Melding the Enneagram with Brooks’ 3 Dimensions of Character

E-TypesNameI’ve been meaning to pen this post for a while, and Jami Gold’s post from yesterday, How to Use Character Flaws to Develop a Plot, spurred me on. In her post, she talks about using either the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram to help with finding character flaws, and syncing them with Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Development.  Definitely scoot over there and read it–I’ll wait ;)

Back? Cool, huh? Can you see why we’re Beta buddies? We’re both plot nerds :) I haven’t studied Hauge’s techniques, but I definitely will now. Another one I really like is Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. It’s a must-buy, I think, but one of the aspects he covered that really stuck with me was his talking about the three dimensions of character. He says that all characters, like people in real life, have three dimensions, or aspects.

  1. First Dimension – Surface traits, quirks, and habits. These are things the world sees about this person, which may or may not be what the person thinks it says about them. It’s the person’s outward identity. In fiction, a writer can show aspects of a person’s character (what they drive, what they eat, etc) and a reader may or may not assign meaning to it. The reason it’s not good as a writer to stop here for main characters is that illuminating a character’s first dimension does not tell us his true self; it could all be a smoke screen.  If, however, as a writer, you show the meaning behind these outward traits, you’ve now crossed into the
  2. Second Dimension – The realm of backstory and inner demons.  In this dimension, the writer gives the backstory, agenda and/or meaning behind the surface traits, and what the reader assumed might be totally different. It adds depth to the character. It’s their inner landscape. It’s all the juicy backstory stuff that prompts, explains, and motivates the character’s first dimension choices of identity. First dimension is what you see– a guy with a tattoo. Second dimension is why he has that tattoo. Illuminating the second dimension creates reader empathy.
  3. Third Dimension – Where the true character emerges through choices made when something is at stake. Basically, when push comes to shove, just who is this guy? The true character is not defined by their inner demons and/or backstory until the character does something under pressure, which exposes who they truly are (good or bad). Usually in fiction, this decision comes at the end to show the character’s arc. It’s what shows the character as a villain or hero. A villain will continue to define himself by his backstory, while a hero will overcome it.

Around the same time I was digesting all the wonderful advice from Brooks, I was also obsessed with the Enneagram. I probably have about seven books on it. So when I read about the three dimensions of character, I saw a connection I could use with the Enneagram. Remember in Jami’s post where she talks about Average health and Healthy versions of the same personality? What I like to do is pinpoint a character in the Average health range and have their responses to stress, their third dimension choices, come from the Average health range. Then by the end of their arc, they’re making third dimension choices in the Healthy range.

So just how to use/study the Enneagram? Word of caution–you could easily get sucked in trying to find your own type and those of your loved ones. Try to stay focused on your characters. With that in mind, here’s some books I recommend to help with character development:

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery – this is the one you want to get to learn about the stages of health for each personality type. It breaks it down to nine levels: three in the healthy stage, three in Average, and three in Unhealthy. To keep with Jami’s example of a Enneagram 2, Mother Theresa was a Level 1, a selfless giver. Tons of wonderful traits at this level, but when you get to the unhealthy levels? An unhealthy two partly corresponds to aspects of histrionic personality disorder in the DSM-IV psychiatric types! I like to put my characters at or around a Level 4 (Average, but at the highest rung for Average) and move them to Level 3 or 2.

Are You My Type, Am I Yours? : Relationships Made Easy Through The Enneagram - since I write romance, I like to use this to get some ideas for how their relationship dynamics might work. It has a comparison for each type match. So if you have a 2 with an 8, it’ll tell you what they like most about each other and what annoys them. For an in-depth look at the Enneagram, this is not your book, however. It’s pretty basic.

Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams - this is a good one for looking at the different types specifically with creating characters in mind. It goes into each types Inner Fear/Wound and their heroic strengths. If you’re on a budget, you can skip the Are You My Type book above, as this one also compares each type together in a relationship.


The Literary Enneagram: Characters from the Inside Out – This one is great too, but it approaches it in a different way. It goes through each type and uses examples from literature to demonstrate/show each type, from healthy to average to unhealthy.




Related posts:

Or if you’re of an age where this makes sense (I’m not), here’s another way to look at them :)

enneagram_of_pony_personality_by_mr_uhrig-d4led2g

So have you used the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs to help with character development?

Lessons from NaNoWriMo + Novel Plotting Spreadsheet (Downloadable)

downloadWhew! Did you make it past the goal line? If you didn’t, did you write more than you did in October? What things did you learn from the experience? This is my third year participating and my third year winning, finishing two days early!

This year was different for me as it’s the first one I’ve done since I’ve started taking my writing seriously and the first one since I participated in FastDrafting with Candace Havens (in which you have to write twice as much in half the time). My first NaNo in 2009 was an historical mystery and is accreting dust balls under my bed (it really is, I looked the other day when I swept my room). But, it did teach me that I could complete a novel-length project. I was so scared to participate, thinking there was no way I could write that much in that amount of time. In 2010 I still didn’t know what I was doing, and with a premise and a vague sense of what was going to happen, I wrote what became MUST LOVE BREECHES. Took me almost two years to learn even more about my craft and what things needed fixing with that manuscript, but I finally got it in shape and have hopes for it finding a home next year.

