We all have different methods of analysis to make sense of the human mind—both the one we live in, and the ones we create when writing. When writing her new series, author Margaret Mizushima turned to the inside-out character development of the Enneagram personality types for her leads. Whether you’re an armchair psychologist or a personology neophyte, you’ll find Margaret’s thought process full of valuable character creation techniques for your own work.
When preparing to write Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, I used a familiar tool to develop my two protagonists, Deputy Mattie Lu Cobb and Cole Walker, DVM. This tool is a character profile that starts out like a job application with identification, educational, and historical background, and a wide variety of physical characteristics, including gestural and speech habits. Most writers have seen this type of profile before. I also include a section for internal and external goals, conflict, and motivation.
But before writing my first Timber Creek K-9 mystery, I knew I wanted to create a series, and I knew I wanted to be with these characters for several years. So I tried something that was new for me: I decided to assign a personality type from the Enneagram to my two protagonists, so that I could really get inside them and recognize how they interpreted their worlds. This would help me identify how the two would react in given situations.
Personality typing wasn’t new to me, since I’d participated in team-building exercises where the Myers-Briggs personality inventory had been used. But I discovered the Enneagram on my own by reading Helen Palmer’s book, The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life. Palmer describes nine basic personality types and labels them the Perfectionist, the Giver, the Performer, the Tragic Romantic, the Observer, the Devil’s Advocate, the Epicure, the Boss, and the Mediator. (Other authors have written about the Enneagram and have labeled the points differently.) Palmer adds the caveat, “The Enneagram, however, is not a fixed system. It is a model interconnecting lines that indicate a dynamic movement, in which each of us has the potentials of all nine types, or points, although we identify most strongly with the issues of our own.”
Purposely avoiding my own type, I assigned Mattie and Cole different points on the Enneagram. Mattie became a One, which Palmer calls the Perfectionist, and Cole became an Eight, the Boss. Then I researched Palmer’s chapters on these two types and created four to five page lists of characteristics for each.
Here are a few examples of characteristics that make up Mattie’s type: “Ones learned to behave properly, to take on responsibility, and be correct in the eyes of others.” “Ones are convinced life is hard and ease must be earned, that virtue is its own reward, and that pleasure should be postponed until everything else gets done.” “Preoccupied with what ‘should be’ and what ‘must be done’.”
Thus, when Mattie is presented with an invitation to a party, it holds no interest for her. She’s a loner with a stiff set of expectations for herself and others. She knows right vs. wrong and doesn’t trust others to make decisions for her—a downfall in her partnership with a patrol dog, but a characteristic that she learns to come to grips with. Something I found most interesting is that many Ones choose careers in law enforcement, which came in handy for creating this deputy.
On the other hand, as a point Eight, Cole Walker comes into situations with a different mindset. A few characteristics of his type are: “Eights feel secure when they can control a situation by calling the shots and making other people obey.” “Love is more often expressed through protection than through demonstrations of tender feelings. Commitment means taking the beloved under their wing and making the way safe.” “Their central issue is control. Who has the power and will that person be fair? The preferred position is to take charge.”
Eights have often grown up in an environment where others, such as siblings and parents, exert power and authority in a way that forces them to learn how to stand up for themselves at an early age. They are focused on justice, being fair, and protecting those they love. Think of the alpha wolf in the pack, the dealer of tough love. When Cole is faced with raising his two daughters on his own—daughters he’s not spent much quality time with, since he views himself as provider of food, shelter, and material comforts—he finds himself at a loss for how to express love and tenderness.
Palmer gives a detailed description of this complex system of personality types, as well as illustrations of how each type reacts in times of stress or comfort. I found reading the entire book and typing myself helpful before trying to apply the information to characters. There are many other books on this subject, but this is the one I’ve found most useful for this purpose. I’m by no means an expert in this field of study, but when applying it to character development, a writer doesn’t have to be. The system can become another tool to provide depth.
Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, which was named Debut Mystery of the Month for December 2015 by Library Journal, and has been nominated for an RT Reviewer’s Choice award for Best First Mystery. She lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle. She can be found on Facebook, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.
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