Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

The Key to Character Motivation

The development of fictional or real story
characters can often be a daunting task because, unless we have psychology degrees, we can only guess and imagine what motivates real human beings in their lives to do what they do and become who they are.

The Enneagram is an ancient personality study originating with the Sufis hundreds of years ago and brought to America in the 1960’s. Because it is real and used by some of the top psychologists in our country, we can count on its credibility to show us what motivates real people in their relationships and individual psychological, emotional and spiritual growth. The Enneagram is one answer to flat, dull, undeveloped characters that readers soon forget after reading the story. The Enneagram can even be used to bring real people to life in our memoirs or to understand ourselves a little bit more. According to the Enneagram, human beings are deeply driven by one of nine motivations:

1) the need to be right 2) the need to be loved and valued
3) the need to be productive and to succeed
4) the need to experience one’s feelings and to be understood
5) the need to understand 6) the need for security
7) the need to be happy and avoid suffering 8) the need to be self-reliant and strong
9) the need for peace and to avoid conflict.

The Enneagram is your key to your characters’ deepest motivations, and character motivation is the key to achieving reader identification. Learn how to use this key for more powerful stories that emotionally connect with readers.

According to the Enneagram Institute, the nine types are as follows:

One: The Reformer (principled, purposeful, self-controlled, perfectionist)
Two: The Helper (demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing, possessive) 
Three: The Achiever (adaptive, excelling, driven, image-conscious)
Four: The Individualist (expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, temperamental)
Five: The Investigator (perceptive, innovative, secretive, isolated)

Six: The Loyalist (engaging, responsible, anxious, suspicious)
Seven: The Enthusiast ((spontaneous, versatile, distractible, scattered)
Eight: The Challenger (self-confident, decisive, willful, confrontational)
Nine: The Peacemaker (receptive, reassuring, agreeable, complacent)

I took the quiz and I’m mostly a healthy 8w4 with a sexual variant (that’s VARIANT, Not DEVIANT!) For example;
Sexual variant – People of the sexual variant are very much interested in one to one contacts. They are looking for intimacy and this may show in sexuality, though not necessarily. Being in a relationship is very important to them. They are the most passionate of the subtypes, being temperamental and having more energy. They have less of a problem with getting into a fight and care less about rules and responsibility.

Enneagram Type 8 – The Challenger  Eights are the true “rugged individualists” of the Enneagram. More than any other type, they stand alone. They want to be independent, and resist being indebted to anyone. They take charge, because they don’t want to be controlled… to read more.
I’m in good company though, some examples of Eights are: Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Roosevelt, Sean Connery, Susan Sarandon, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, Norman Mailer, Mike Wallace, Barbara Walters, Toni Morrison, and then of course there’s Saddam Hussein. EIKS!

What number are you? What numbers are your characters? If you want a full character profile, take the Enneagram quiz, not as yourself, but AS your character. http://www.enneagraminstitute.com

Local writing instructor and author of the Writer’s Digest book, Dialogue, Gloria Kempton introduced me to the Enneagram for creating characters and understanding their motives, values and actions. Gloria says the Enneagram is the key to character motivation. What do you think?
Response from Karen B. (A Lit-Liasons Reader)
Hi Mindy. Good idea to think about motivations as part of a character study. But there is nothing magic about the group of nine motivations in this Enneagram. This rubric is used mostly in business or organizational settings to help people gain self-insight and understand the dynamics of their interactions with coworkers.

Don’t confuse this Enneagram with academically researched motivations. There are many more! These nine motives are no more “real” than any other typology. They do not separate people into equally distributed or particularly significant groups. Google “human motivation theory” for a primer in current thinking about the topic.
Nothing wrong with using this group of nine as a starting point for building characters. But if none of the motivations seem to work, there are many more options. And, of course, personality traits or learning may drive behavior, apart from underlying motivations.
2 cents from your Social Psychologist reader,
Karen

YOU’RE Absolutely right, Karen. This Enneagram is merely one more tool, one building block for writers who are developing characters; it’s a place to start and a touch stone for your character’s motivativations. There’s so much more that goes into the work. Thank you so much for your 2 cents. Mindy


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One comment on “The Key to Character Motivation

  1. Hot Cookie
    November 14, 2011

    Hi Mindy. Good idea to think about motivations as part of a character study. But there is nothing magic about the group of nine motivations in this Enneagram. This rubric is used mostly in business or organizational settings to help people gain self-insight and understand the dynamics of their interactions with coworkers. Don't confuse this Enneagram with academically researched motivations. There are many more! These nine motives are no more "real" than any other typology. They do not separate people into equally distributed or particularly significant groups. Google "human motivation theory" for a primer in current thinking about the topic.Nothing wrong with using this group of nine as a starting point for building characters. But if none of the motivations seem to work, there are many more options. And, of course, personality traits or learning may drive behavior, apart from underlying motivations.2 cents from your Social Psychologist reader,Karen

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This entry was posted on November 13, 2011 by in Character Motivation.
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