In May, I took an even scarier plunge and participated in Fast Draft and wrote 56K in 14 days (STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY). BUT, this time I’d spent a month plotting out my story and getting to know my characters’ GMCs. That experience taught me several things which I realized at the time, but several things came to light only when I participated in NaNoWriMo this past month.

I’m a Plotser

What’s a plotser? A cross between a pantser and a plotter, with maybe a wee bit more emphasis on the pre-plotting. With Hurricane Sandy and other circumstances, my new agent (signed only on Oct 4) and I weren’t able to coordinate on what direction to take for a sequel to MUST LOVE BREECHES. So for most of October, I wasn’t even sure if I was participating in NaNoWriMo. Then at the end of the month, I decided to take up a premise that had nothing to do with BREECHES so I wouldn’t waste my time writing a sequel she didn’t want. However, that meant I’d not spent time plotting at all. I had what I thought was a fun premise and a sense of who the H/h were and so started one day late on November 2. I caught up with everyone over the weekend and was doing swimmingly until about Day 5, then my word count dribbled downward and things ground to a halt. I had no idea where I was going with this and I didn’t like feeling that way. This wasn’t the normal ‘what I’m writing is drivel’ feeling, I really felt like all my characters were just spinning their wheels waiting for something to happen. Like the plot. Ugh. A local writer friend sagely advised me to take a break for a week, two weeks, to figure out the plot and then do a FastDraft blitz at the end. So I did! I ended up creating a spreadsheet to help myself stay focused on what I needed to discover, and I’m going to share it with you at the end of this post.

Confidence

Her advice was great, because I knew from my experience with FastDraft how much I could write in a day if I really pushed. So I took four days off and just brainstormed (and created the spreadsheet) and I didn’t feel panicked that I was getting behind.  I knew I could write 3500-4000 words in a day if I had to and so I took as many days as I needed. I kept an eye on the NaNo ticker of how much I’d need to write in a day to finish and when it got a  little past 2K and I felt good about my plot and characters, I dived back in.

My goal

The reason I didn’t wait until 3500? Before I started, I’d decided to see if I could do NaNo without interrupting my normal life of seeing friends and watching the few TV shows I follow, etc. I didn’t want it to be all consuming. And it worked. Thanksgiving wasn’t harried at all as far as my writing went. I took off Thursday and had enough words banked where I could write below 1667 for Friday and Saturday (and just snatched an hour during the day to do it), and on Sunday I did my word goal in the morning before I had breakfast with my brother and sister-in-law and hit the road to head home.

The spreadsheet

Since I didn’t have the leisurely month to pre-plot and sit in front of my physical storyboard with sticky notes brainstorming scenes, I was searching for something to help me kick start this premise into a story. The storyboard/sticky note was too detailed of a process and I needed something more high level than that, but not as high level as the one sheet beat sheet created by Blake Snyder in Save the Cat. So this spreadsheet I created during that 4-day hiatus of plot brainstorming.

storyengineeringworksheet

The genesis of the spreadsheet is from Jami Gold. I took her spreadsheet, which is a beat sheet for your plot all on one page, but I added to it as I worked through what I needed to discover and there were also other plotting devices I wanted on there. So after a lot of fiddling, I came up with a Story Engineering Worksheet. It takes a page for each Act/Part (four total) and is based heavily on Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, with spaces for you to scribble in the H/h’s default third dimension of character and what the new third dimension will be at the end (their character arc). I’m also heavily influenced by Alexandra Sokoloff‘s Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II and so I created spaces for you to write in the thematic words/image system you want to use for each act. The guts of it, however, comes from Jami Gold and her beat sheet, which pulls from Elizabeth Davis’ Save the Cat Beat Sheet. Thanks you two!

If you haven’t read any of these books, you need to! And some of the things on this worksheet will not make as much sense without having read them. If you have, then this worksheet will help pull all that knowledge into one spot and remind you what you need for each phase of the story.

Hope you like it! Please feel free to ask me any questions you might have!

So what incidental goals did you have for NaNo? What things did you learn about yourself and your writing process?

 

Firefly Friday – The Three Dimensions of Character

Welcome to a new installment of Firefly Friday, where we examine a writing tip chestnut and marry it to my favorite TV show Firefly to illustrate it. Today’s topic: The Three Dimensions of Character. I haven’t done one of these since last November, but I thought this tip was shown so well in several instances in Firefly that I’d resurrect this feature.

I’m in the middle of digesting Larry Brook’s awesome book on writing called Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. It’s chock full of great advice that has frankly made my brain hum (in a good way). One of the 6 core competencies that he says a successful writer needs to grasp is character.

Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. Every craft book talks about character. But, like everything else he covers, he takes you deeper. One of the aspects of character development he talks about is the three dimensions of character, and if you think this is just your standard ‘make your character three dimensional’ advice, think again. I’ll give a quick overview (you’ll need to get his book to get the full details) and then give examples from Firefly. 

