One of the most useful tools I use to keep my characters true to their personalities is by developing a “motto” using the Enneagram. A motto is a saying that encapsulates a character’s world view.
Example – Mottos:Don’t rock the boat Show me the money I’m a winner
Today, I’m using my character Blake Corbit as an example (see previous blogs for more examples of Blake’s traits in action). As defined by the Enneagram, Blake’s personality is a number 8—the ChallengerPositive Traits: Self-Confident Strong Assertive Protective Resourceful Straight-Talking Decisive Negative Traits: Control their Environment Confrontational Intimidating Tempers Dislike Vulnerability At their best: Self-Mastering Heroic Magnanimous Inspiring Key Motivations: Self Reliance Prove their Strength Resist Weakness Important in their World Dominate Environment Control Situation
Step 2: Note your character’s basic fear and greatest desire.
- Basic Fear: Being harmed by others (Blake learned early on that trusting people was not okay).
- Basic Desire: To protect himself (to be in control of his own life and destiny).
Step 3: Create several situations in your character’s back story to reinforce their fear. Stagger these events.
Example – Back Story:
Early Childhood (0-5):
Every night, after working in construction, Blake’s father returned home tired, with the smell of alcohol on his breath and an aura of “Stay Away.” Dinner discussions revolved around struggles between his labor union and management. Blake interrupted his father only once and was back-handed into silence. His father was unapproachable and emotionally unavailable to him, his father didn’t play with Blake, but more or less saw him as another expense.
What Blake learned: He couldn’t trust his father. His mother wouldn’t protect him.
Blake’s Actions: Reclusive at home, protective over his mother.
Elementary Years (6-12):
When he was twelve, Blake earned placement on the schools honor roll and was elected class president. Near the same time, he was competing for the leading role in the school play. After recognizing his competitor, Cameron, was actually better for the part, he stepped down and Cameron received the role. However, the next day Cameron picked a serious fight with Blake and caused Blake to be suspended from school. Blake was accused of fighting for not receiving the part. He lost his role as class president.
Cameron was the son of Blake’s father’s boss. When said boss discovered Blake was the better man—like Blake’s father—he roughed up Cameron, who then took his frustration out on Blake.
Blake learned: Stay in control. Being outgoing and overachieving at school made his father proud.
Blake’s Actions: He never backed down to anyone again. He gathered supporters when he had ideas (teams, homework clubs, etc.)
Young Adult (13-21)
When Blake was sixteen he began spending time with Abigail. His feelings for Abigail grew stronger until his every waking moment was filled with the desire to be with her. She also used her love and sexuality to manipulate Blake. This awakened his biggest fear: her controlling him.
Blake learned: Love gives others power to control you.
Blake’s Actions: He withdrew from people he cared about, but used his abundant energy to further his inner drives to achieve.
These events shaped Blake’s world vision. As a healthy Eight, he’s become self-assertive, self-confident, and strong. He has a resourceful “can do” attitude and a passionate inner drive. As an unhealthy Eight, he may become combative, forceful, proud, emotionally unavailable, etc.
Blake’s Motto: If you have a hammer, find a nail.
Example – Scene:
The door to Blake’s on-site trailer banged against the thin walls, rattling the entire container. “Shipment’s short!” Eric said.
Behind his desk, Blake barely flinched. He rolled his eyes up from where they’d been fixed on the plans arrayed on his desk to meet his red-faced foreman’s. Blake had specifically ordered resin tile with small white shells embedded in the mix for the condo’s bathroom floors. “So order more.”
“Blake, the whole lot is on back order. Without, we’re not going to make deadline.”
Automatically, he dropped his eyes to the phone. He knew who to call, who’d get what he wanted with a goddamn beautiful smile on her face. But did he really want to finagle project specifics with Sarah? With each meeting, he was finding her harder to resist: his eyes locking on hers like a jail cell, his mind recording every syllable she spoke like a court reporter—not that he was ever returning to jail. He stood. “Product will be on site in two days…”
In the above example, notice how Blake’s motto is shown. He has the tools and he knows how to use them, even if he has to sacrifice his emotions to get the job done. Also his reference of not returning to jail has a two-fold meaning: he won’t allow himself to fall in love again. Him standing shows the reader, like an exclamation point, his fear of falling in love, of being caged and controlled.Other Notes: Goal: To find more material Motivation: To meet his deadline. Inner Conflict: He finds himself losing control with Sarah Outer Conflicts: Back order, deadline, foreman Back Story: he was in jail.
Using Motto will keep your characters true to their personality. This short-cut tool will help you to develop a strong three-dimensional character and a solid character arc.
Check back on June 15th for my next Blog topic on using the Enneagram as a method of foresight into your Hero and Heroine’s happily ever after.
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