jenniferechols (jenniferechols) wrote,

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Full of personality

I'm always on the lookout for new books on personality types, because they help me imagine characters very different from myself. Now that the enneagram has been featured on AOL, it's time I pointed out how helpful it can be for writers. There are lots of books on the enneagram, but the one I work from is, predictably, The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Power of the Enneagram.

Let me say up front that I don't believe in the horoscope (somewhere in Washington State, fashionista_35 is gasping in horror), and I think any personality typing device is helpful only to a point. Categories are, by their nature, false. They are a tool to make order out of the chaos of life, but life is still chaotic.

But I also think people are more alike than they are different. As I teen I loved to think of myself as one-of-a-kind (that was my inner 4 coming out, as you'll see), but as I have gotten older, I've realized how similar I am to a lot of other people. That's a good thing, because if your human experience were vastly different from other people's, you wouldn't make a very good novelist.

I got interested in the enneagram because a friend from high school told me she had used it to solve some problems between herself and her friend at work. They typed themselves and figured out that they needed to switch some of their duties, and after doing this, they got along so much better! I was also having a personality conflict at work. So, being a 5 (which you'll hear about in a minute), I was intrigued by a new system, and a new book that I could read to find out about a system. And I was struck by how true the system seems to be for most of the people close to me.

There's a huge amount of fascinating info in the Idiot's Guide, but here's a run-down. A person has one of nine basic types, but they're also going to have shades of the types on either side of them--for instance, a 2 is going to have shades of 1 and shades of 3, and either the 1 or the 3 is going to be stronger. Here are the types:

1 is the Perfectionist.

2 is the Nurturer. They have a million friends and want to do stuff for their friends. However, they keep score and want their friends to do stuff for them, too, and they have to be careful about this.

3 is the Achiever. As the Idiot's Guide explains, a lot of people in America pretend to be this self-made go-getter, but the 3 actually is this person. My husband is this person and I find him eternally fascinating. He gives major presentations to the presidents of automotive companies without worrying about it beforehand. Who does this??? A 3 does this.

4 is the Artist. They're dramatic and love attention.

5 is the Librarian. That's me! We love systems. We love books. If we have a problem, we read a book to figure out how to fix it. If 3's have a problem, we give a book about it to the 3's, and the 3's get all offended and think we are saying they are stupid. If 7's have a problem, we give a book about it to the 7's, and the 7's call us and say, "Have you read it already? Can you just tell me what it says?"

6 is the Worrier. That's not what the Idiot's Guide calls it--their name for it is "the Questioner/Guardian," but as a 5, I have a lot of 6 in me and I hate it.

7 is the Optimist. They are the life of the party.

8 is the Director. They get things done and can be brusque.

9 is the Peacemaker. They're fairly passive and avoid conflict.

Another cool thing about the system is that every type has a "stress type," a person you tend to turn into when you're under a lot of pressure. 3's turn into 9's. 7's turn into 1's. I have seen this happen. And 5's turn into 7's. If you have ever seen me speak in public and you wondered how somebody that air-headed could ever finish writing a book, much less have the wherewithal to get it published, you have witnessed me turning into a 7.

In some ways I think this system isn't as helpful for writers as some others, because it's too true. A lot of us want to write about an artist but it's going to be hard to make that character sympathetic if that character is truly a self-centered 4. Or maybe that is just my 5-ish impatience with 4's.

But I've gotten a lot of mileage out of the system, both personally and as a writer. Now I can write somebody who doesn't solve problems with books, and I understand how they could possibly think something so illogical.

The system has not helped me be less of a 5, though. I am having a problem revising a proposal, and you know what I did last night? Went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham medical library and studied psychology articles for reasons my characters would do what they do. This morning I am still fretting over it. Everybody else would just kind of figure it out and wing it, wouldn't they? I'm pretty frustrated with myself. But I'm about to pull another plotting system out of my filing cabinet, and I'm sure that will fix everything...

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