He says that all characters, like people in real life, have three dimensions, or aspects.

  1. First Dimension – Surface traits, quirks, and habits. These are things the world sees about this person, which may or may not be what the person thinks it says about them. It’s the person’s outward identity. In fiction, a writer can show aspects of a person’s character (what they drive, what they eat, etc) and a reader may or may not assign meaning to it. The reason it’s not good as a writer to stop here for main characters is that illuminating a character’s first dimension does not tell us his true self. (Firefly fans can already probably guess an example I will use). Anyway, it could all be a smoke screen.  If, however, as a writer, you show the meaning behind these outward traits, you’ve now crossed into the
  2. Second Dimension – The realm of backstory and inner demons.  In this dimension, the writer gives the backstory, agenda and/or meaning behind the surface traits, and what the reader assumed might be totally different. It adds depth to the character. It’s their inner landscape. It’s all the juicy backstory stuff that prompts, explains, and motivates the character’s first dimension choices of identity. First dimension is what you see– a guy with a tattoo. Second dimension is why he has that tattoo. Illuminating the second dimension creates reader empathy.
  3. Third Dimension – Where the true character emerges through choices made when something is at stake. Basically, when push comes to shove, just who is this guy? The true character is not defined by their inner demons and/or backstory until the character does something under pressure, which exposes who they truly are (good or bad). Usually in fiction, this decision comes at the end to show the character’s arc. It’s what shows the character as a villain or hero. A villain will continue to define himself by his backstory, while a hero will overcome it.

Okay, now for the fun part–giving examples from Firefly! The first example is from the episode “The Train Job” which FOX aired as the pilot. The premise is that the crew of the ship is hired by an underworld criminal to heist goods from a moving train. The captain doesn’t really care what it is, as long as the job’s done and they get paid. But when the heist hits an obstacle, and he learns that the goods are invaluable medical supplies the citizens of the planet are in desperate need of? His choice illuminates his true self. To relate it to the 3 dimensions, you could have two captains with the same quirks and traits, same background to explain them (on the losing side of a civil war, living on the edge of civilization scraping by), but each now has the same choice. Same 1st and 2nd dimension stuff, but one could choose to finish the job (and justify it in their mind) and the other could choose to return it. What does Captain Reynolds do? His answer beautifully illustrates what we’re talking about (9:24 to 10:30 on the timestamp):

The pertinent quote here:

Sheriff: A man can get a job, he might not look too close at what that job is. But a man learns all the details of a situation like ours, well, then he has a choice.

Captain Reynolds: I don’t believe he does

To the captain, his belief that a man doesn’t have a choice when faced with such a moral issue is his true nature. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the only thing. Another captain with the same traits and backstory might not have agreed.

This episode ties in nicely to the next example. The underworld criminal, not too happy with Captain Reynolds’ decision, gets his revenge in a later episode called “War Stories.” The villain, Niska, is a sick bastard, who follows the teachings of warrior-poet Xiang Yu. Niska loves to torture people because he believes it’s the only way to see their true selves. This whole episode becomes a demonstration of illuminating the 3rd dimension for many of the characters. For Captain Reynolds and his pilot, Wash, it is illuminated in how they react to Niska’s torture. Theirs is the biggest illumination of character in this episode, but some of the others get some too. In this episode, each has a choice about what to do now that their captain is captured. Each decides to rescue him, and in their own unique ways:

  • Shepherd Book, their man of the cloth, when asked about using a gun quips that the Bible is fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps
  • Kaylee, the engineer, discovers that she doesn’t have the fortitude to shoot anyone when their fall back position is overrun.
  • River, for the first time, shows a scary side of her abilities when she rescues Kaylee (twist here though is that her 2nd dimension backstory here gives her no option but to react this way)
  • Even the mercenary Jayne joins in (though it could be argued that even though he’s doing it for no money, he’s still operating between his 1st and 2nd dimension, since he also just likes a good fight)

The clip I’ve isolated (11 minutes) is a good example since it shows all of this and has the dialogue about ‘meeting the real me’. For those that don’t know the characters, this starts off with Wash, who up until this point in the season has been the never-been-violent, fun-loving pilot. His wife (who is a warrior) has just rescued him from a horrific torture session when this scene begins, leaving Captain Mal Reynolds behind. She also had a choice to make when she went in to ransom them, the captain or her husband, and she chose her husband (28:00 to 39:23):

And finally, the whole movie Serenity is the character arc of Captain Reynolds and River being resolved. For Captain Reynolds, until this movie, we never got to see what he’d be like when he was ‘at war’ and what kind of moral choice he’d make on something huge. His choice caused the death of two of his friends, but I believe his resolving that part of himself is why Inara is finally able to stay on the ship and explore a possible relationship with him. She needed to see his true self.

What do you think? Have you read Brooks’ book? Does this make sense? Fan of the show? Have you learned any good lessons from the show I haven’t covered?