list below is a taster to give you an idea what I’m talking about. The range of adjectives is supposed to show how each type is in either a healthy or unhealthy emotional state.


Type Can be . . .
One: Principled, perfectionist, crusading, critical. Judging of self and others. Fears being wrong.

Two: Loving, the helper, denying their own needs, can become a martyr and complaining. Fears neediness.

Three: Achiever, ambitious, competitive, status-conscious. Fears failure.

Four: Artistic, creative, individual, sensitive, self-obsessed. Fears ordinariness.

Five: Knowledgeable, expert, skilled, detached, deluded. Fears being useless.

Six: Popular, loyalist, conforming, wants to fit in, insecure.Fears isolation.

Seven: Fun, sociable, enthusiast, open to experience, self-indulgent thrill-seeker. Fears pain (just keeps on running).

Eight: Strong, leader, powerful, bullying. Fears weakness.

Nine: Peacemaker, contented, self-contained, lethargic. Fears conflict.



Before using the enneagram as a character development tool I would recommend studying the various books on the subject. This list does no justice to its complexity. For example, each of us has a wing, as well as a main type, and therein lies some of the subtlety and insight. I only hope it might sharpen your appetite to find out more. One place to start is the work of Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson at http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/. They have plenty of resources and a questionnaire to find out your own type. Their website also allows you to look at the compatibility of the different types in relationships.

The enneagram can open a door into the mind of characters that are unlike you, and help avoid the danger that all your characters are really versions of yourself. Knowing how the different types react, when faced with the sort of murder and mayhem authors inflict on our characters, is extremely helpful.

There are lots of other aspects of psychology, beyond personality that I would love to talk about, but Sam gave me a limit of strictly writing not more than 800 words.



Visit Roderic's website, The Whole of Boredom.

23 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

Really fascinating stuff, Rod. Do you always use this when creating characters?

I think i am probably 1 and 4.

What about you?:)

Helen P said...

And are we in fact all a combination of a few of them? For example I would like to think I am a peacemaker but I'm definitely not lethargic (type nine)and I am ambitious but not particularly frightened of failure; if I was I wouldn't be a writer! Thought provoking nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Forget the word limit - come back - tell us more!!!
poppy

Vienna Maurel said...

Thank you!
Really enlighting!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Fascinating stuff, Rod. I think real humans beings are probably all of these at various times of their lives, but for creating fictitious characters this a really great template!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Great to see the enneagram being brought into the writing arena - thanks, Rod! I find it absolutely fascinating (particularly since I'm a self-obsessed,drama-queen Four!).
Susiex

Roderic Vincent said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Sam, I tend to invent the character and get to know them a bit and then identify their enneagram type in the same way I do for everyone else I know. That reduces the risk of a painting by numbers approach to the characterisation, but gives you suggestions for how they will react to others they encounter in the story, or how they will cope when it hits the fan.

And Sam, Helen and Jem, you can't be more than one type. Sorry that's just not permitted!

Geraldine Ryan said...

I just did the test and ad came out a one with strong tendencies to 4 and 3. Makes sense. I can't stop thinking about this now!

Samantha Tonge said...

You still haven't said which type you are, Rod.

Let's see. Hmm. I guess 1.

:)

Rebecca Connell said...

Very interesting, Rod! I'll definitely think about how this might relate to character development.

4 is definitely the writer's number, isn't it?! That's me, maybe with a bit of 2 and 6 thrown in...

Gillian McDade said...

What an interesting insight Rod! I look forward to a part two ;) I think I am 3 and 6!

Fascinating Rod - thank you :)

CarolineG said...

'It’s no substitute for the deep curiosity and insight into humanity we all need as writers, but having a guidebook can help too.'

That's such a great line. Interesting stuff this, Rod. I think I'm a combo of 2 and 4. I won;t choose! I won;t, dammit!
Thanks for a great post.

Bernadette said...

Very interesting!
I also would think I'm a 1 with a chunk of 4 on the side - seems to be a popular choice!

Rosy T said...

"...then identify their enneagram type in the same way I do for everyone else I know..."

This, Rod, is why I make sure never to be friends with a psychologist!!

Facintating post, though. Now I want to go and read thosee books. But that's because I'm 100% pure 1 (perfectionist, analyser).

Rebecca Talley said...

Enlightening and very useful when creating chracters. I'm not sure any one person falls into only one category, but that's what makes people, and characters, so interesting.

Anne Brooke said...

I love the enneagram - it's very helpful. I've done a beginners' and an intermediate workshop on it. I'm a 4 married to a 5 - the ideal team!

It's useful to balance it with Myers Briggs too.

:))

Axxx

Katy said...

Great to meet you today Rod, and this is fascinating stuff, thank you. :-)

All good wishes,

Katy (an enthusiastic type 7)

cherys said...

Fascinating but is this a parlour game or is it truly a way psychologists use to judge character.

Sorry to chuck some cynicism in, but I'm dubious about this. I trained not as a psychologist but as an actress and was taught that we all have all these traits inside us, that acting (which is so like creating a character in fiction) isn't mimickry but amplification of existing traits in ourselves. Certain traits may be suppressed or developed by upbringing, circumstances, pressure etc, but they are all there. When I read the ennogram I thought I could tick all of those boxes at some time or another, depending on circumstance and mood. I suspect that's true of everyone else too.

To create a credible character I think we have to allow that they might behave against type over and over again. To pigeon hole them into one or even two of these points on the personality star is to risk schematic characterisation.

Roderic Vincent said...

cherys, I take your points. The enneagram isn't something I would use for occupational assessments in my day job, but I've found it massively useful for many years in personal life, and in writing.

Take it or leave it I guess.

Trilby said...

What a blast from the past - there was a social studies teacher at my high school who was heavily into Enneagram...I think she mainly used it to explore different learning styles, although we also had a couple of classes where we used it as a template to analyse famous historical figures. If I remember correctly, I was a 5...

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