Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Believable Characters: Applying Personality Types

Have you ever taken an enneagram test?

As I've been thinking of some of my favorite characters and my own characters, I've come across a site called the 9types.

Thinking about the personality types can give us some new insight into our characters. Click here to take a free short enneagram test.

 You might want to test yourself first, then think of a character or two. Personally, I find these lots of fun and have learned new things about my characters, although it is important not to let the test box in your characters.

Similar minds is a site with even more tests, which can yield different insights. Lots of fun.

Whether you chose to take the test or not, here are some ways pesonality type application can be one tool in your box for creating a more believable character. I will attempt to show a possible goal, motivation, and conflict for each type of personality type in order to spur you on to think of believable goals for your own characters.

Then using literature, I will share some fun guesses about some of our favorite literary characters and what their personality types may be.

I want to note that I found studying the loop diagrams to be very helpful to understand the healthy and unhealthy patterns my character might find themselves in.


See here for a great diagram if you are a visual type learner.

The reformer believes the world is an imperfect place. Often a perfectionist, the reformer's main goal is to make things perfect. They strongly desire to be right. Yet, reformers can be highly fearful of other's opinion and the thought of suffering condemnation at the hands of others.

If your character is a politician, world leader, lawyer, cult leader, or policeman its possible they might draw high scores in Type 1.

I was fascinated with the thought that basic correct desires can create healthy character arc movement. By the same token, the main fear can create an unhealthy loop that continues.

GOAL FOR A TYPE 1/REFORMER: Make things perfect.

An example would be Inspector Javert from Les Miserables. Javert has a very strong sense of law. He is a highly perfectionist individual whose life goal is to create a more fair world. Hence, he chases Jean Valjean throughout France.

MOTIVATION FOR A TYPE 1/REFORMER: Can be motivated by a desire to be right, yet also are often motivated by other's opinions.

Javert is motivated by his desire to be right or bring justice to the world. His mother was a prostitute and he never knew his father. He believes he will redeem himself from his past somehow by capturing and punishing others for their deeds. Javert himself tries to live by his own sense of the law. He is also a great example of how fallen man sinks to legalism.


Inspector Javert's main inner conflict is between justice and mercy. As a non-believing character he believes the lie that he can fix himself, fix his past, make up for his mother's sins as well as his own. Yet he has no true understanding of mercy or the love of God. I believe he represents an unhealthy loop Type 1's can fall into, correcting others because he feels condemned himself.

Do you have a type 1 reformer? 


Loop diagram  here shows healthy and unhealthy cycles. 

A type 2 Helper might be a counselor, social worker, teacher, policeman or woman, firefighter, nurse or paramedic. They are labeled as a giver, caretaker, helper, nurturer, advisor, or manipulator.

A Type 2 Helper likes being depended on and needed. He or she wants to be loved and conversely their biggest fear is being unloved.

GOAL FOR A TYPE 2/HELPER: helping others

One of my favorite characters who I think would fall into this category is Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady or the play Pygmalion. Higgins goal is to teach a poor flower girl to be a lady of course and boy does he have lots of challenges along the way, from Eliza's cockney accent to her money-grubbing father who tries to use the situation to his advantage.

MOTIVATION FOR A TYPE 2/ HELPER: desperate need to be loved

In the end, though all Henry Higgins can tell Eliza is "fetch me my slippers" the satisfied viewer knows something deeper is going on. Henry's desperate need to be loved has been fulfilled in Eliza. Higgins perhaps is not even conscious of this need, but it is obvious to the reader. He begins his task to prove a bet, but realizes along the way, his motivation has changed. "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" he sings.

CONFLICT FOR A TYPE 2/HELPER: often controlled by feeling unloved

"Pygmalion" syndrome has been created as a term to explain the phenomena that greater expectation equals greater performance on the part of the other person. Higgin's jealousy at Eliza's excellent performance at the ball leads him to arrogantly conclude that it was his triumph, not hers. He is so consumed with creating success for someone else and helping others that he often becomes inherently selfish in his actions. He often fails to recognize his own need for love and fails to recognize it when it is given to him.

Do you have any type 2 characters in your story? How can you widen their character arc?


For a chart of this type, go to 9types.

The motivator is a champion, because she believes the world values winners. She longs to be admired and despairs of being rejected.

Common names are: motivator, performer, achiever, producer, or status seeker.

They are goal oriented and often seek attention. They are often viewed as self-motivated, confident, ambitious and also arrogant. Type 3's love having a high status, prestige and are very concerned with their appearance. Also they are natural born performers.

Possible career choices might include: CEOs, actors, singers, performers of any type.


This one was harder to come up with for me. One idea was Tom Riddle/Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. I haven't read the entire series, but I do think Voldemort might fit this personality type.

Tom Riddle was a start student and head boy. He overcomes some difficult circumstances in order to attempt to reach his goal. His main goal is power over all and to gain immortality.


Voldemort is consumed with working hard to improve himself and succeed. He is desperate to achieve his own form of success. He wants to be admired, but also feared by others.

CONFLICT FOR A TYPE 3/MOTIVATOR: can be fear of being rejected

A common conflict for this type is fear of being rejected. I believe Voldemort's greatest conflict is inner and is the frustration between who he is and who he wants to be. He must be dependent on others to achieve his goals because he needs to use the life energy of others.

Does your story have a type 3 motivator? How can you strengthen his arc?

What type are you or one of your characters? Or what do you think they might be? Do you see them in any of these three types? (I'll be returning next time with more types). If you want something to check out in the mean time, here is a great link on Enneagram Personality conflicts between couples. What is the compatibility between your hero and heroine. 

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for Library Journal, The Title Trakk, and Christian Library Journal.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Julia, this is fascinating. I appreciate the links as I plan to check them out soon. Thanks for all the research you did to share this. I love studying people/characters!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Thanks, Jeanne! I started playing with these tools and found they are lots of fun! Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Saumya said...

This is incredible on so many levels. Thank you for sharing!!

Charlotte Brentwood said...

I love the idea of my characters taking a personality test :-)

My hero is a reformer (he's a vicar), and my heroine is an enthusiast. When I looked at the relationship combinations, it says they're a great fit!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Thanks for stopping by, Saumya. Glad the post was helpful.

Diana Hurwitz said...

I have a series of books for writers using personality profiles:
Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflicts introduces them. And Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast workbook helps you build character profiles based on them.

Anonymous said...

My main character as 1. Loyalist, 2. Investigator, Reformer. Interesting link there. :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I completely butchered my typing there.

Meant to say:

My main character scored as 1. Loyalist, 2. Investigator, 3. Reformer. Does seems to fit.

Interesting link there, thanks for sharing. :-)